Related to (and far stronger than) amphetamines, methamphetamine got its start as a prescription drug before its potential for abuse was realized. Long associated with backyard labs and outlaw motorcycle gangs, most meth available on the street now is made by multinational criminal gangs who smuggle it into the US.
Intense, cheap, and highly addictive, methamphetamine’s physical effects are infamous. Worse, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports methamphetamine-related overdoses have climbed sharply in recent years.
Like other addictive drugs, methamphetamine withdrawal can a difficult process, though it’s far from impossible. Detoxing from meth in a clinical, monitored environment is the ideal start for a long-lasting, successful recovery from meth abuse.
Why Is Meth Addictive?
Methamphetamine is similar to other addictive stimulants. When taken, it increases the amount of the brain chemical dopamine. Normally, our brain produces small amounts of dopamine when we engage in activities that reward our existence, such as eating. Meth and other illicit stimulants cause the brain to flood our systems with dopamine, creating an overwhelming rush. This dopamine rush reinforces the behaviors of drug addiction.
Unlike other stimulants, methamphetamine lasts much longer in the system. Cocaine, for example, is rapidly metabolized and removed from the body when it’s used. Methamphetamine stays active for a longer period of time. Additionally, methamphetamine causes a higher release of dopamine than other stimulants. This combination creates a powerful, long-lasting high which fuels addictive behaviors.
Over long-term use, the effects of methamphetamine abuse are devastating. Meth abuse causes intense itching sensations, leading users to injure themselves by scratching. “Meth mouth,” severe dental problems caused by dry mouth, grinding teeth, and poor hygiene, may be meth’s most infamous symptom.
The neurological effects of meth are just as bad. Meth changes the structure of the brain, leading to memory problems, confusion and sometimes, highly aggressive behavior. As a stimulant, meth is also capable of keeping a user up for days, leading to further problems.
Why Seek Professional Detox Help For Methamphetamine Withdrawal?
Methamphetamine addiction is treatable, but the first step must be detox. Many of the tools and medications used to treat meth addiction simply will not work with methamphetamines in a person’s system. Methamphetamine withdrawal, while not quite as difficult as withdrawing from other substances, is still challenging and benefits from a monitored, medical detox program.
Just like other addictive substances, there is no set path through methamphetamine withdrawal. Everyone’s case is different, dependent on multiple factors, including:
- Overall physical and mental health
- History of past drug use
- Amount of meth used
That said, in general most methamphetamine withdrawal symptoms start within 24 hours of last using the drug. They consist of an acute phase which lasts for roughly one or two weeks, followed by a lengthy period when symptoms decrease.
Methamphetamine Withdrawal: The First Weeks
Typically, the acute symptoms of methamphetamine withdrawal have the opposite effects of the drug. It’s not uncommon for recovering meth users to sleep a lot for the first few days after their use stops.
Symptoms of this stage include:
- Exhaustion and fatigue
- Disturbed sleep
- Muscle spasms and pain
- Intense anxiety and paranoia
- Intense cravings for methamphetamine
- Dehydration and dry mouth
- Changes in appetite
Clinical, supervised methamphetamine detox can make many of these symptoms easier to bear.
Methamphetamine Withdrawal: After The Acute Phase
Most of the physical symptoms disappear after the first two weeks. Recovery from meth addiction turns into something of a mental game as the mental symptoms of methamphetamine abuse can be challenging without professional detox help.
- Feelings of anxiety and/or depression
- Strong cravings for methamphetamines
- A lack of motivation
Although it’s rare for methamphetamine recovery, researchers are studying a condition which often affects people recovering from addictive substances. Similar to withdrawal, but with effects of its own, post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) can represent a substantial risk to patients recovering from methamphetamine abuse.
What Is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)?
PAWS is a not fully understood syndrome which affects people recovering from substance abuse. Most common in people recovering from benzodiazepine addiction, it’s been noted in people recovering from other psychoactive substances such as methamphetamines.
Symptoms resemble those of methamphetamine withdrawal, but there are some which are unique to PAWS. Symptoms include:
- Difficulties with problem solving, learning, and memory
- Being easily irritated
- Anxiety, including panic disorder
- A marked sensitivity to stress
- Behaviors resembling OCD
- Lethargy and/or pessimism
- Trouble with social skills
Although researchers are still determining what the causes of PAWS are, many suspect it has roots in the ways addictive substances change the brain. While PAWS can be discouraging for someone who went through methamphetamine withdrawal, a rehab program can be an invaluable tool in treating PAWS system and avoiding the potential for relapse.
Methamphetamine Detox Is Just The First Step
Detox is critically important … but it’s not the end. After detoxing from methamphetamines, the next step needs to be a quality rehab provider. In rehab, patients learn new coping strategies and techniques to avoid relapse and live a long healthy life free from methamphetamine addiction.