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In the early days after quitting meth, you just want to know when you'll feel better. To help you answer this question, here’s a meth cravings and meth withdrawal timeline that:

  1. Outlines the duration of common symptoms
  2. Takes a detailed look at meth cravings - when do they start to ease up? How can you learn to control them?
  3. Looks at how meth addiction damages your brain structure and functioning (the bad news) and shows how a year of sustained abstinence leads to amazing healing and regeneration (the great news).

Meth Withdrawal Symptoms Timeline

Please note, individual experiences will vary dramatically. Some people with heavy habits experience mild symptoms while others with milder habits experience severe problems. Some people will experience symptoms not listed below.

From 0 to 3 days after your last use:

  • Extreme fatigue and tiredness.
  • A need for increased sleep.
  • Feelings of depression.

From 2 to 10 days after your last use:

  • Strong cravings for more meth.
  • An inability to concentrate.
  • Mood swings.
  • Feeling emotionally flattened
  • Lacking energy
  • Sleeping problems.
  • Aches and pains.
  • Headaches.
  • Increased appetite.
  • Paranoia and distorted thinking.
  • Hallucinations.

Researchers in Thailand studied the typical course of meth withdrawal symptoms and found that most people go through an intense first phase, lasting between 7 and 10 days, during which symptoms peak early and gradually subside. This is then followed by a secondary subacute phase of continuing symptoms (see below).1

From 7 to 28 days after last use:

Many symptoms disappear, but some endure, such as.

  • Continued sleeping problems.
  • Continued emotional flatness.
  • Continued moodiness.
  • Continued cravings.
  • Continued thinking deficits2

From 1 month to 3 months after last use:

  • Most significant withdrawal symptoms ease-up and you start feeling much better, mentally and physically.
  • Cravings continue and can actually worsen to a peak at about 3 months.
  • Protracted withdrawal symptoms continue as your brain heals itself over the first year of abstinence.

Learn more about protracted meth withdrawal.

When Do Meth Cravings Ease?

The first few months are the worst, in fact, cravings progressively worsen for the first three months of abstinence. Fortunately, if you can hold out for 6 months or longer, cravings will decrease substantially.3

In general, meth cravings ease with time and the more often you resist your cravings the less frequently they pop-up and the weaker they get (learn more about how to resist your cravings here). Unfortunately, though general cravings start to ease quickly (during the first weeks) cue related cravings get progressively worse for the first 3 months.

  • Cue related cravings are triggered by anything you encounter that reminds you of drug use, such as people you used with, places you used in or bought from, music you listed to while high, the sight of drug paraphernalia, having cash in your pocket – and many more.
  • Cue related cravings intensify to a peak at three months post abstinence, and then gradually decrease in intensity after that.
  • Because drug-cue cravings are most intense during the initial period of recovery – when you’re least able to think clearly and make good decisions – it’s important to minimize your exposure to meth cues and to learn craving response strategies. Learning how to overcome cravings is a major part of any meth addiction treatment program.

Brain Healing Timeline

Though meth isn’t good for your brain (this you likely already know) your brain has a fantastic ability to heal itself – so long as you give it a chance to heal (sustained abstinence).

Meth Brain Impairments

Using a lot of meth changes the way your brain works and even alters its size and structure. This sounds pretty scary (and it is) but fortunately, your brain can heal and you can recover. Some examples of how heavy meth use changes your brain include:4

  • It shrinks your gray-matter volume.
  • It slows the workings of your prefrontal cortex (your thinking brain), affecting your ability to learn new things, control your impulses and make good decisions.  

Slow but Steady Brain Healing

Unfortunately – healing takes time and you’ll need patience to see the long-term benefits. Consider the following research study which illustrates the slow healing-process:5

  1. Researchers compared the brain chemical functioning of non-meth users, meth users with short term abstinence (1 to 6 months) and meth users with 1 to 5 years of long-term abstinence.
  2. Though long term abstinent and non meth using control subjects had similar neurochemical levels (ACC-Cho/NAA and ACC-NAA/Cr ) short term abstinent subjects – up to 6 months post abstinence, still displayed abnormal neurochemical levels.

Substantial Healing at 1 Year of Abstinence

So healing occurs slowly, but with time and effort (abstinence) you earn a great reward. Consider the results of one more study which demonstrates your recovery potential:5

  1. Researchers compared a group of meth addicted subjects to a control group of age matched non-meth users.  At the starting point, the meth addicts performed far worse on measures of cognitive performance and neuropsychological functioning and emotional distress.
  2. After a year, about a third of the meth addicts had managed to stay abstinent while the other two thirds had relapsed or continued to use. When tested again, those who had earned a year of continuous abstinence performed comparably to healthy control subjects and far better than those who had relapsed or continued to use.
  3. And significantly, among those who stayed clean for a year, those who started with the worst brain-damage related impairments showed the greatest improvement when retested.

So in most cases, if you can stay clean for a year, you can expect a substantial improvement in your thinking, motor skills and emotional well-being.

Take-Home Messages

  • Though you might feel discouraged after a few months, when you still don’t feel 100%, remember that brain healing takes time and you will feel better eventually.
  • Early-day cravings make sustained abstinence very difficult. Though cravings will diminish in time, resisting cravings for months isn't easy – most people benefit from learning craving-management skills and strategies. These are taught in addiction treatment programs.
  • Studies show that people who can stay clean for a year or longer show substantial thinking improvements and visible brain healing and recovery.
References
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Page last updated Jun 26, 2014

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