If you or someone you know is addicted to methamphetamines, also known as crystal meth, crystal, or crank, then you may already know that quitting often comes with withdrawal symptoms. While the physical symptoms are minimal since meth is not physically addictive, the psychological symptoms can be quite severe.
What You Should Know About Meth Addiction
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime regularly collects information about methamphetamine addiction in the US and in other places around the world. They report that nearly 13 million people aged 12 and older in the US had used meth at least once and that there are nearly a half million regular users. What’s more, the Foundation for a Drug-Free World reports that some 93% of meth addicts relapse at least once while only 16% to 20% of addicts remain meth-free after five years. The same groups report that addicts who use meth daily or near-daily may only live five to seven years.
Why Psychological Symptoms Exist
Methamphetamines provide a high to users by impacting the way certain chemicals, namely dopamine, are released and processed by the brain. The longer an individual uses meth, the more his or her brain is impacted by the drug. When meth is no longer present in that individual’s system, his or her brain must readjust to the sudden absence of the increased amount of dopamine, and this is what often causes the most intense psychological symptoms.
Gauging the Severity of Withdrawal Symptoms
There are several factors which will impact the severity of the withdrawals that a meth addict will experience, and these include:
- how long the individual used meth
- how much and how often he or she used it
- other underlying medical and/or mental conditions
- the use of other drugs
However, it is also important to keep in mind that everyone’s experience with meth is different and that one individual’s withdrawal symptoms may vary greatly from another’s. It is often difficult to predict the severity of withdrawal.
Withdrawal Timeline and Effects
When an individual stops using meth, the psychological withdrawal symptoms usually follow a timeline. Though it is different for everyone, here is what to expect:
After a person’s last dose of methamphetamine, it will take about 24 to 48 hours for the drug to be completely processed out of his or her body. During this time, individuals will likely start to feel very tired and often irritable.
A few days after the last dose of meth, individuals will usually start to feel depressed. This is because the drug raises the levels of dopamine in the brain, and dopamine is the chemical which allows an individual to feel senses of pleasure, reward, and happiness in general. However, at the same time, meth also destroys the dopamine receptors in the brain, making it difficult for individuals to feel happiness without the drug.
Later, some addicts may slip into a deep depression and experience what is known as anhedonia, or an inability to feel any form of pleasure at all. This is most common in individuals who use meth over longer periods of time, however, and may not be part of everyone’s withdrawal.
Other Symptoms of Withdrawal
Although the three stages listed above reflect the most common progression through the withdrawal of methamphetamines, there are other effects and symptoms that individuals may experience. These include:
- Paranoia and/or psychosis which are characterized by delusions of wrongful persecution, exaggerated self-importance, or a complete loss of touch with reality.
- Anxiety and agitation. Oftentimes, recovering addicts feel “stressed out” and are extremely irritable because they are unable to feel happiness and pleasure normally.
- Suicidal thoughts due to the inability to feel happiness despite an individual’s best attempts.
- Vivid, lucid nightmares which are thought to be caused by the chemical imbalances in the brain.
Getting Help With Withdrawals
Because the withdrawals that a meth addict may experience can be severe, it is not recommended for these individuals to handle them on their own. Inpatient recovery is recommended because it provides the clarity, focus and time that an addict needs to recover and heal. Recovery is likely to be more successful when an addict can focus on him or herself rather than on daily stressors since he or she can devote 100% of his or her time and energy to coping with addiction.
Meth addiction is a serious problem in the United States and in other parts of the world. However, there are many different ways to overcome this addiction through treatment, support groups, and personal support on the way to recovery. With these things, the psychological withdrawals of meth can be better managed.