Methamphetamine use has unique physical and mental effects on addicts, and people who are quitting meth experience a different type of withdrawal than opiate or alcohol users. Whether you're an addict who wants to quit using meth, or you have a loved one who is struggling with a meth addiction, here is some information to help you better understand what a person who is quitting meth may go through.
The physical withdrawal symptoms a person experiences while quitting meth are not as severe as for people quitting other types of drugs, because meth is not physically addictive. That’s not to say, however, that quitting meth is any less difficult. Meth users can go through a variety of physical withdrawal symptoms, most common of which are fatigue, hunger, sleep cycle disruptions, restlessness, and cravings.
While quitting meth, severe psychological withdrawal symptoms are most common, and they present the biggest challenges. As with all withdrawal symptoms, the severity will be affected by factors such as how long a person was addicted to meth, how much they used each day, and the presence of other medical conditions or additional drug use.
After an addict’s last dose of meth, it takes about 24 to 48 hours for it to be cleared from their system. Methamphetamines essentially raise the levels of dopamine in a person’s brain. Dopamine affects a variety of psychological processes, and it most notably affects feelings of pleasure and reward. Methamphetamines also destroy dopamine receptors in the brain. After quitting meth, addicts can descend into a deep depression and experience anhedonia, which is the inability to feel pleasure.
Additional psychological withdrawal symptoms can include paranoia, psychosis, anxiety, agitation, suicidal thoughts, and vivid, lucid nightmares. All of these symptoms can be severe and may last for weeks, and depression can persist much longer.
The best way to quit using meth is to detox in the safety of a medical center. Because meth withdrawal is mostly psychological, the detox center can provide a supportive atmosphere and try to keep patients comfortable. Many meth users are also detoxing from other drugs, too, however, so they may need to receive medical treatment for other withdrawal symptoms.
If a person is experiencing severe depression, anxiety, psychosis, suicidal thoughts, or sleep problems that last longer than one or two weeks, they might be treated with medication like antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication (non-benzodiazepine), anti-psychotic medication, or sleep aids.
It can be difficult to treat these problems for those who have quit meth, because it can be a long time, usually months, before their brain chemistry improves. In very severe cases, the damage done to a meth addict’s brain can be permanent. The most effective treatments are those that are multifaceted and may include cognitive-behavioral therapy, group and individual counseling, education on drugs, addiction, and relapse, and a program (for example, a 12-step program specifically for meth addicts is Crystal Meth Anonymous).
Former meth addicts may also need to get treatment for dental or skin problems, or other physical deterioration that occurred during their addiction. As long as a meth addict is willing to accept help and work toward change, a full recovery is achievable.