Detoxing From Meth
Crystal Meth Withdrawal Symptoms
Crystal methamphetamine (crystal meth) is a form of the drug d-methamphetamine, which is a powerful, man-made stimulant drug. Crystal meth use results in a spike of dopamine levels in the brain. This leads to feelings of excitement and euphoria.
When a person regularly uses crystal meth over a long period of time, the brain goes through a process known as down regulation. The number of neurons in the brain specialized for dopamine decrease, and the natural production of dopamine becomes dependent on the drug being in the system.1,2
Once the person stops using crystal meth, the dopamine levels in the brain drop dramatically. This dramatic decrease in dopamine results in a number of withdrawal symptoms. The most severe crystal meth withdrawal symptoms are >more emotional and psychological than physical (though some unpleasant physical symptoms may occur).
The major feature of crystal meth withdrawal is severe anhedonia, or the inability to experience feelings of pleasure or satisfaction. This is directly related to the massive decrease in dopamine that occurs with initial abstinence from crystal meth.
- Mild physical malaise (e.g., jitteriness, restlessness, mild feelings of nausea or feeling disoriented or “out of sync”).
- Lack of energy.
- Decreased motivation.
- Lack of sexual pleasure.
- Mild depression.
- Red or itchy eyes.
- Increased appetite.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Mild paranoia.
- Extreme craving for crystal meth (in almost all cases).
- Suicidal ideation (rare). 2,3
Factors That Influence Withdrawal
Several major factors influence both the length of the withdrawal period and the severity or intensity of the symptoms. These factors include: 2,3
- Individual differences. People are different and have different reactions to the withdrawal process.
- How people used the drug. Most crystal meth users smoke the drug; however, some may use other methods. Smoking the drug enables methamphetamine to get into the system very quickly and could speed the development of tolerance (the need for more of the drug to produce the same effects that were once experienced). An increased tolerance could lead to more severe withdrawal symptoms occurring when the drug is not used.
- How long they used the drug. The general rule is that the longer a person took the drug, the more severe and longer the withdrawal symptoms will be.
- How much the person typically used. People who use more of the drug have longer and more intense withdrawals.
- How the person stopped using the drug. Individuals who abruptly stop using crystal meth will experience more severe withdrawal symptoms than people who are able to taper down their use.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome
There are several potential long-term effects of crystal meth abstinence. If they do occur, the phenomenon is often referred to as a post-acute withdrawal syndrome. 4 Not everyone will experience these, and they can vary from person to person. These effects include:
- Recurrent bouts or feelings of depression.
- Periods of restlessness and anxiety.
- Periods of major dissatisfaction.
- Problems with motivation.
- Occasional cravings for crystal meth.
How Long Does Meth Detox Take?
Detoxification naturally occurs when someone stops using any drug that they’ve taken regularly over a long period of time. The body eliminates the drug from the system (mostly through the liver). In the interim, some people may experience withdrawal symptoms, which heightens their risk of relapse.
Detox is only the first step in recovery from crystal meth addiction. It is an important hurdle to overcome, but it does not address the issues that contributed to your substance use disorder.
People who are heavy users of crystal meth and who engage in frequent drug binges may begin to experience withdrawal symptoms such as cravings and jitteriness within 24 hours of discontinuation.
The actual timeline of detox from crystal meth will vary from person to person. However, below is a general timeline of the symptoms that most people will experience.
First Day to 3 Days
- Increased need for sleep.
- Cravings for meth.
Days 2 or 3 to Days 7 or 10
- Increased cravings.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Severe anhedonia (inability to experience pleasure).
- Mood swings.
- Some physical symptoms including increased appetite, aching and restlessness.
- Possible paranoia.
- Hallucinations (very rare).
Day 7 to Day 14 (or Beyond)
- Continued cravings.
- Mood swings.
- Difficulty concentrating.
In most cases the symptoms peak within the first 2 days to 5 days and resolve by the 14th day.3 However, some people will occasionally experience psychological symptoms such as moodiness and cravings for quite some time.4
Additionally, research suggests that changes in the brain as a result of chronic meth use may lead to long-term difficulties with concentration, memory and problem-solving.
Detox Centers and Treatment Programs
Detox centers help people go through the crystal meth withdrawal process safely and as comfortably as possible. You stay at the facility until the detoxification process is complete (this can be as long as 2 weeks, but is often shorter). While there, you receive medical supervision as well as any medications to make the process more comfortable.
Inpatient and outpatient treatment centers offer medically supervised detox in addition to extended services to help you remain drug-free. These centers put a great deal of energy and care into providing competent therapists, educational groups, activities, reading material and the social support needed to recover from a substance use disorder.
Evidence-based drug treatment programs are developed on the basis of research that has defined what has worked and what hasn’t. These programs take much of the guesswork out of recovery and provide as much assistance as possible to help you avoid a relapse.
While relapse is always an issue, people who undergo more intensive and comprehensive treatment programs have a lower probability of relapsing.2
Meth Detox Process
Detoxing in a residential program offers advantages over a standalone detox center.
Below is an outline of the typical treatment process in detox centers or inpatient and outpatient drug recovery programs.
- Intake. First, you are assigned a therapist/supervisor. The therapist or another staff member takes an extensive history, including background information, history of drug abuse, most recent use, amounts of drugs used and other relevant information. This information is all used to help the therapist create a detox treatment plan.
- Getting acclimated. Next, you are given a tour of the facility and assigned a room. Unless you are paying extra for a luxury suite, the rooms usually house more than 1 person. You then have your belongings checked for contraband that could include such things as drugs, drug paraphernalia and cell phones.
- Physical examination. Before treatment begins, you are evaluated by a physician, given a physical and again asked to explain your medical history.
- Beginning treatment. At this point, you are given a treatment program and a schedule of therapies to attend. You are also placed on any medications needed to maintain your health and recovery. Some treatment programs will make healthy nutrition an important component of the recovery process.
- Aftercare. Once you have completed the detox period and progressed through a structured treatment program, your therapist or another staff member will work with you on an aftercare plan. The plan will include options for continued support once you leave the program, including 12-step meetings or ongoing counseling. They may recommend that you transition to a sober living home if you need to remain in a drug-free environment.
Length of Treatment
The typical stay in a detoxification program is 3 days to 10 days, though some people will stay shorter periods of time and others may stay longer. You may be discharged following the detoxification period unless you are staying on for residential treatment. Residential treatment programs typically last 30 days to 90 days but can last longer. Residential treatment offers the advantage of helping you develop a relapse prevention plan while isolating you from triggers in the environment that can result in a relapse.
No medications are approved specifically for the treatment of crystal meth addiction or to take for detox. However, studies have been conducted that investigate the usefulness of some medications in lessening cravings and otherwise easing withdrawal symptoms. These medications include:
- Dexamphetamine: There is some evidence that the stimulant dexamphetamine may lessen cravings, ease withdrawal symptoms and assist in the crystal meth detox process. 5 This strategy is similar to using methadone for heroin dependence.
- >Naloxone: This drug has been extensively used for reducing cravings for other classes of drugs and may hold some benefit in reducing cravings for crystal meth.
- Varenicline (Chantix): This drug is used for smoking cessation. Research has shown that it can also be used to treat crystal meth addiction by reducing cravings.6
- Bupropion (Wellbutrin): Bupropion is an antidepressant medication that is also used in the treatment of nicotine addiction or chronic smoking. It may be effective in reducing cravings for crystal meth as well.7 This medication may be used during the detox process and even beyond that.
- Modafinil: This medication promotes wakefulness and increases concentration. It is used to treat narcolepsy, and it may be given as an assistive medication.
Other antidepressant medications may be administered to reduce the effects of depression. However, these medications are typically not effective until several weeks after you first begin taking them. Other medications to treat acute psychosis and anxiety can be used, if necessary.
Detoxing at Home
Instead of seeking treatment at a detox center or treatment program, some try to detox from crystal meth “cold turkey” or use herbal and holistic methods to manage withdrawal symptoms. The potential for relapse may be higher with these meth detoxes at home when compared to professional detox efforts.
Some holistic and herbal approaches to what to take to detox include:
- Eating a healthy diet to clean the system. The body naturally eliminates drugs at a fairly consistent rate. Most of the elimination occurs through the liver. Eating properly can certainly help, but it will not eliminate withdrawal symptoms.
- Using herbal remedies. Most herbal remedies, such as using things like licorice root for blood pressure, are not very useful in long-term recovery in controlled studies. Other herbal treatments include:
- Special diets.
- Epsom salt baths.
- Meditation and/or exercise.
The antioxidant N-Acetyl-Cysteine (NAC) may be useful in the detoxification process and may even slightly decrease cravings.8
While these at-home meth detoxes may be somewhat effective, they alone do not address many core behavioral issues instrumental in one’s recovery and, furthermore, they do not make the detoxification process faster.
Getting Treatment vs. Detoxing Alone
Formal treatment programs consistently outperform holistic programs and the “go it alone” strategy.2 While using holistic methods and herbs will probably not be harmful, they cannot substitute for a structured, professional recovery program.
It is important to understand the factors that are driving your addiction and to develop coping strategies to address them. The bottom line is that most people who attempt to recover from serious substance use disorders on their own will experience a cycle of short periods of recovery followed by relapses.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Long Does Crystal Meth Stay in Your System?
In heavy users, urinalysis can detect crystal meth in the system for up to 7 days
The half-life of crystal meth ranges from about 6.5 hours to 15 hours. The average half-life for crystal meth is about 10 hours. This means that 10 hours after your last use, the level of crystal meth in your system has decreased by half. In heavy users, urinalysis can detect crystal meth in the system for up to 7 days (this can range between 1-4 days in people who are not heavy users). Following that period, residual levels of the drug may remain in the system for some time.2
Find a Crystal Meth Detox Center
Finding a treatment center for crystal meth can seem daunting.
There isn’t really a “best detox center for meth.” It’s a question of what’s right for you, and that will depend on a number of factors, such as:
- How long you’ve been using meth.
- How much meth you’ve been using.
- Your physical and mental health.
- Whether you’ve detoxed before.
- Your insurance and ability to pay.
Worried about insurance? You can also call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). They’ll refer you to a local treatment center that doesn’t require insurance.
In addition, you can search the treatment directory on this site—located on the homepage—for detox centers in your community.
. Stahl, S. M. (2013). Stahl’s essential psychopharmacology: Neuroscientific basis and practical applications. New York: Cambridge university press.
. Doweiko, H. (2014). Concepts of chemical dependency. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning.
. Zorick, T., Nestor, L., Miotto, K., Sugar, C., Hellemann, G., Scanlon, G., & London, E. D. (2010). Withdrawal symptoms in abstinent methamphetamine-dependent subjects. Addiction, 105(10), 1809-1818.
. Christo, G. (1998). The role of neuropsychology in substance misuse treatment. Journal of Substance Misuse, 3(1), 61-66.
. Shearer, J., Sherman, J., Wodak, A., & Beek, I. V. (2002). Substitution therapy for amphetamine users. Drug and Alcohol Review, 21(2), 179-185.
. Verrico, C. D., Mahoney, J. J., Thompson-Lake, D. G., Bennett, R. S., Newton, T. F., & De La Garza, R. (2014). Safety and efficacy of varenicline to reduce positive subjective effects produced by methamphetamine in methamphetamine-dependent volunteers. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology, 17(2), 223-233.
. Reichel, C. M., Murray, J. E., Grant, K. M., & Bevins, R. A. (2009). Bupropion attenuates methamphetamine self-administration in adult male rats. Drug and alcohol dependence, 100(1), 54-62.
. Giorlando, F. (2011). N-acetylcysteine in psychiatry: current therapeutic evidence and potential mechanisms of action. Journal of psychiatry & neuroscience, 36(2), 78-86.
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