Methamphetamine, or meth, is categorized as a Schedule II drug by the U.S. government. Schedule II substances are highly addictive, with the potential to cause both physical and psychological dependence.
Crystal meth is a form of methamphetamine with no medical use. The drug gets its name from the shiny white or blue rocks it is formed into that resemble clear crystals or small pieces of glass.
Meth is a manufactured stimulant that increases a person’s energy level and improves their ability to focus. It can also cause paranoia, irritability, and a number of potentially dangerous physical effects, such as elevated blood pressure and an increased risk of stroke and Parkinson’s disease.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that in 2021, an estimated 1.6 million people in the U.S. had a methamphetamine use disorder. Fatal methamphetamine overdose rates nearly tripled among adults aged 18 to 64 between 2015 and 2019, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Methamphetamine addiction is a treatable mental health condition. Addiction disorders are often compared to other chronic diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure. Chronic disease does respond positively to lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, exercising more, or stopping drug use, but they are never “cured” and require lifelong management.
The first step in addiction treatment is to go through the process of medically monitored withdrawal.
Withdrawal or “detox” both refer to the process that happens after you stop using an addictive substance. The exact process is different for every individual and differs depending on the substance. In general, withdrawal symptoms occur because the brain is trying to rebalance the production of neurotransmitters after drug use has created an imbalance.
Meth triggers the brain’s reward center to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that elevates mood and creates feelings of happiness. With long-term use of the drug, the brain slows or even stops its natural production of dopamine in an effort to maintain balance.
When a person suddenly stops using meth, it can take the brain several days to begin producing and releasing the correct levels of dopamine once again. In some cases, it can take weeks to months.
Withdrawal symptoms occur between the time drug use is stopped, and the time the brain regains its dopamine balance. During that span, low dopamine levels cause a range of withdrawal symptoms. It is common to experience two phases of meth withdrawal: short-term and long-term.
Meth reduces appetite and increases body temperature, so it is common for people who use meth to become dehydrated and malnourished. Being in poor physical condition can increase the severity of withdrawal symptoms.
Other factors that can affect the withdrawal experience include co-occurring conditions and using or being addicted to more than one substance.
Short-Term Symptoms of Crystal Meth Detox
Most meth withdrawal symptoms occur within what is often referred to as the acute or short-term phase of detoxing.
Short-term withdrawal symptoms include:
- Muscle pain
- Muscle spasm
- Intense cravings
- Flu-like symptoms
- Confusion and other cognitive issues
These symptoms typically peak within the first 24 to 48 hours after the last usage and resolve in about 7 to 14 days.
Long-Term Symptoms of Crystal Meth Detox
The second phase of withdrawal is also known as protracted withdrawal. Symptoms during this phase are more psychological than physical. They may include:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Self-harm behaviors
- Problems with cognitive function
Protracted withdrawal can last for many months, but symptoms continue to get less severe with time. Older adults and people with a history of heavy drug use are at greater risk for experiencing severe and protracted withdrawal symptoms.
Medically supervised detox involves a team of qualified clinicians supervising a patient as they go through the withdrawal process. Doctors may prescribe certain medications to help ease detox symptoms and keep their patients safe and as comfortable as possible.
The types of medications vary depending on the substance(s) a person is detoxing from and their symptoms. For example, the overdose prevention medication naloxone and the pain medication buprenorphine are two prescription medications commonly used during detox.
In addition to medications, medical detox may include nutritional therapy, yoga and other mindfulness practices, and group and individual therapy. With medical help, individuals feel better faster and are able to begin participating in the therapies that will help them maintain sobriety.
Men and women may experience the same physical and emotional symptoms, but their care needs can still be different. Gender-responsive detox services recognize that men and women come to treatment with different experiences and social pressures.
As the first step in recovery, detoxing can be a very vulnerable experience. People typically feel sick, tired, and insecure about their future. Being in an environment that feels safe and welcoming can help make the detox process more positive.
Detox programs include treatments such as group therapy. Gender-specific therapy helps many people feel more comfortable, which leads to more honest self-reflection.
Both men and women enter detox programs with unresolved trauma issues that relate to their addiction. Providing gender-specific programs gives everyone a safe place to deal with their emotional pain, free from the worry of judgment.
Detoxing from crystal meth at home alone is never recommended. The presence of withdrawal symptoms indicates the development of physical dependence on the substance.
Even if a person gets through the short-term withdrawal period successfully, resisting future drug use may not be possible without the assistance of a rehab program. Rehab addresses the changes in your brain chemistry as well as the environmental, behavioral, and genetic causes of addiction.
It is vital to seek medical help if you have the following:
- Co-occurring mental health concerns
- Auditory or visual hallucinations
- Physical health concerns
- Trouble concentrating
- Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
Individuals who have relapsed or overdosed in the past are cautioned against detoxing at home.
Dangers of Detoxing from Crystal Meth at Home
The detox process is unpredictable. You may only experience a mild headache and feel lightly fatigued as you withdraw from crystal meth, but it is also possible you will have a psychotic episode and harm yourself.
Going cold turkey or trying home remedies for detox could result in severe symptoms, including cravings that are nearly impossible to resist. Relapse and accidental overdose are also concerns when detoxing alone. People who are detoxing are at the greatest risk for overdose because their drug tolerance has been lowered. The same amount of meth they used a few days ago could be fatal after detoxing. As a result, inpatient detoxing is highly recommended to ensure a safe and efficient recovery.
The correct medical care can help reduce the severity of symptoms and speed up the detox process. Physical illness can prolong detox if not treated. Evidence-based therapies can also help eliminate the psychological symptoms of detox and teach positive coping skills to deal with symptoms if they do arise.
Ultimately, so many variables may affect the detox process that it is impossible to predict what an individual’s experience may be. Medical care during withdrawal can prevent severe symptoms and keep patients safe.
As soon as a detox patient starts feeling better, they can participate in a full range of therapies for addiction treatment.
Residential treatment programs may last 30, 60, 90 days, or more. Partial hospitalization programs and aftercare programs may extend the continuum of care for as long as the individual needs.
While in rehab, patients participate in a variety of therapies, including:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Dialectical behavior therapy
- Trauma-informed therapy
- Family therapy
- Group therapy
- Individual therapy
After completing residential treatment, some patients opt to step down to a partial hospitalization program, or PHP. A PHP can also serve as an effective stand-alone treatment for some people.
PHP patients can live at home and participate in treatment during the day. This schedule provides flexibility for individuals who have work or family responsibilities that prohibit them from living in a residential facility for an extended period.
Aftercare programs are developed to help patients transition smoothly back into everyday life. Aftercare may include group events, participating in an alumni network, and ongoing peer support. Aftercare is a long-term program focused on preventing relapse and helping people build a solid sober-support network they can count on for years to come.
The idea of detoxing from crystal meth may seem overwhelming, but medical detox and the ongoing support of addiction specialists make the process easier. A more positive detox experience paves the way for more productive addiction treatment.
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