Meth, or methamphetamine, is an infamously potent stimulant drug. It was once used for medical purposes like weight loss, and it may still be used as such in some places around the globe. However, in the United States, it’s typically only used as an illicit, recreational drug. Meth causes intense, stimulating highs with effects like exhilaration, euphoria, and a sense of empowerment.
It can also produce paranoia, insomnia, and a tingling feeling compared to bugs crawling on or beneath your skin. Meth causes an intense but short-lived high, so it encourages repeated use, which can lead to a meth binge. Meth is powerfully addictive, and it can cause a severe substance use disorder with regular use.
Meth works on the brain by increasing the release of dopamine, a naturally occurring chemical in the brain. Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter that’s tied to reward, motivation, and a sense of excitement. Not only does meth increase the release of dopamine, but it can also block a process called reuptake, which removes excessive dopamine from your system.
It’s so potent that dopamine can flood your receptors to the point of damaging them. Damaged dopamine receptors can make it harder for you to feel pleasure, leading to a condition called anhedonia. This can deepen your dependence on the drug because meth becomes the only way you can feel pleasure at all.
Meth can cause chemical dependence, which is when your body adapts to the presence of the drug. If you stop using the drug, it can cause uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms as your brain chemistry is thrown out of balance. Through the withdrawal phase, your body needs to adapt to life without the drug in your system.
Meth withdrawal causes a variety of symptoms, but like other stimulants, the most severe ones will be psychological. Meth has a powerful effect on dopamine and its receptors in the brain. Since dopamine is closely tied to a sense of energy, reward, and motivation, withdrawal can cause fatigue, depression, and apathy. Other symptoms can include:
Acute meth withdrawal can last for a week to 10 days, but some symptoms may last longer than that. Your specific experience with the drug will also depend on how long you were dependent on the drug and the size of your normal dose. The severity of your symptoms may also depend on whether or not you’re coming down from a meth binge. A binge can mean days without sleep, which can worsen certain symptoms like psychosis and fatigue. Though your withdrawal timeline can depend on some specific factors, it’s likely to be similar to the following:
As a stimulant, meth isn’t known to cause life-threatening symptoms during withdrawal like depressants can. However, meth withdrawal can be extremely unpleasant, and going through it alone can cause some dangerous complications.
When chronic meth use is stopped or reduced, the user likely will go into withdrawal, a period that can bring on psychosis and delusions. Both of these conditions can cause you to harm yourself or others if you try to go through it without medical supervision. Meth withdrawal can also cause extreme depression and suicidal thoughts. If you start to experience these psychological symptoms, it’s important to seek help right away.
Medical detox at an accredited facility is designed to help people who are likely to go through severe withdrawal symptoms. However, it can also help people who have other medical conditions and complications that also need to be treated.
When you enter treatment, medical and clinical staff will help determine your appropriate level of care. Not everyone who seeks help for meth withdrawal will need detox, but you may need to complete levels of care on a continuum even if you do complete detox. To effectively address an addiction, you may need to go through an inpatient or residential program, particularly if you have high-level medical or psychological needs.
If you can live by yourself without a significant threat of relapse or other complications, you may enter an outpatient treatment program. Through your treatment, your recovery plan will be tailored to your needs. You also may participate in various types of therapy, including individual, group, and family therapy.
Meth addiction is a chronic and progressive disease that can worsen as it progresses. It also may not go away without professional treatment. If you or someone you know is struggling with a meth addiction, be aware that it can bring about consequences that affect different parts of your life, including your health, money matters, and relationships.
Addiction treatment is designed to prevent or address these issues and any other underlying problems that complicate your substance use disorder. Seeking treatment early can help you avoid some of these problems, but it may be able to help you no matter where you are in the disease. To take your first steps toward recovery, learn more about meth addiction and how it can be treated.
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National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, May). Methamphetamine. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/methamphetamine
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, June 6). Prescription Stimulants. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-stimulants
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, February). 8: Medical detoxification. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification
Psychology Today. (n.d.). Dopamine. from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/dopamine