Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant drug that’s in the category of amphetamines along with popular ADHD medications like Ritalin. Unlike common medicinal amphetamines, meth has fallen out of regular use, although it’s still used as a weight-loss drug in some places. More commonly, meth is used as a recreational drug that offers a potent euphoric high.
However, that high comes at the price of significant consequences like dependence and addiction. Dependence can cause extremely uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that can get in the way of achieving sobriety. Though withdrawal can be a barrier to treatment, it can be effectively treated, paving the way for recovery.
What are the effects of meth withdrawal, and how can the symptoms be treated safely?
Meth is an extremely addictive drug that can lead to substance use problems after using the drug a few times in a short span. The nature of crystal meth’s high also encourages binging. Meth offers a powerful sense of euphoria that lasts only for a few minutes. As the high starts to wear off, the comedown can cause extremely unpleasant symptoms like restlessness, depression, and fatigue.
To keep the pleasant feeling of the high going and stave off the comedown, people often take several doses of meth in a row. A meth binge can lead to days without sleep, worsening the eventual comedown. This kind of meth use also increases your risk of becoming chemically dependent on meth.
Withdrawal symptoms happen after you quit using a drug after you develop a chemical dependence on it. Your brain is incredibly adaptable. When you introduce certain psychoactive chemicals like meth into your body, your brain will work to adapt in order to balance brain chemistry. You’ll experience this by feeling the effects of a growing tolerance over time. You may feel like you need higher doses to feel the same that meth caused when you first started using. For many, the first time using a powerful drug like meth is the most intense, and subsequent doses seem less powerful.
If you’ve used meth a few times recently, and you’re worried that you might be chemically dependent, there are a few signs and symptoms to look out for. If you do have a dependence on meth, you’ll likely experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when you stop using. Signs of meth dependence can include:
Meth withdrawal can be uncomfortable, which is another factor in why you might want to continue in a substance use disorder. Though meth withdrawal can be a significant barrier to treatment, it can be treated effectively.
Crystal meth is a member of a class of drugs called amphetamines. Like other central nervous system stimulants, amphetamines work with a chemical in your brain called dopamine. Dopamine is associated with reward and pleasure. Meth also works with other chemicals, including norepinephrine and serotonin. All three of these chemicals manage your energy levels, mood, and motivation.
Meth is particularly powerful in its ability to manipulate these chemicals, leading to feelings of empowerment, excitement, aggression, sexual arousal, and pleasure. As your brain attempts to adapt to the presence of meth in your system, it may change the chemical balance of your brain around the meth. When you stop using, you’ll experience the opposite of many of these effects as your brain has a deficit of excitatory chemicals.
Withdrawal is usually marked by extreme fatigue and hypersomnia. You may experience more intense fatigue if you binged meth for days before quitting since your body will need to rest and recover from sleeplessness. Since meth can cause feelings of elation and pleasure, withdrawal often comes with depression, negative thoughts, or apathy.
Meth can also be associated with psychosis, which is a loss of touch with reality that causes hallucinations or delusions. Stimulant psychosis is often seen in people that combine heavy stimulant use with sleeplessness. These psychotic symptoms may persist during withdrawal. Stimulant psychosis can be frightening and can cause serious complications in your recovery, but it’s usually temporary.
Other crystal meth withdrawal symptoms can include:
Along with these uncomfortable feelings, you may also experience cravings and compulsions to use meth again. Going through withdrawal on your own may lead to relapse or continued meth use. Seeking help may increase your chances of achieving sobriety and getting through withdrawal.
Meth withdrawal generally occurs in two phases, with the first being the most intense. Meth withdrawal can begin as soon as the drug wears off since a meth comedown can be unpleasant. The most intense phase of meth withdrawal happens within the first 24 hours after your last dose. After a full day, your symptoms will improve over the next few days, and you’ll move into the second phase of withdrawal.
The second phase of withdrawal is milder than the first 24 hours, but it can last for a few weeks after your last dose. The second phase might involve depression and other mental health. In some cases, these symptoms can persist for months. In cases where depression or other symptoms don’t go away after a few weeks, you may need to address them in addiction treatment or therapy.
Meth, like other stimulants, isn’t associated with deadly withdrawal symptoms like depressants can cause. However, meth withdrawal can be dangerous in other ways. Besides fatigue, some of the most intense symptoms of withdrawal are psychological. Depression caused by meth withdrawal can be even more severe than similar stimulants. Depression may be worse if you have a history of depression or if you initially took meth as a way to mask depressive symptoms. Meth has the ability to release so much dopamine into your system that it overwhelms and damages dopamine receptors.
Damaged receptors may not function properly, causing you to feel less pleasure from everyday activities. Dopamine is essential for motivation and positive moods. Pleasure is associated with big moments like eating your favorite meal or getting a big pay raise at work. But it’s involved in small moments, too.
Small amounts of dopamine are released when you complete tasks or talk to a friend. During meth withdrawal, you may experience a phenomenon called anhedonia, which is the inability to feel pleasure. This can cause you to feel that life is pointless. Depression can also cause you to feel shame, worthlessness, and other negative thoughts.
Suicidal thoughts and actions can happen in people in meth withdrawal, and for that reason, meth withdrawal can be dangerous. If you have these thoughts and feelings while you’re going through meth withdrawal, it’s important to recognize that they are usually temporary. Depression is treatable, but when it becomes overwhelming, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible.
The treatment you receive for meth will depend on your specific needs. Addiction treatment for meth may need to address other health conditions that are commonly associated with meth. Malnutrition and infections are common with active addiction to methamphetamine. When you seek help from a doctor or addiction treatment program, you’ll go through an assessment process to determine your medical, psychological, and social needs.
If you’re likely to go through severe withdrawal symptoms, or if you have high-level medical needs, you may go through a medical detox program. Detox is a level of care in addiction treatment that’s reserved for people that are likely to experience moderate-to-severe withdrawal symptoms. But other medical and psychological needs may also be addressed in detox.
Detox involves 24-hour medically managed treatment from medical professionals. You may be treated with medications to help alleviate common symptoms. Medical detox programs also often have clinicians on staff to help you begin to address other issues that may come with addiction, such as mental health issues. Though detox is important for many people that seek addiction treatment, it’s usually not enough to lead to lasting sobriety.
You may move on to another level of care in addiction treatment after completing a meth detox program. If you make it through the withdrawal phase successfully but still require medical supervision, you may need further inpatient treatment. You may go through medically monitored or clinically managed treatment after detox. If you can live on your own without a significant threat to your health or sobriety, you may go through an outpatient program. Outpatient care is split between intensive outpatient treatment with nine or more hours of services each week and outpatient care with fewer than nine hours.
Through each level of care, you will receive treatment that’s tailored to your individual needs with the goal of lasting recovery.
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