Methamphetamine creates an intense high that lasts five to 30 minutes, and the lingering effects can last up to 12 hours. The short duration of the drug’s euphoric effects cause people to reuse the substance, which can increase a person’s tolerance to meth.
Once tolerance develops, people need to take higher doses of the drug to achieve the desired effects. They may start smoking or injecting meth to experience a stronger, more immediate high.
When people take meth frequently or in high doses, it can eventually lead to a substance use disorder. Meth addiction can induce symptoms of withdrawal, a set of health problems that can linger for days.
“The craving that people seem to have for methamphetamine is really, really intense,” Dr. Edward Bednarczyk told DrugRehab.com. “It’s hitting on the pleasure centers of the brain and people want [the feeling of using meth] again.”
Bednarczyk is the director of the Center for Health Outcomes, Pharmacoinformatics and Epidemiology. He said intense cravings are one of the reasons people want to avoid meth withdrawal.
Clearing meth from the body and overcoming withdrawal symptoms is the goal of detox, which is the first step of treatment for meth addiction. Once detox is complete, people can seek counseling and other services to learn how to quit meth and maintain long-term sobriety.
Withdrawal from methamphetamine occurs when a regular meth user suddenly stops taking the substance. When this happens, the person may experience a range of distressing physical and psychological health problems.
Physical symptoms of meth withdrawal include:
According to a 2010 study published in the journal Addiction, individuals withdrawing from meth can also experience increased or decreased appetite, poor concentration and memory, sleep problems and low energy. During detox, they often feel intense cravings for the drug.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that meth withdrawal symptoms can alter a person’s emotions. While going through meth withdrawal during detox, people often become angry, nervous or anxious. Some may experience severe mental health problems such as depression or meth psychosis.
The most severe effects of meth withdrawal typically occur within the first couple days of detox. Although symptoms gradually subside within one to two weeks, certain withdrawal effects can persist for several weeks after someone stops taking the drug.
Meth consumes much of the body’s resources. During the first two days of abstinence, a person experiences a crash, also known as a come down. The body is depleted of energy and becomes more vulnerable to disease. During this time, individuals may experience fatigue, excessive sleep and increased appetite.
During the first week of detox, people may feel unease, paranoia or fatigue. Some have suicidal thoughts and are unable to feel pleasure. By the end of the first week, these symptoms largely decline.
A 2005 study published in the journal Addiction indicated that amphetamine users can experience depression about seven to 10 days into withdrawal. Symptoms of depression may continue into the second and third weeks of withdrawal, but they usually end within the first two weeks.
A phase known as subacute withdrawal can last two to three weeks. During this time, problems associated with sleep and appetite can persist. Slow heart rate, also known as bradycardia, can linger for several weeks after last use.
Identifying the exact duration of meth withdrawal is difficult because the length and severity of withdrawal symptoms vary by person. Someone who has abused meth for several years will likely experience stronger effects of withdrawal than a person who has abused the drug for a couple of months.
Addiction is a brain disease. It causes people to act erratically and irrationally. Over time, repetitive meth abuse can cause a person’s mind and body to deteriorate.
Detoxing from meth at home can be dangerous. Those who choose to stop using the drug cold turkey without medical supervision may not know how to alleviate painful withdrawal symptoms. Attending rehab for detox is much safer because patients have access to immediate medical care.
Depression is a trademark symptom of meth withdrawal. Some people have said that the depression during withdrawal is so bad that they prefer to use more meth to reduce depressive thoughts.
Bednarczyk said avoiding withdrawal is “part of the reinforcement for addictive behavior.” Using meth makes people addicted to the drug feel better. They start to believe they need the drug to feel normal.
“I’ve heard it described as if you’re on the highway,” Bednarczyk said. “You’ve just got the pedal pushed flat, and then you pull and take an exit. When you’re doing the speed limit at the exit, it just doesn’t feel good. It just doesn’t feel as much fun as driving the speed limit or over the speed limit on a highway — doing 70 versus doing 35.”
To address depression caused by meth withdrawal, rehab centers may provide antidepressants. These medications affect a person’s mood and emotions. They can improve concentration, sleep quality and mood.
No medications are approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating meth addiction. But some pharmacological treatments have shown promise in reducing meth use.
According to a 2010 study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, the medications bupropion, naltrexone and modafinil have shown effectiveness in reducing meth use in people addicted to the drug. The report indicated that other types of drugs failed to effectively treat meth-dependent patients, including GABA agents, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, ondansetron and mirtazapine.
The effects of meth use can be felt long after a person stops using the drug. Research has shown that cognitive abilities improve after three months of not using meth. However, individuals may not fully recover executive and motor function, attentiveness, memory and learning ability for up to four years.
Many people addicted to meth are unable to overcome their substance use disorder on their own. This can lead to continued use, which can exacerbate health problems. But treatment can help people safely detox and prepare to transition to inpatient rehab.
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