Understanding and Managing Meth Cravings
Crystal meth is an extremely addictive and dangerous stimulant. After repeated use, your body and brain adapt to the presence of crystal meth, and once you stop using, withdrawal symptoms occur. One major withdrawal symptom is an intense craving for crystal meth, which can last for years.
Meth Cravings Signs and Symptoms
Prolonged crystal meth use results in depressed activity in vital parts of the brain—a problem that doesn’t immediately fix itself once you stop using the drug.1
Research has shown that the only way to return the brain to normal is to re-introduce the stimulant to the user.1 This finding has shed light on the mechanism behind severe cravings for crystal meth and the reason why the cravings last so long.1
People who have stopped using crystal meth may experience a profound urge to use the drug—even long after the drug was last used.
- Preoccupation with crystal meth.
- Desire to go to old using environments or see old using friends.
- Severe depression.
- Vivid and frightening dreams.
- Reminding yourself of how good you felt on crystal meth.
- Strong desire to do crystal meth when in the presence of a pipe.
Onset of Urges
Typically, cravings can begin within a few hours to a few days after you stop using crystal meth and can last a variable amount of time depending on your physiology, the length of your addiction, frequency of use, and amount used.
Treatment for Meth Cravings
Whether you just quit crystal meth or have been sober for years, cravings can still be very debilitating and trying. Addiction is a lifelong battle. If you experience intense crystal meth cravings and don’t think you can overcome them on your own, consider the following treatment options:
- Dual diagnosis refers to any co-occurring mental disorder in addition to crystal meth addiction. If you suffer from depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or any other common mental health condition, get appropriate treatment that addresses both disorders or your risk of relapse will increase.
- 12-step programs: Crystal Meth Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous use the 12 steps devised by Alcoholics Anonymous. Members typically have sponsors who help them with step work and are willing to listen with a nonjudgmental attitude. If you’re having cravings for crystal meth, your sponsor is a great person to talk to.
- Individual therapy: Therapists often aim to change maladaptive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and teach you coping skills, while uncovering reasons for crystal meth use.
- Group counseling: Similar to individual therapy, except people share their experiences and listen to others. Some people prefer a group setting, but it’s all about what’s right for you.
- Outpatient treatment allows you to live at home while receiving treatment to prevent relapse and fight your crystal meth cravings.
- Inpatient treatment: You live at an inpatient rehab facility while receiving treatment. You focus your recovery without the added stress of being in using environments or with using friends.
Therapy for Crystal Meth Cravings
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used in addiction therapy. Many of the coping skills taught in CBT can be used to help you overcome your crystal meth cravings.
If you can learn to avoid trigger situations, then you can prevent or minimize cravings. Identify your triggers such as being in old using environments or hanging out with old using friends. Once you acknowledge that these are trigger situations for you, you can find a new, sober group of friends and find new places that aren’t associated with past crystal meth use.
Below are some CBT coping strategies you can use:
- Self-talk: Be positive. Remind yourself how far you’ve come in your recovery and how much better your sober life is. List all the positive changes you’ve made. This will encourage you and help to curb the crystal meth cravings.
- Distraction: Do a sober activity that diverts your attention from the craving. Examples include hiking, going for a walk, gardening, creating something, meditating, playing an instrument, or playing a sport. The options are endless. Find which activity works best to distract you and use it.
- Talking it out: Many people find that if they confide in a friend, family member or 12-step sponsor, the cravings dissipate. Often, discussing the craving takes the power away from it.
- Relaxation: Therapists teach individuals to use relaxation techniques such as guided imagery or deep breathing when craving crystal meth.2
The Matrix Model
Another useful therapy that has been used in the treatment of stimulants such as crystal meth is the Matrix Model.
The Matrix Model was developed specifically for the treatment of stimulant abuse. The therapist is a teacher and a coach who creates a positive environment in which your self-esteem and self-worth can be promoted.
Research has revealed that the Matrix Model is effective in decreasing crystal meth use and in improving mental health conditions.3
- Urine testing.
- Drug education.
- Family and group therapies.
- Relapse prevention.
- Early recovery skills groups.
- Family education.
- Social support groups.3
Medications for Urges
No FDA-approved medications are available for the treatment of crystal meth addiction or relapse prevention. But medications are currently being tested for future use.5
Can You Stop Crystal Meth Cravings Naturally?
- Exercise is a great distraction from cravings, and it’s also a natural remedy. Studies have revealed that those who exercise regularly are less likely to abuse substances.6 Exercise reduces stress, releases endorphins, and promotes a feeling of well-being.
- Research has found that the grape compound resveratrol can help to decrease crystal meth cravings.7 Resveratrol decreases the release of dopamine and decreases the hyperactivity of crystal meth use. If you’re craving crystal meth, try to increase the natural compound in your diet by eating red grapes, blueberries, or cranberries. Resveratrol supplements may also be similarly beneficial.
Cravings During Detox and Withdrawal Risks
Although withdrawal from crystal meth is not life-threatening, people going through withdrawal have an increased risk of suicide.10 Because of this, you should seek medically supervised detox so that you can receive the adequate care while quitting crystal meth. As with cravings, withdrawal depends on whether you tapered your use or quit cold turkey, how long you were addicted and whether you used other drugs. Once withdrawal symptoms are resolved, cravings may last for far longer due to the changes in brain chemistry.
- Unpleasant dreams.
- Increased appetite.
- Slow movements and thoughts.
- The inability to feel pleasure.
- Decreased heart rate.10
How Long Do Urges Last?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a definitive answer to how long your crystal meth cravings will last. It depends on a number of different factors, including:
- Your physiology.
- The presence of a mental health condition.
- Length of addiction.
- Amount of crystal meth used.
- Whether you tapered your use at all before quitting.
Research on Duration of Cravings
Cravings increase in the first 3 months after quitting but decrease over time.
Crystal meth cravings can last for years due to the altering of important neuronal functions and the subsequent lack of immediate reversal. In spite of this discovery, research has found that recovering crystal meth addicts report an increase in cravings due to triggers in the first 3 months of abstinence but an overall decrease in cravings over time.8
In another study, the subjects reported that crystal meth cravings decreased in the second week of abstinence and lasted for at least 5 weeks after stopping use of the stimulant.9
Crystal Meth Cravings and Relapse
There are many signs of crystal meth relapse to look for once you quit.
Recognizing these warning signs is extremely important since it can help you to prevent relapse before it occurs and receive the necessary treatment to continue living a healthy, substance-free life.
If you recognize any of these relapse warning signs in yourself or a loved one, it’s not too late to prevent relapse.
Meth Relapse Warning Signs
- Breakdown of social relationships.
- Romanticizing past crystal meth use.
- Loss of interest in enjoyable activities.
- Changes in attitude toward recovery or treatment.
- Reconnecting with friends who use crystal meth.
- Thinking you can use crystal meth once in a while without becoming addicted again.
One of the most important factors of relapse prevention is attitude. If you have a positive attitude and are truly devoted to remaining clean through a number of different avenues, you are much more likely to prevent relapse.
Upon completion of your initial recovery program, it’s vital that you receive aftercare. This is ongoing treatment that can last for as long as you feel you need it. Aftercare will help to dramatically decrease your risk of relapse.
Different kinds of aftercare include:
- Group counseling: The group atmosphere can help you to continue to work on your coping mechanisms while receiving support from other people and the group facilitator.
- 12-step programs: Fellowships such as Crystal Meth Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous provide you with a trusting and supportive environment in which you have a sponsor you can confide in. You can always call your sponsor if you’re having a craving for crystal meth.
- Individual therapy: Receiving therapy after your treatment program can allow you to expand on the coping skills and emotional regulation skills you learned in rehab.
- Outpatient treatment programs: Some people in recovery transition into outpatient treatment after completing an inpatient program. This allows them to live at home while still receiving intensive treatment.
- Sober living home: Also known as halfway houses, these are an alternative to returning home after inpatient rehab. They provide a sober environment in which the recovering crystal meth addict can receive support.
Research on Preventing Relapse
Researchers have been working on a vaccine that could help prevent crystal meth relapse by blocking the stimulant’s effects on the brain. In theory, if you have a craving for crystal meth and succumb to the cravings, you wouldn’t experience the high and thus, would be less likely to use the drug in the future.
This vaccine is still in development, but it has shown promising results.4
- University of Washington, ScienceDaily. (2008). Methamphetamine Addiction Mechanism Discovered, Explains Why Cravings Last So Long.
- Cully, J.A. & Teten, A.L. (2008). A Therapist’s Guide to Brief Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Department of Veterans Affairs South Central MIRECC, Houston.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). The Matrix Model (Stimulants).
- Kinsey, B. (2014). Vaccines against drugs of abuse: Where are we now? Therapeutic Advances in Vaccines, 2(4), 106–117. doi:10.1177/2051013614537818
- Kish, S. (2008). Pharmacologic mechanisms of crystal meth. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 178(13), 1679–1682.
- Smith, M.A. & Lynch, W.J. (2012). Exercise as a potential treatment for drug abuse: evidence from preclinical studies. Psychiatry, 2:82.
- University of Missouri-Columbia, ScienceDaily. (2013). Natural compound mitigates effects of methamphetamine abuse.
- Wang, G., Shi, J., Chen, N., Xu, L., Li, J., Li, P., et al. (2013). Effects of Length of Abstinence on Decision-Making and Craving in Methamphetamine Abusers. PLoS ONE 8(7).
- Zorick, T., Nestor, L., Miotto, K., Sugar, C., Hellemann, G., Scanlon, G., & London, E. (2010). Withdrawal symptoms in abstinent methamphetamine-dependent subjects. Addiction, 105(10), 1809–1818.
- Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. (5th ed.). (2013). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.