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Methamphetamine withdrawal is a collection of symptoms that occur when a person who is dependent on methamphetamine abruptly stops taking it. These symptoms are both physical and psychological in nature, and can be very debilitating. Withdrawal symptoms often make it difficult for people to remain abstinent from meth because they involve strong drug cravings, and they are no longer experienced when a person gives in to those cravings.
Withdrawal is also alleviated in healthier ways, such as keeping a balanced diet and getting regular exercise. The symptoms will go away in time, and it helps to be in a treatment center, free from temptation, while experiencing withdrawal. Detox and withdrawal are among the first steps to overcoming meth addiction, and it is important to know what to expect.
Who Experiences Meth Withdrawal?
Not everyone who uses meth experiences a withdrawal syndrome when they stop. Withdrawal from methamphetamine occurs when the person in question is dependent on the drug. Dependence develops when your body becomes used to having a certain substance in it due to repeat exposure. Methamphetamine, like other drugs, interferes with the functioning of neurotransmitters in the brain, and these interactions can lead to dependence.
It is important to understand, however, that methamphetamine dependence develops rather quickly. Most people who have been chronically using methamphetamine and abruptly stop will experience some degree of withdrawal. The degree of withdrawal will depend in part on their degree of dependence on the drug.
Symptoms of Methamphetamine Withdrawal
The symptoms of methamphetamine withdrawal are largely psychological, though some physical symptoms manifest as well. According to the Government of Australia, some people experience a ‘crash’ episode after using meth which is a couple of days of prolonged sleep, increased appetite, irritability and anxiety. This is not considered withdrawal, and treatment may not be required if the person can stop using meth on their own.
Withdrawal, however, includes a range of more intense symptoms that tend to last for 1-5 weeks. The symptoms of meth withdrawal may include:
- Generally feeling down
- Mood swings
- Inability to experience pleasure
- Decreased energy
- Irritability or anger
- Cycles of depression and euphoria
- Agitation, anxiety
- Aches and pains
- Sleep disturbance, lethargy, exhaustion, insomnia
- Poor concentration and memory
- Methamphetamine cravings
- Psychomotor agitation
- Vivid, unpleasant dreams
- Increased appetite
Meth Withdrawal Duration
The duration of meth withdrawal varies from person to person, but there is a basic timeline that can be expected. Throughout withdrawal it can be helpful to keep this in mind, and especially to keep in mind the fact that withdrawal will certainly end.
According to a study in the Journal of Addiction, depressive and psychotic symptoms are largely resolved within a week of abstinence. Cravings are likely to be experienced at a strong intensity for two weeks, and then continue at a more reduced level for five weeks. Sleep and appetite symptoms may also continue for about two weeks.
The Government of Australia reports that symptoms usually peak within three days after a person’s last use of methamphetamine. In extreme cases, depression can last from weeks to many months. This may be alleviated with treatment and lifestyle changes.
What Affects the Duration of Methamphetamine Withdrawal?
Each individual’s experience with methamphetamine withdrawal is different than the next. This occurs for several reasons relating to a person’s lifestyle, mental and physical health, and their environment.
The Victoria Drug Treatment Services Unit describes the following as being potential factors determining a person’s experience with meth withdrawal:
- General health
- Mode of administration
- Quantity and purity of meth being used before stopping
- Using multiple drugs at once
Remedies and Treatment for Meth Withdrawal
At this moment in time there are no medications approved specifically for meth withdrawal, but in some cases medications are prescribed to alleviate certain symptoms. For example, benzodiazepines can be prescribed to reduce anxiety or insomnia. They would normally not be prescribed for very long-term, however. According to the Victoria Department of Health, managing withdrawal consists mostly of psychosocial interventions. These can help people develop and maintain the motivation for change, and provide the cognitive skills to do so.
Some things that can help during withdrawal include:
- Having a support system. This helps people stay motivated, accountable, and provides alternatives to drug use, such as spending time with friends.
- Maintaining a healthy diet. Eating a balanced diet helps keep energy levels up and stress levels down. It can help a person’s mental health in other ways, as well.
- Getting regular exercise. Similarly to maintaining good eating habits, exercise helps people avoid stress and depression, and provides energy. It also provides healthy alternatives to drug use, and other things to do with your time. Exercise can help alleviate insomnia.
It is very important to adequately address meth withdrawal while in treatment. Withdrawal makes it difficult for people to remain abstinent due to the cravings and the belief that using meth is the only thing that will make withdrawal go away, according to the Chemical Dependency Bureau. Helping a person ease withdrawal can help increase their motivation for recovery.
Dangers of Meth Withdrawal
Withdrawal from methamphetamine is considered to be relatively safe, although mental health conditions, use of multiple drugs, and a much degenerated state of health can cause serious complications.
However, a study from the University of Florida found that meth withdrawal may negatively affect people’s brains. This needs further research, but the findings show it may lead to decreases in neural activity. If true, this would point to the need for treating methamphetamine addiction and withdrawal more as a chronic disease.