meth withdrawal and detox

Modified: 4th Jul 2019

Last updated on July 4th, 2019 at 02:26 pm

The opioid crisis overtook the concern about methamphetamine and its use. But while national attention placed opioids and opiates in the national consciousness, meth returned to communities. And it came back with a vengeance.

Meth is a difficult drug to kick. The cravings begin almost immediately after taking the drug. There’s also no pharmacological options available to those going through meth withdrawal.

For many, meth detox means going it alone and hoping for the best.

Fortunately, while the public looked away from meth use, scientists haven’t. Meth use and withdrawal are now better understood than before. Doctors, nurses, and therapists can be better equipped to help users end their habit once and for all.

What Causes Meth Withdrawal?

Meth withdrawal occurs as soon as a user stops taking methamphetamine. 

Its immediacy is what makes methamphetamine so addictive. Withdrawal begins within the first 24 hours after taking the drug.

Meth Withdrawal Symptoms

Meth withdrawal symptoms are uncomfortable. But unlike alcohol or heroin, the physiological symptoms rarely lead to fatal complications.

During the first few weeks of abstinence, former meth users may experience symptoms like:

  • Increased sleeping and eating
  • Depression-related symptoms
  • Anxiety
  • Cravings

These symptoms wane quickly, but cravings may continue for several weeks.

Duration of Meth Withdrawal

Meth withdrawal appears to take place in two distinct phases.

The first 24 hours of withdrawal are the most taxing. It includes the most harrowing symptoms and the most intense symptoms. After the first 24 hours, things begin to ease. Cravings and some withdrawal symptoms can last for weeks or months. 

Extended withdrawal is uncommon, but can occur with methamphetamine as well as alcohol and other drugs. When symptoms linger, doctors refer to the phase as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS).

PAWS continues to impact users even when there is no sign of methamphetamine left in the body. It is more likely to occur in those who have a history of long-term substance abuse

Meth Withdrawal Timeline

The meth withdrawal timeline does not vary much between users. In most cases, it follows three phases.

The First Twelve – Twenty-Four Hours

Those who take methamphetamine experience the first symptoms of withdrawal 12-24 hours after stopping use. 

Symptoms appear regardless of whether someone quits meth or whether they intend to use again.

Studies show that the worst of the symptoms reach an initial peak within 24 hours of last use.

The First Week

Withdrawal symptoms may continue for up to ten days before slowly decreasing. The number and severity of symptoms experienced often depends on the person’s substance history.

The First Month

Cravings and other psychological symptoms continue for two to three weeks after last use. For many, the bulk of symptoms experienced dissipate after two weeks. However, those symptoms do depend on the individual’s personal history.

Detoxing from Meth on Your Own

Detoxing from meth on your own is possible. Unlike other drugs, withdrawal symptoms from meth are not physiologically dangerous for users.

However, some of the psychological symptoms remain a cause for concern.

The depression associated with meth withdrawal can lead to suicidal ideation or suicidal behaviors. As a result, depression becomes the most dangerous symptom for users of all types.

Because of this, it is best not to detox by yourself. Letting others know about your detox or enrolling yourself in a supervised withdrawal program allows others into what is happening in your life. They can then check in and sound the alarm if depression becomes severe.

Medical Detox for Meth

At present, there are no medical detox options for methamphetamine. The detox process for meth is a waiting game.

Instead, researchers placed emphasis on targeting the most problematic symptom for long-term users: prolonged periods of cravings.

Many medications tested by scientists failed to provide ineffective results. Ineffective methamphetamine treatments include:

  • GABAergic agents (gabapentin)
  • Dopamine partial agonist (aripiprazole)
  • SSRIs 
  • Ondansetron
  • Mirtazapine

However, three drugs have shown some positive results in reducing use: modafinil, naltrexone, and bupropion.

Although most studies thus far are disappointing, efforts to target meth use are increasing, and several agents look promising.

How Medical Detox Works and What to Expect

Because medical detoxes for methamphetamine remain mostly unavailable, it is critical to communicate with the person going through withdrawal.

Recommendations for the process include helping the person withdrawing learn what to expect from withdrawal. Explaining the common symptoms so that they may recognize them when they appear is key.

It is also essential to identify what support the user has. Social support in the form of friends, family, and time available to recover can each help the user better navigate the withdrawal process.

Medications Available for Meth Detox

At present, there are no medications widely available for meth detoxes. However, scientists continue to work towards a solution.

In the United Kingdom, those who experience the most harm from meth use may receive dexamphetamine, a central nervous stimulant, as a part of a drug substitution therapy. The process is similar to replacing heroin with methadone.

The medications widely available tend to relate to symptoms of withdrawal.

People who experience issues like sleep disturbance or insomnia for over a week may need to visit a medical practitioner. Those who cannot sleep may experience higher levels of anxiety or agitation, which can increase the potential for relapse. It is possible to prescribe sedative-hypnotic prescriptions to aid those going through withdrawal.

However, persons suffering from depression during this period may not be prescribed SSRIs. SSRIs in meth withdrawal patients may lead to serotonin overdoses that require medical treatment and may become dangerous.

Summary

Meth withdrawal lasts for several weeks and features symptoms like anxiety, depression, insomnia, and cravings. Getting through meth detox requires a community to rally around the user as the depression may result in suicidal ideation or behaviors.

The availability of pharmacological options remains limited, but new drug options appear to be on the horizon. However, psychiatric therapies remain available for users who need help breaking their habit.