Meth Withdrawal

Methamphetamine, one of the most potent stimulant substances on the illicit market, is a Class A drug that has been used and abused across the world for years. Methamphetamine addiction has devastated towns in the US, New Zealand, and Australia, posing an epidemic in these places comparable to the opioid crisis. However, here in the UK, methamphetamine abuse had all but disappeared by the 1980s, only returning to find its niche in the past decade.

But, it’s back. In recent years, crystal meth use has been on the rise, having found its place as the preferred substance of choice in London’s underground ‘chemsex’ scene. The data from the UK’s treatment centre admissions has found that around 75% of people who abuse this drug do so at parties like these, where meth is ‘slammed’ to chemically alter sexual experiences. However, users who engage with this combinaton of meth and sex are at unique risk of developing an addiction to either or both, as each of these activites reinforce the other’s reward response in the nervous system.

Meth usage is still relatively rare and restricted to this context, but even so, the rise in numbers in the UK has become significant in the international sphere. According to an analysis of 283,000 darknet drug adverts published online between 2015 and 2019, the UK has become the third-largest producer of methamphetamine on the continent, shipping about 13% of the total market.

Meth addiction in the UK

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Detoxing from Methamphetamines

Detoxing from meth describes the process that proceeds after taking your very last dose of meth, removing these drugs from your system permanently. In many cases, detox is accompanied by a host of emotional and physiological symptoms that make this period into one of the most uncomfortable, yet the most important two weeks of a person’s recovery journey.

Why is a Meth Detox Necessary?

Meth produces a long high of upwards of 12 hours, brought on by the substance’s interactions with the brain’s primary reward chemical, dopamine. Meth drastically increases the amounts of the brain’s primary reward chemical, dopamine, a neurotransmitter that dictates what we find to be pleasurable, affects alertness and focus, and how the brain records that information.

However, when the nervous system regularly changes its functioning, it corrects against the patterns. That means, if the brain is regularly being flooded with dopamine and brought to unnatural highs, it will begin to adjust its functioning. In the case of meth, it adapts to this by greatly reducing dopamine production. If there’s less of this neurotransmitter in the system, it will be harder to achieve meth’s long-lasting mood-altering effects.

This is the crux of two fundamental challenges of addiction: tolerance and withdrawal. People talk about their tolerance to meth increasing with time, because the body is producing less dopamine, and even more of the substance is needed to draw out the rewards messengers that they do have.

At the same time, when meth is finally out of the system, they experience an unnaturally uncomfortable state – withdrawal. Nervous systems that have stopped producing dopamine take their time to adapt back to normal, and this period is a truly risky time when the desire to relapse is highest. The withdrawal period is critical for a person’s long term success escaping meth abuse.

How is a Meth Detox Performed?

Meth detoxification can be performed at home, but keep in mind the relevant safety precautions and procedures. Unlike the withdrawals associated with alcohol, benzodiazepine, or heroin usage, quitting meth without medical support is unlikely to produce a withdrawal that endangers your life or health. However, the chances of reacting badly or relapsing go up the less well-prepared you are.

If hard-to-cope-with symptoms develop, then you’re very likely to be better off not coping with them alone. Reach out to the staff of a treatment facility or other informed medical professional and arm yourself with all the knowledge you need before embarking on a solo detox attempt.

With that in mind, here’s what you can expect:

At Home

Depending on the amount of meth you used to take and the period of time you abused meth for, it may be possible to safely detox from home. Medical professionals generally only recommend this option for individuals who experience a less intense addiction or only physical dependence. At-home detox is not recommended for anyone with a ‘dual diagnosis’, or a co-occuring mental condtion such as sex addiction will be triggered by detoxing from one addictive experience. Simply, it is always safest to speak to your doctor or reach out to an addiction centre that offers meth detox for more information before committing to detox at home.

Before choosing the detox at home, you need to take measures to ensure that it is substance-free, safe, and healthily distracting for you. Take an inventory of the ways in which you’ll access social and emotional support from understanding friends and family, and consider how you will anticipate and prepare for thoughts of relapse over the course of the detox period.

In a Treatment Facility

The recommendations are different in individuals whose meth dependence has developed into a full blown addiction, defined as compulsive thoughts about using and continuous thoughts of using even in the face of severe negative consequences. Meth detox within a residential treatment facility can be the only way to safely advance recovery in individuals who are going to experience consuming thoughts and constant triggers driving them back towards using. Private rehab centres offer a lot of benefits, generally including:

  • Substance-free environment
  • 24-hour monitoring
  • On-call addiction experts
  • Therapists and counselling available to help ride out intense mood changes
  • Healthy, distracting activities

Detox is also only step one in an addicted person’s recovery journey. If you choose to undergo detox at a facility, you can almost always transition into a fully comprehensive treatment programme designed to help you recover with the support of therapy and alternative treatment modalities. Cognitive behavioural therapy, contingency management, and drug counselling are all evidenced to be effective in treating meth addiction.

Meth Withdrawal Symptoms

When this powerful stimulant is in the body, it amps up our nervous system’s dopamine levels to incredible degrees. However, once the nervous system has adapted to these elevated dopamine levels, it decreases production, putting the body at risk of withdrawal symptoms. Dopamine dictates a lot in the brain from pleasure to focus to sleep patterns, and experiencing its depletion produces a multifaceted withdrawal.

Physical Symptoms

Physically speaking, much of early withdrawal is spent as the body tries to catch up on missed food and sleep – both of which tend to be placed on the back-burner by the meth-altered mind. Physical symptoms that you are going through meth withdrawal include:

  • Increased appetite
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Notable changes to sleep and wakefulness cycles

You can expect to gain some weight during this period, particularly if you have been using meth for a long time or with a higher frequency. Try not to worry about it if that’s what happens. While a bit of movement and healthy eating is always a good thing, it is not recommended that you try to manage your eating or sleeping patterns too much – what you’re doing here is catching up on a lot of lost nutrients and shuteye.

Mental Symptoms

Meanwhile, the emotional and mental symptoms of meth withdrawal are equally difficult. While experiencing these symptoms is unlikely to be comforting in the moment, it can be helpful to keep in mind that the momentary discomfort of withdrawal and detox all represent signs that your body is flushing out this toxin for good.

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Aggression
  • Confusion
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations, particularly aural/visual hallucinations
  • Loss of pleasure or joylessness

Timeline: The Three Phases

Meth withdrawal has three phases. The detox period itself is normally restricted to Phase 1, but the stages that come later are important to keep in mind when deciding on any kind of meth substance abuse treatment programme.

Phase 1:

Withdrawal symptoms start to occur just a few hours after using meth for the last time. After this, the first 3 to 10 days of withdrawal will be felt as an intense ‘crash’. This is when all the mental symptoms of meth withdrawal come into play, including decline of cognitive function, paranoia, anxiety, and most commonly, intense depression.

Everyone experiences withdrawal and detox in different ways, but there is a general trend in Phase 1 meth detox against having too many cravings. This is likely because many people going through the first days to week of detox are often only interested in sleeping and eating.

In Phase 1, waves of symptoms of varying intensity come and go, as the brain and the body adapt over and over again to moderately increasing dopamine levels. This chemical change should be kept in mind, because it’s the fundamental reason why relapse can be potentially dangerous to your health. After Phase 1, the same dose of meth that was tolerable before wll have likely gone down.

Phase 2:

Once the crash period is over, many people experience a period of intense cravings. In some people, Phase 2 is usually accompanied by depression or trouble sleeping, but the most common symptom is a newly-returned preoccupation with using meth. These cravings may last for up to 10 weeks before finally breaking out into Phase 3.

During Phase 2 and as you move into Phase 3 is generally the best time to start addiction treatment or substance abuse therapy. Coping skills learned during this time will be adapted and receptive to your exact experience of cravings, making them into stronger skills and also helping to fight the urge to use.

Phase 3:

Over time, even cravings start to fade away. The stretches of time between cravings stretch into longer intervals, and the intensity of said cravings becomes far less potent. They disappear in almost every case with time alone, so your best friends here are patience and commitment. It may last up to 30 weeks for these cravings to truly go. Better yet, studies have shown that the mental impairments associated with meth use as well as meth withdrawal disappear over time.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How Long Will Withdrawal Symptoms Last?

Mental and physical symptoms tend to begin a few hours after your last dose of meth wears off, and resolve within 2 weeks. However, cravings themselves are also understood as withdrawal symptoms, and estimating the amount of time it takes for them to fully leave is complex and based on your own historic use. A heavy user of meth will likely take months, possibly upwards of half a year to get the Phase 2 and 3 symptoms (cravings) under control.

Can You Die from Meth Withdrawal?

There is very little evidence that suggests that meth withdrawal itself is physically dangerous in a vacuum. Paranoia, aggression, depression, and anxiety, can all result in risky or violent behaviour that has the potential to precipitate harm, but generally speaking, you don’t need to fear for your health when choosing to detox from meth.

The only exception has to do with relapse. Relapsing after having cut back on meth is dangerous, posing a risk of overdose. This is particularly true if you were a heavy or frequent user, and you relapse using the same amount. Tolerance and dependence start to decline as soon as withdrawal starts, so don’t relapse, but do act accordingly.

Are There Medications That Can Support My Meth Detox?

At the moment, all of the approved detox medications are prescribed for depressants, and the medical policy body has not approved any medications that can be employed to support your transition out of meth dependence. However, at a licensed treatment centre, you may be able to access medications that can support you through the specific symptoms of detox you are feeling such as anti-anxiety medication or beta-blockers.

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