Taking a highly addictive stimulant like meth can lead to all sorts of consequences. But what about trying to stop its use? What is it like to detox from meth addiction?
What is Meth?
Meth, or methamphetamine, is a powerful stimulant that affects the central nervous system, causing an increase in activity, a pleasurable feeling or euphoria, and a decreased appetite.
While methamphetamine was developed from amphetamine in the early 20th century, it is a more potent stimulant as more amount of the drug gets into the brain. Its effects are also longer lasting and more harmful to the central nervous system. Known by its street names crank, ice, or speed, it comes in the form of a white crystalline powder that is odorless and dissolves in water or alcohol easily.
It can also look like pieces of glass or like blue rocks, and depending on its manufacturing, it can be swallowed, smoked, injected, or snorted.
With as little as a single use, meth can cause addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1.5 million people in the United States had a methamphetamine use disorder in 2020.
The highly addictive stimulant causes a rush of dopamine, the chemical that is responsible for inducing motivation, memory retention, reward processing, learning, and feelings of pleasure. Meth produces a rush of dopamine much higher than the natural amount of dopamine the brain produces, causing a person to have drug cravings, as they wish to keep the pleasurable and heightened feelings.
Meth addiction and its consequences can be scary. Withdrawal symptoms, which come about when a person stops or cuts back on its use, as well as obsessive worrying about the next high, can do great damage to mental health – there are physical health problems too that may occur as part of the detox from meth.
The effects of meth
Despite negative consequences, 500 people each day try meth for the first time.
As meth decreases a person’s appetite, meth users may barely eat while using it. It may cause intense cravings for sugar, so a person could consume a lot of carbonated, sugary beverages. Swallowing meth can cause damage to the lining of the stomach and the lower intestinal tracks. This means that fewer nutrients will be absorbed, while prolonged meth use can also change how the liver processes nutrients. These factors altogether cause malnutrition.
The short-term effects of meth abuse include boosted attention, feeling more awake, as well as intense excitement or euphoria. But when this high disappears, the brain will want more of the drug to experience these effects again. A person may also experience a faster heart rate, an irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, and high temperature, and in the long run, can suffer weight loss, dental issues, and itchy skin.
Meth users can feel the short-term effects of the drug for several hours, and these include a false sense of power, confidence, or invincibility. It often leads to poor decision-making, causing people to take risks far beyond what they would if they were sober. Over time, meth abuse can cause changes to brain chemistry, causing anxiety, aggression, and paranoia.
Addiction treatment is necessary to stop meth abuse, and as with any drug addiction, detox is required to begin recovery.
A crystal meth detox process varies according to the severity of use, but it is usually longer than the detox periods for alcohol or other drugs. Withdrawal from some stimulants could appear to be less severe than that of drugs such as opiates or sedatives, which is why it could be tempting for someone suffering from methamphetamine dependence to detox on their own.
But treatment programs are usually more successful than attempting ‘cold turkey’ methods and are certainly safer. Some withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous or even life-threatening.
Attempting a home detox
To detox meth from the body without medical supervision comes with high potential danger. Attempting an at-home detox does not cover the risks of psychological and emotional withdrawal symptoms, which are very severe without the help of meth addiction treatment.
Intense cravings for the drug pose a great risk for relapsing when attempting home detox, while self-harm or suicide attempts may be part of withdrawing from the stimulant. Although experiences in withdrawal differ from person to person, a medical detox program is always recommended, as medical professionals at treatment centers can help manage physical and psychological symptoms.
Detox at treatment centers
Detoxing from meth with the help of a medical professional means that a person could achieve a clear mind to focus on learning the necessary skills to maintain sobriety.
A detox facility provides a person with an opportunity to be in an environment that is clear of substance abuse, and one that is different from where substance use was happening. This can be crucial in causing a person to follow through with a detox instead of relapsing.
Meth detox severity can range from mild to potentially fatal when it comes to meth. That is why a detox center also takes into account how long a person has used meth, the amount of meth they used, and other influencing factors, such as co-existing substance use disorders or mental disorders. In this way, a medically supervised meth detox ensures proper management of withdrawal symptoms, while also leading a person to the necessary treatment after detox to ensure long-term recovery.
What helps to make meth detox easier?
While the duration of the detox process depends on many factors, eating healthy can help make the process smoother. A healthy diet means a healthy brain, helping with decision-making and impulse actions. Vitamins B12 and C improve the transition of nerve impulses, for example. These can help the body to recover from some of the damages caused by meth.
The body’s water supply can help with dehydration and flushing out excess methamphetamine metabolites.
Usually, there is a medical necessity during a meth detox. While there are no medicines to treat dependence on meth, there are medicines to treat symptoms during detox. Addiction professionals may use medications to provide relief of symptoms during withdrawal.
For example, prescription medications such as anti-depressants or anti-anxiety drugs may be used, while other medications like Mirtazapine or Imipramine could be used to counter the chemical imbalance that occurs in the brain during the difficult time of withdrawal. This can help with mood swings that occur during a meth detox. Irregular sleep or sleep disturbances that occur during meth withdrawal can also be treated with narcolepsy medications or mild stimulants.
Meth Withdrawal Symptoms
When the brain is accustomed to the presence of methamphetamine, side effects occur when its use is lessened or stopped, called withdrawal symptoms. There are physical symptoms and psychological symptoms of meth withdrawal.
Mood swings and other mental health disorders may occur, while violent behavior and suicidal thoughts are the most concerning side effects of methamphetamine withdrawal. This is why the withdrawal process is best done under supervision.
While the worst meth withdrawal symptoms usually take place within the first day after stopping use and gradually taper off, the severity of a meth detox can vary from person to person.
Physical withdrawal signs
- Changes in appetite
- Extreme fatigue
- Muscle spasms
- Respiratory Issues
Psychological withdrawal signs
- Depression and anxiety
- Intense drug cravings
- Mood swings
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts
Long-term meth withdrawal can also occur for years after use is stopped. Prolonged meth use is very powerful and causes a person to develop a strong psychological dependence on it. Apart from cravings for the drug, anhedonia, which is the inability to feel pleasure, as well as depression, causes many people to relapse after stopping meth use.
The meth withdrawal timeline varies from person to person. Usually, acute symptoms last about one to two weeks, while other symptoms may remain after.
Symptoms begin to show a few hours after a person has had their last dose, and can gradually worsen for some days before starting to improve. Usually, people experience a ‘crash’, in which they become mentally and physically exhausted and sleep for hours or days during the detox process.
Within the first few hours after the last dose, a person may experience a depressed mood as the drug wears off. The first two days usually cause a sharp decrease in energy and cognitive function, nausea, cramping, and sweating. Anywhere between one to three days after the last dose, a person may start to experience the ‘crash’. They may experience irritability, an increasingly negative mood, and excessive sleepiness.
While the first couple of days may be the most physically challenging, the next phase is mentally difficult. Depression and anxiety will start to occur as psychological withdrawal starts to kick in. Some other symptoms that may start appearing include cravings for the drug, an increase in appetite, and vivid and unpleasant dreams.
Around the fourth day, symptoms like paranoia and anhedonia start to appear. Between seven days and two weeks after the last dose, symptoms start to improve and gradually lessen. After the acute phase has passed, most symptoms subside, and doctors may discuss the next step needed for a full recovery, which involves addiction treatment.
After an initial withdrawal process is done, further treatment is needed and is very important for long-term recovery.
Anyone wanting to recover from substance abuse, particularly methamphetamine, will benefit from addiction treatment after a medically assisted detox at a treatment center. Seeking addiction treatment is the first best step.
Addiction specialists can help to design a treatment plan that addresses substance abuse as a whole. This means that treatment options at a facility go beyond getting rid of the substance from your body.
As with any drug abuse, a treatment facility will provide various kinds of therapy after detox, and these may vary according to the individual. Treatment programs vary according to a person’s needs, medical and drug history, as well as possible co-occurring mental health disorders. A person can either reside inside a treatment facility during the process of recovery in an inpatient setting or reside at home and attend therapies or programs at the treatment center, known as outpatient treatment.
Treatment options usually include individual therapy, whereby a person identifies the cause of starting an addiction, identifies triggers that may cause them to use again, and learns how to respond to these triggers in a healthy manner instead of returning to drug use.
Group therapy, sometimes in the form of support groups, is another part of treatment programs, whereby a person interacts with others who have similar struggles. This kind of therapy is a huge support for anyone undergoing treatment and for life after drug rehab, as it provides a sober peer community and helps a person understand that they are not alone in their battle against addiction.
Treatment centers can also help with life after leaving rehab, in the form of an aftercare plan. Here, a person follows a program and attends certain check-ups or therapies, so that they may lead a sober life after treatment, with less risk of relapse.
Where can I find a treatment provider?
If you or a loved one is seeking help for substance abuse, Ebb Tide is here to help. Our caring and experienced staff will ensure that you receive the best treatment and maintain sobriety after therapy. Our serene waterfront location allows you to participate in rewarding activities, while our use of evidence-based treatments ensures your recovery in a safe, supportive environment.