Methamphetamine, commonly referred to as meth, is one of the most abused drugs in the United States. According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 1.2 million people reported using meth within the last year. While the scale of meth abuse in the United States can be approximated, the toll that abuse has on the lives of meth addicts, their family members and loved ones, and the community as a whole is difficult to calculate. The horrors of meth addiction have been well-documented in both popular media and scientific literature. If you are addicted to meth, you are intimately aware of the effect that your addiction has had on your life. If someone you know is addicted to meth, you are similarly well positioned to understand the dangers of meth addiction and the negative outcomes that are associated with it. Yet, despite our knowledge of the importance of stopping the use of meth, there remains a large unknown for many current meth users or individuals who know someone using meth. This unknown is the process of getting clean from substance abuse and seeking methamphetamine addiction treatment. One important component of getting clean that all meth users must go through is withdrawal. The prospect of withdrawal can carry with it many emotions; fear of the unknown, fear of leaving the life of addiction and getting high behind, fear of the physical and mental challenges that withdrawal brings. Many of these fears stem from preconceptions or misconceptions about meth withdrawal itself. Understanding meth withdrawal symptoms, including the timeline for their onset, their intensity, and how long they last, provides an important base of knowledge for individuals and their family members who are planning to navigate the recovery process. In this article, we’ll break down the most common symptoms associated with the side effects of meth abuse and what you need to know about withdrawal. We’ll look at the timeline associated with meth comedown and withdrawal symptoms, a process that some meth addicts will be intimately familiar with. Meth withdrawal has both physical and mental components, though many of the most prominent withdrawal symptoms affect the mental and emotional state of the individual going through withdrawal. Navigating meth withdrawal is, without a doubt, extremely challenging. However, it should be understood from the beginning that there are serious complications that can arise during withdrawal from meth. Alongside the concern for the health of the recovering addict during detox, the desire to continue to use meth can be overpowering at certain stages during the withdrawal process. Using meth again after abstaining is known as relapsing, and just as with other drugs, relapsing on meth can be dangerous or even fatal. In order to avoid these and other negative outcomes, and to give you or your loved on the best chances for a successful recovery, it is essential to undergo meth withdrawal under medical supervision and with a comprehensive treatment plan in place.
What is Methamphetamine?
Before we explore the withdrawal symptoms associated with abstaining from meth, it’s useful to first get a good understanding of what methamphetamine is and how it affects the user. Methamphetamine is a stimulant that was first synthesized in the late 19th century from another stimulant known as amphetamine. Here are some basic facts about meth:
- Stimulant – Amphetamines are a stimulant, meaning they provide the user with increased amounts of energy and focus. Methamphetamine is a form of amphetamine that more easily passes into the brain, resulting in a more powerful effect. Amphetamines have seen use in the past in military settings to decrease fatigue in pilots, as well as in the treatment of certain conditions.
- Manufacturing – Meth is different from many other commonly abused drugs in that it can be manufactured using items that are relatively easy to source. Most of the meth that is sold and consumed in the United States is produced in large labs, known as super labs. Meth is easy and cheap to produce, yet dangers exist for meth users due to the caustic chemicals used in the production process.
- Binges – Meth users commonly use the drug for days at a time, which is known as a binge. The stimulant properties of meth allow users to stave off the effects of fatigue for a period of time, during which they can repeatedly use meth to get high. Towards the end of a binge, the body’s fatigue will become so powerful that even the effects of meth can’t hold it off. The phase leading ultimately towards a long crash where the body can finally rest is known as tweaking, and it is during this phase that many meth users suffer from high anxiety, paranoia, and hallucinations.
- Health – Meth use results in many negative health outcomes. The longer an individual uses meth the worse these outcomes are in general. One common negative health outcome directly stemming from prolonged meth use is the decay of the teeth and bones of the mouth. This is referred to as “meth mouth”, and is believed to be the result of both the caustic chemicals used to manufacture meth as well as reduced saliva production resulting from the use of meth. Meth use will also result in marked weight loss for many individuals, which is one of the most common signs that someone has been using meth. Over time, many meth users will exhibit violent or criminal behavior. One last thing to note about meth is that it is a neurotoxin, meaning that meth use has been demonstrated to cause damage to certain areas of the brain over time.
What are the Symptoms of Meth Withdrawal?
Getting clean from meth addiction isn’t easy, and many meth users never fully come to terms with the fact that they have to get clean until the process has already begun. This is due to the fact that, sadly, the end of the road for many meth users ends in incarceration for crimes stemming from their addiction. Others simply realize that the deleterious, long-term effects on their mental and physical health wreaks on their personal lives and requires giving up the drug for good. Whatever the reason, getting clean from meth is a process that starts with detox. Detoxing off of drugs is the process through which any remaining drugs in an individual’s body are removed. Detox is generally a mandatory component of any recovery program that occurs as soon as an individual enters rehab. It is during detox that recovering addicts will experience withdrawal symptoms. Typically, individuals undergoing medically managed detox will be monitored by a health professional for any complications and administered medications to minimize the felt effects of withdrawal. Detox, and by extension going through withdrawal, is an important component of beating a meth addiction. However, it should be thought of as the beginning rather than the end of treatment. Once detox has been completed, recovering addicts will begin the true work of recovery by addressing the underlying issues that gave rise to their addiction in the first place.
Physical Withdrawal Symptoms
Meth withdrawal symptoms can be broken down into two broad categories. The first category is physical withdrawal symptoms. This section is smaller since the majority of meth withdrawal symptoms are actually psychological rather than physical. That being said, here are some common physical meth withdrawal symptoms:
- Fatigue – The primary physical symptom many recovering meth users will feel when going through withdrawal is a deep, pervasive sense of fatigue. Meth functions as a stimulant, so when under the influence of the drug most users feel a decreased level of tiredness. This all comes crashing down once a user stops taking the drug. The level of fatigue many meth users feel during withdrawal makes completing even simple tasks difficult and presents challenges for navigating withdrawal outside of a treatment facility
- Hunger – An increase in appetite is a second common physical symptom of withdrawal. Many meth users will have a significantly decreased appetite for the duration of their addiction. Most long-term meth users appear malnourished and are often severely underweight. Once the effects of the drug have worn off, their body’s natural hunger is restored, leading to a period of intense craving for food.
Individuals recovering from a meth addiction may also experience headaches, joint or bone pain, or gastrointestinal issues in the days following cessation. Redness and itchy eyes are also extremely common during meth withdrawal. Some individuals also experience difficulty sleeping, despite the high levels of fatigue they might be feeling.
Non-Physical Withdrawal Symptoms
Many of the most dangerous and difficult meth withdrawal symptoms are psychological. Meth use changes the way that the brain functions, and due to the fact that it is a neurotoxin extended meth use can lead to damage to portions of the brain. The most dangerous of the psychological symptoms of meth withdrawal is the development of psychosis or severe depression leading to suicidal thoughts. Due to the potential for these symptoms to arise, it is incredibly important that meth detox is done in a controlled setting under medical supervision.
- Intense cravings
- Loss of pleasure / sexual pleasure
- Suicidal thoughts
- Lack of motivation
Timeline for Meth Withdrawal
While most individuals about to enter a detox and recovery program are curious about the symptoms of meth withdrawal, they also want to know how long these symptoms tend to last. Here are some basic facts about the meth withdrawal timeline:
- Each Person is Unique – The reality is that each person will have a unique experience when it comes to meth withdrawal. The types of symptoms that they experience, their intensity, and the length of time they last for will depend on their meth use habit, dosage, and the length of time they were using.
- Intense Symptoms Last Up to a Week – The most intense symptoms associated with meth withdrawal last from 7-10 days. After about a week, these symptoms will begin to lessen in intensity. However, it is important to note that individuals going through withdrawal may still need treatment for some of the non-physical symptoms such as depression and anxiety for weeks or even months following their detox.
- Cravings May Persist – Most recovering meth addicts recognize that they will continue to experience periods of intense cravings to begin using the drug again. These cravings will lessen in intensity after the first week, but often continue for weeks or even months after the rest of withdrawal symptoms have subsided.
There is no doubt that overcoming meth addiction is usually one of the most difficult things a person will experience in their lifetime. The withdrawal symptoms associated with meth are an important aspect of this process. Many current meth users will continue using meth in order to avoid experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Even individuals who are trying to kick their habit may relapse on meth due to the difficulty they have with overcoming withdrawal symptoms. Understanding more about the withdrawal process from methamphetamine can provide an important source of strength. If meth users have an idea of what to expect when they go through withdrawal, they can be better prepared to navigate the signs and symptoms as they arise. Still, there are dangers associated with navigating meth withdrawal alone. The risk of developing acute psychosis, anxiety, or depression leading to suicidal thoughts are all very good reasons for seeking help. There are other dangers to not going through meth withdrawal within a medically supervised setting. Foremost among these is the risk of relapse. The longest lasting meth withdrawal symptom is craving. Most recovering addicts report an intermittent desire to use again up to 5 weeks after they have last used the drug. In order to provide yourself or your loved one with the best chance for achieving lifelong sobriety, it is crucial to go through withdrawal in a controlled setting and with comprehensive treatments for meth addiction in place. The path to recovery and lifelong sobriety is different for everyone. Each person must find the treatment program that aligns with their beliefs and situation, and that will give them the best chance for continued sobriety. If you or someone you know is wondering “am I addicted to meth?”, or is already struggling with an addiction to methamphetamine, contact Apex Recovery today to find out how we can help your health and well-being.
- Shukla, Rashi K. 2016. Methamphetamine : A Love Story. Oakland, California: University of California Press.
- He, Xiaoling, and Jörg Ornoy. 2012. Methamphetamines : Abuse, Health Effects and Treatment Options. Alcohol and Drug Abuse. New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.
- McPherson, Sandra B., Harold V. Hall, and Errol Yudko. Methamphetamine Use : Clinical and Forensic Aspects, Second Edition. Vol. 2nd ed. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2009.