Methamphetamine Withdrawal Symptoms, Timeline and Detox Treatment Options
Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant that targets the central nervous system. Meth abuse continues to be a significant global issue, with as many as 50 million users worldwide. In the United States, prevalence use is approximately 0.5% nationwide.
Often referred to as “crystal meth” on the streets, it is chemically similar to amphetamine, which is prescribed to treat narcolepsy and ADHD. However, the long-term effects of meth use can be devastating.
When you continue using meth, brain changes occur, and once a physical dependence develops, meth withdrawal symptoms begin to surface after discontinued use. These symptoms can be a significant barrier when overcoming meth addiction. Meth is a hazardous drug that significantly shortens your life expectancy.
Today can be the day you get the help you need to ensure a healthier, more fulfilling future. Your journey begins with meth withdrawal, which can be completed in a safe, supportive environment. Here’s what you need to know to take that first step.
What Are the Symptoms of Methamphetamine Withdrawal?
Meth is highly addictive, and meth withdrawal symptoms are one of the primary reasons users relapse. In some areas of the United States, meth now poses a more significant threat than opioids and is the drug most often attributed to violent crime.
Following extended use, individuals begin to suffer severe medical, psychological, and social consequences. From memory loss to severe dental problems, the consequences of meth abuse are long-lasting, primarily when someone transmits an infectious disease, like hepatitis or HIV.
The higher the doses and the more frequently meth is taken, the more quickly a tolerance will develop. Chronic meth users often find it challenging to feel any pleasure other than that provided by the drug. This effect continues to fuel abuse, and once the user stops, meth withdrawal symptoms surface.
Meth abstinence leads to several symptoms, with cravings being the most common.
Other meth withdrawal symptoms include:
- Severe depression
Some users also experience an increase in appetite, especially carbohydrate cravings. These symptoms result because when people are using meth, they often lack an appetite, which is why weight loss is so common. Cravings starchy or sugary foods will often be most substantial at the beginning of the meth withdrawal process, usually lasting into the second and third weeks.
When you enter a structured, evidence-based treatment program, nutrition will be covered within your treatment plan. Returning to a normal, balanced diet will be necessary for your physical and mental health.
The severity of symptoms will depend on several factors, including how long you have been using meth and how much you’ve been taking. Typically, the longer you have been using, the more severe meth withdrawal symptoms are. Also, not everyone experiences the same symptoms. Underlying mental health conditions can play a significant role. It also depends on whether you’re using other substances of abuse.
Although meth withdrawal symptoms can be daunting, it’s important to understand the consequences of not receiving treatment. The long-term effects of meth addiction are severe and often life-threatening. Not seeking help could be a life or death decision.
Meth abuse often leads to violent and risky behavior, but it can also trigger psychosis. This symptom is fairly common, affecting as many as 60% of meth users. Over time, this symptom can become chronic. Data shows that up to 30% of those with meth psychosis may have symptoms that continue for up to six months.
As many as 10-28% of patients experience meth psychosis for more than six months. Another study found that meth users continued to show “schizophrenia-like symptoms” eight to 12 years following meth abstinence.
This symptom is something that needs to be monitored throughout your recovery program. When you are treated holistically, all variables are considered. Meth addiction is often just one piece of the puzzle. Symptoms of mental health disorders need to be treated simultaneously. This approach is what’s known as a dual-diagnosis treatment.
What Causes Meth Withdrawal?
Physiological dependence is associated with meth withdrawal symptoms and cravings are believed to reinforce continued drug use. Meth differs from amphetamine in that it increases the permeability of the blood-brain barrier, which increases potency and the risk of toxicity.
Long-term meth use causes changes in the brain, leading to severe addiction. For example, research shows that chronic meth use leads to significant structural and functional changes in certain areas of the brain. These brain regions are associated with memory and emotion.
While studying primates, it’s been found that meth alters brain structures associated with decision-making, reducing one’s ability to suppress habitual behaviors. Researchers concluded that these changes might help explain why meth addiction is so hard to treat. This is a rather complex and complicated process.
Data shows that meth causes deficits in executive control functions which can persist well into the recovery process. Brain imaging scans show that chronic meth users experience differences in the brain once they abstain from meth use, compared with healthy control subjects. These abnormalities are present in limbic and cortical systems.
The limbic system is responsible for behavioral and emotional responses, whereas the cortical system involves attention, perception, awareness, language, memory, thought, and consciousness. These changes create deficits in dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitter systems and differences in brain glucose metabolism.
The result is a lack of cognitive control, including inhibitory control. For many in recovery, to address potential cognitive deficits, ongoing therapy is crucial in maintaining drug abstinence.
Brain chemicals also play a pivotal role. The methamphetamine molecule is structurally similar to both amphetamine and the neurotransmitter dopamine. This brain chemical plays a key role in reinforcing rewarding behaviors. Research shows that meth also increases concentrations of serotonin, adrenaline, histamine, and norepinephrine.
Brain imaging studies also show that meth-dependent patients showcase brain structural abnormalities. Overall, the cause of meth addiction and then meth withdrawal are incredibly complex.
Although meth and cocaine produce similar physiological effects, they differ in how they work. Unlike cocaine, which is quickly removed and metabolized, meth has a longer duration of action. A larger percentage of the drug also remains unchanged.
For example, when using meth, 50% is removed from the body in 12 hours, compared to cocaine, where 50% is removed in an hour.
Both drugs increase dopamine levels, but meth shows a much greater impact on dopamine when studied in animals. Meth blocks the re-uptake of dopamine and also increases the release of dopamine. As a result, the brain learns to repeat pleasurable activities. In this case, users continue to crave and use meth.
How Long Does Methamphetamine Withdrawal Take?
Small studies have been published on meth withdrawal, showing an acute phase of seven to 10 days, followed by a subacute phase lasting up to three weeks. The acute phase featured significant cravings and depression-related symptoms. These symptoms showed a high initial peak that occurred approximately 24 hours after the last dose — with symptoms during the subacute phase lasting an average of two weeks.
One study focused on a five-week period. The researchers were interested in whether psychological and physical symptoms appeared in the first several weeks of abstinence, how cravings evolved and whether psychiatric symptoms persisted beyond a month. It was found that both psychotic and depressive symptoms developed during the acute withdrawal period and cravings lasted at least five weeks.
The meth withdrawal process is followed by post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). These symptoms include fatigue, depression, sleep disturbances, and cravings and can last a week or months. For example, mood disturbances can last up to a year. If you have experienced meth-related psychosis in the past, you may also experience further psychotic episodes. This symptom is one of the possible medical complications of meth withdrawal, as it can lead to dangerous behavior.
- Meth withdrawal symptoms often develop in the first 24 hours following your last dose. Initial symptoms often include fatigue, anxiety, and depression.
- On average, symptoms last one to two weeks, depending on several variables.
- PAWS can last up to 12 months, in some cases, longer. However, this highly varies from one individual to the next. This pattern is unique to each user. Some will experience PAWS for weeks and others for years. Some users will not experience PAWS at all.
How To Safely Manage A Methamphetamine Detox
At this time, there aren’t any government-approved medications to treat meth addiction. However, several effective treatment options are available, including cognitive-behavioral therapy. This strategy is part of a larger treatment plan that will be developed when you seek the assistance of substance abuse and mental health experts.
Research shows that behavioral therapy is one of the most effective long-term treatments currently available for treating meth addiction. However, a comprehensive treatment plan will also include individual counseling and family education.
The meth withdrawal process becomes a lot more complicated when other substances of abuse are involved. For example, many meth users will start to rely on other drugs if they cannot get meth or have a long history of combined drug use.
Using alcohol and meth together is common, as addicts often use these substances in predictable patterns. Research shows that binge drinking may be associated with an increased likelihood of meth use.
While studying the relationship between alcohol and meth, researchers have studied the potential use of Naltrexone for treating meth addiction. This study was the first of its kind, observing a small sample size (22 men and eight women).
These participants were observed over a four-day hospital stay. Each of these individuals was given Naltrexone or a placebo daily. Ten days later, these individuals returned to the hospital for an additional four days. Those who initially took Naltrexone were given a placebo and vice versa. On the last day, all subjects were given IV doses of meth. Three hours later, subjects were asked how they felt and how badly they wanted more.
It was found that Naltrexone made participants less aroused by meth, reducing cravings. The idea here is that Naltrexone could reduce the rewarding effects initiated by meth use. Although this medication blocks opioid receptors, it is often used when treating alcohol addiction and may offer support for meth withdrawal symptoms — particularly cravings. This is not a common practice but shows that there may be pharmaceutical interventions that exist.
For PAWS, there are many recommended interventions. An individualized treatment plan will address these recommendations based on your unique history, needs, and ongoing goals. The first step is to become educated about what post-acute symptoms are so that you can develop realistic attitudes towards your symptoms, celebrating each achievement.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Meth is a highly potent and addictive central nervous system stimulant that requires a comprehensive treatment program to address physiological and psychological variables. The detoxification period is imperative to the success of any treatment plan.
If you are not seeking treatment for your addiction because you fear symptoms of meth withdrawal, know that you can safely and comfortably withdraw from meth within a structured, clinical setting. Taking this step could save your life and help you build a bright, happy future free from the chains of addiction.
Meth withdrawal is highly complex and follow-up care is often critical to a user’s ongoing success. The risk of relapse is high among meth users, so an individualized care plan is essential. Once you overcome meth withdrawal symptoms, you’ll need a structured treatment plan to help you avoid triggers of abuse. At this time, you’ll also get help with any underlying mental health symptoms that contribute to your addiction.
The key is to partner with a substance abuse and mental health facility, like Zinnia Health, that offers evidence-based treatment.