Crystal Meth Withdrawal

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Crystal meth, also known as methamphetamine or meth, is a highly addictive synthetic drug. It delivers an immediate “high” that diminishes quickly, leading users to binge to maintain its effects.2 Chronic crystal meth users may experience withdrawal symptoms when they quit using.

Withdrawal lasts about 1 to 2 weeks and is not usually fatal. However, some people may become extremely depressed, suicidal, or relapse. Detox and rehab programs can manage withdrawal and help people learn how to overcome a meth addiction.

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Symptoms

A person who is addicted to crystal meth may experience a range of withdrawal symptoms when he or she decides to quit. Possible withdrawal symptoms include:3

  • Intense crystal meth cravings.
  • Excessive sleep or insomnia.
  • Vivid, terrifying dreams.
  • Extreme fatigue.
  • Increased appetite.
  • Slowed cognition and movement.
  • Unintentional and repetitive movements (pacing, tapping fingers or feet, etc.).
  • Anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure).
  • Depression.
  • Suicidal ideation or behavior.
  • Psychosis.4

These symptoms will vary based on the individual’s overall health and mental well-being, as well as the length of use. Withdrawal symptoms such as intense cravings often contribute to relapse.

Risks

Although crystal meth withdrawal syndrome is not life-threatening in most cases, the symptoms can be uncomfortable, and users may become extremely depressed and even suicidal.
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Another risk is relapse due to the strong cravings many people feel during withdrawal.

It can be beneficial for individuals to seek the guidance and support of a health care professional when attempting to quit meth. They can be monitored and receive any necessary medications to help them through the detox period.


Timeline

The initial withdrawal period is about 1 to 2 weeks.

Because crystal meth leaves the body quickly, the effects of withdrawal can also come on quickly.

Withdrawal symptoms can appear anywhere between a few hours to a few days after the most recent dose.3 The initial withdrawal period for crystal meth is about 1 to 2 weeks, and most acute symptoms will begin to decline after that period. 10

Withdrawal can be broken down into the following stages:

  • The “crash”: The initial phase of withdrawal lasts approximately 2 weeks and consists of excessive sleeping, irritability, and anhedonia (inability to experience pleasure).
  • Intermediate withdrawal: This phase includes fatigue, loss of energy, and continued anhedonia.
  • Late withdrawal: During this phase, the symptoms will have eased. But the person may experience intense cravings. 11

Protracted withdrawal symptoms, crystal meth cravings, and cognitive and emotional deficits may last much longer, but are all issues that can be managed by professional treatment for your addiction.2

Post-Acute Withdrawal

Some individuals may experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), which includes symptoms that linger after the initial withdrawal period.

These feelings are more often emotional symptoms, such as depression, mood swings, or anxiety. But some physical symptoms may also linger after the withdrawal process.5


Causes

Woman experiencing insomnia due to crystal meth withdrawal

Chronic crystal meth use can lead to physical dependence, which is the body’s adaptation to the presence of the drug. Often, physical dependence is accompanied by tolerance, which means that the user requires increasing amounts of meth to feel the desired effects.

Although crystal meth delivers quick effects, it also leaves the body more rapidly than other drugs, which leads to a “crash.” Users will take repeated doses in a short period of time to avoid crashing.2 This pattern of use can speed up the development of tolerance and physical dependence. If a crystal meth user suddenly stops using the drug, he or she will likely experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

Crystal meth increases dopamine activity in the brain, which is why using this drug can produce feelings of intense euphoria.2 Prolonged methamphetamine activation of dopamine receptors leads to a complex cascade of neurochemical events that ultimately produces lasting structural changes throughout the brain.12 These chemical and structural changes are thought to be, in part, responsible for the withdrawal symptoms a chronic crystal meth user may experience upon quitting.

Further complications of long-term meth abuse include impaired verbal learning, decreased motor skills, and cognitive and emotional problems, effects which may take over a year to reverse.2


Treatment

Most treatment options begin with some level of detoxification, which involves ridding the body of the drug. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment option. What works best for one person may not work for another.

Finding the best treatment program depends on your individual needs and addiction. Talk with your health care provider to determine the treatment options that are the best fit for you.

Here are a few crystal meth recovery options:

  • Outpatient treatment programs allow the person to remain at home during the treatment process, which often includes individual and/or group therapy. Different levels of outpatient treatment are available, depending on the level of care needed. Intensive outpatient and partial hospitalization programs provide patients with comprehensive and intensive recovery services similar to those offered through inpatient treatment, but still allow the individual to return home at the end of the day.
  • Inpatient treatment programs provide around-the-clock medical and psychiatric supervision. People are required to live at the facility for the duration of the recovery program. Depending on the type of program, a person may receive individual therapy, group counseling, medical care, and holistic and alternative treatments.
  • Someone who is experiencing withdrawal symptoms may benefit from the supportive care provided by detox programs. These programs are typically short-term and once completed, the person will transition to a treatment program, such as outpatient or inpatient, to receive additional recovery services.

It is important to continue some level of support after treatment to minimize the risk of relapse. Ongoing treatment may include:

Medications

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any drug for the treatment of crystal meth addiction and withdrawal.6 However, antidepressants can help target the co-occurring disorders associated with addiction, such as depression and anxiety.

Therapies

The following behavioral therapy options have proven effective in treating crystal meth addiction:7

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – CBT helps to prevent relapse, particularly during the withdrawal period. It focuses on reframing maladaptive thoughts and behaviors, especially those associated with crystal meth use, and helps the person learn healthy coping skills, self-control, and how to make good decisions.8
  • The Matrix Model – The Matrix Model is a 16-week outpatient program designed for stimulant users. It uses behavioral therapy, family education, individual therapy, support groups, and regular drug tests to promote new healthy behaviors. It fosters empowerment, self-esteem, and dignity in patients.9



Sources

[1]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2013). What is Methamphetamine? In: Methamphetamine.

[2]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014) Methamphetamine.

[3]. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

[4]. Zorick, T., Miotto, K., Sugar, C., Hellemann, G., Scanlon, G., Rawson, R., London, ED. (2010). Withdrawal symptoms in abstinent methamphetamine-dependent subjects. Addiction, 105 (10), 1809-1818.

[5]. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2010). Protracted Withdrawal. Substance Abuse Treatment Advisory, Volume 9, Issue 1.

[6]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016) Commonly Abused Drug Charts.

[7]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2013). What Treatments Are Effective for People who Abuse Methamphetamine?

[8]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (Alcohol, Marijuana, Cocaine, Methamphetamine, Nicotine).

[9]. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). The Matrix Model (Stimulants).

[10]. Lee, S. (2009). Overcoming Crystal Meth Addiction: An Essential Guide to Getting Clean. Da Capo Press.

[11]. Ovsiew, F. and Munich. R. (2008). Principles of Inpatient Psychiatry. Lippincott, Williams, & Wilkins.

[12]. Nestler, E. (2012). Transcriptional Mechanisms of Drug Addiction. Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience 10(3), 136-143.

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