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Ready to quit meth?

Well if so, get informed and prepared before you start and maximize your chances of a successful outcome.

Read on to learn more about:

  • What to expect over the first and second phases of the withdrawal period
  • The possible dangers and what factors increase the severity of withdrawal symptoms
  • Your detox options and how to know if you need residential or outpatient detox
  • How to stay clean through the longer term protracted withdrawal period

Typical Methamphetamine Withdrawal Symptoms

So what does methamphetamine withdrawal feel like, and how long does it last for?

Methamphetamine withdrawal symptoms occur over 2 phases:

  1. The Acute Phase (the first week to 10 days)
  2. The Protracted Phase (for many weeks or months after the completion of the acute phase)

Common symptoms during the Acute Phase include:

  • Irritability
  • Intense drug cravings
  • Mood swings
  • Depression (an inability to feel pleasure, sadness etc.)
  • Sleeping problems
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Fatigue
  • An inability to concentrate
  • Aches and pains

Common symptoms of the Protracted Phase include:

  • Cravings
  • Problems with thinking and memory
  • Sleeping problems
  • Depression1

Why Do You Get Meth Withdrawal Symptoms?

Researchers think that most meth withdrawal symptoms occur for 3 primary reasons:

  1. Chronic meth use depletes the levels of certain neurotransmitters, like dopamine
  2. Chronic meth use causes a reduction of receptors for neurotransmitters like dopamine (so you have insufficient levels of dopamine and you also have too few receptors for what little you do have left!)
  3. Chronic meth use causes neurotoxicity (brain damage). This brain damage can take a long time to heal and this is one reason why some meth withdrawal symptoms like thinking problems, depression and cravings, can persist for a long time after you quit2

Is Methamphetamine Withdrawal Dangerous?

Although the withdrawal from some drugs can be life threatening (like alcohol or benzodiazepines) methamphetamine withdrawal, by itself, is rarely dangerous.

However, in some extreme cases, the way methamphetamine withdrawal makes you think or feel can lead you to hurt yourself or others.

Methamphetamine withdrawal is dangerous if:

  • You experience strong psychosis and are a danger to yourself or to others
  • You become very depressed and have suicidal thoughts

What Influences the Severity of Withdrawals?

You are more likely to have severe withdrawal symptoms if you:

  • Inject
  • Use high doses/at high frequency
  • Use other drugs alongside methamphetamine
  • Are in poor health
  • Except severe withdrawal symptoms (be careful about looking for the worst…you sometimes find what you’re looking for!)
  • Go through the withdrawal period in an uncomfortable environment or without psychosocial support3

Detox Options

OK, so you’re getting ready to quit meth and go through the withdrawal phase…now what – what are your options?

  1. Tough it out on your own
  2. Stay at home, but get support though an outpatient detox program
  3. Go to a residential detox facility for the duration of the primary withdrawal symptoms

So, should you go it alone, or should you get into an outpatient or residential detox program for some support?

Though meth detox is rarely dangerous it is tough and unpleasant, and getting support and assistance during the withdrawal phase increases your odds of success.

If you want to try it on your own, find a safe place to hole up for a few days, away from temptation, and lean heavily on your sober social support network to help you through this first stage.

  • If you’ve tried it on your own before one or more times without success, you should consider an outpatient or residential program
  • If you’re worried about what’s going to happen when you try to quit, you should contact an addiction treatment provider (they can help you decide whether or not you need outpatient or residential care)
  • If you start off on your own, and find it too tough or scary, then contact an addiction treatment provider
  • If you start off on your own and start having thoughts of suicide or hurting yourself, call 911 or go right away to an ER

Read on below to find out whether an outpatient or residential program best fits your needs.

How to Know if You Need Residential Detox

Whether you need residential treatment or not is something you’ll need to consider carefully, and ideally, it’s not a decision you make on your own.

In an ideal world, whether or not you think you want continuing addiction treatment, you should talk to your doctor or a local addiction treatment provider to get an assessment and to make a plan for the detox period prior to attempting your withdrawal.  

By getting expert advice you’ll gain a better sense about what type of detox and continuing addiction treatment you’ll need, and even if you decide to do detox at home, you’ll have a better idea of what to expect and know when to call for help (if needed).

Most people can detox safely at home, but some methamphetamine users will need residential or even hospital care to stay safe and abstinent through the first tough period.

You can likely detox on an outpatient basis (at home) if:

  • Your doctor does not expect withdrawal complications
  • You have no co-occurring medical conditions that would require close observation during this stressful period
  • You have no psychiatric illnesses and methamphetamine associated psychiatric problems, like psychosis and depression, are mild (for example, mild paranoia, sadness, anhedonia)
  • You have a sober social support network in place that is ready and willing to help you through this period
  • You have a safe and stable drug-free home environment
  • You have never previously tried and failed with a home detox
  • You are motivated to succeed

You will probably need residential detox if you meet some or all of the following characteristics:

  • You are also dependent on alcohol or other drugs
  • You lack a supportive home environment or a sober social support network (if you are homeless, for example)
  • You are experiencing strong psychotic symptoms or you are at risk to harm yourself or others
  • You are having suicidal thoughts or you have a history of severe depression or severe psychosis
  • Your doctor anticipates potential problems or you have co-occurring medical health problems that require monitoring during this period
  • You have a very serious dependence and so extreme withdrawal symptoms are expected
  • You have tried and failed on previous occasions with outpatient detox4

The Use of Medications for Meth Detox

There are no FDA approved medications available to treat methamphetamine addiction, but in some cases, medications are used to minimize distressing symptoms during the detox period.5

Medications sometimes used include:

  1. Anxiolytics and Sedative Hypnotics – Medications like valium may be prescribed for short term use to help alleviate anxiety during the initial withdrawal phase.
  2. Antipsychotics – Medications like haloperidol or phenothiazine may be used in the first week or two to manage symptoms of psychosis.
  3. Antidepressants – Medications like SSRIs may be prescribed to help ease symptoms of depression that typically plague the early recovery period.
  4. OTC Pain Medications – Medications like acetaminophen can be used to relieve aches and pains6

Avoiding Relapse during Protracted Withdrawal

Protracted withdrawal is the fancy name for the longer lasting second stage of withdrawal symptoms.

Most people can make it through the acute stage within a week or two, and after a week or two there’s no doubt you’ll be feeling a lot better and thinking a lot clearer.

But unfortunately, you may still need to progress through a long period of protracted withdrawal symptoms before you really feel like your old self again.

  1. During protracted withdrawal you’ll still experience a lot of cravings, you may feel down and find it hard to get much enjoyment or pleasure from life (anhedonia) and your thinking may remain a little fuzzy.
  2. These symptoms will go away in time, but until they do, you’ll always feel temptation and you’ll always know that a little meth will make you feel so much better.
  3. And unfortunately, when you combine anhedonia and cravings with thinking problems like reduced impulse control and concentration and memory deficits, what you have, too often, is a recipe for relapse.

You accomplish something great by making it through the first couple of weeks, but you’ve won a battle not the whole war, and you need to continue with your hard work to make sure you continue on the right path.

The straight truth is that getting into an addiction treatment program (outpatient or residential) and staying involved for up to a year, greatly increases your odds of making it through the protracted withdrawal phase.

In a good methamphetamine addiction treatment program you will:

  • Learn strategies to minimize and manage your cravings
  • Learn how to stay motivated
  • Learn how to deal with frustration, anger, boredom and celebration without needing to get high
  • Get your loved ones involved in family therapy sessions that strengthen the whole family as a tool against relapse
  • Get introduced to the 12 steps and a community support group
References
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Page last updated Feb 27, 2013

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