Methamphetamine, often known as meth or crystal meth, is one of the most widely abused drugs in the United States. People may initially begin using methamphetamine because of the euphoric feelings it provides, but once a person has begun abusing methamphetamine is it very difficult to stop. Users very rapidly develop a physical dependence on methamphetamine, causing them to seek it out even when they recognize the devastating effects of the drug in their own lives. Individuals who stop using methamphetamine experience what is commonly known as a “crash,” the colloquial term for methamphetamine withdrawal. The symptoms of methamphetamine withdrawal can be so painful and debilitating that many people find it all but impossible to quit this drug without outside help.
What is Methamphetamine Withdrawal?
Methamphetamine withdrawal is a process that the body initiates as soon as a person stops taking methamphetamine. The term refers to a broad range of symptoms people experience when their bodies have developed a physical dependence on crystal meth but they no longer have methamphetamine in their systems. During crystal meth withdrawal, the body is reacting to the loss of a chemical it has grown accustomed to functioning alongside. The symptoms of methamphetamine withdrawal generally abate over time, but they can also be remedied by using more crystal meth. For this reason, methamphetamine withdrawal presents an enormous obstacle to people who are trying to get sober.
Who Goes Through Crystal Meth Withdrawal?
Methamphetamine withdrawal can occur in a wide range of circumstances. People who regularly abuse crystal meth frequently experience meth withdrawal despite having no intention of quitting. They may experience the initial pains of crystal meth withdrawal when they wake up the day after a crystal meth spree. To avoid the development of further withdrawal symptoms, they are likely to seek out and abuse crystal meth again. Sometimes drug users go through methamphetamine withdrawal simply because they have no access to drugs or cannot afford them. The pains associated with withdrawal can drive them to do just about anything to obtain relief in the form of crystal meth.
People who are trying to quit crystal meth also inevitably go through methamphetamine withdrawal. Most people suffering from crystal meth addiction have recognized the devastating effects of the drug in their own lives, and it is common for people to make vows to stop abusing the drug. While they may make this vow in earnest, once the symptoms of methamphetamine withdrawal begin it is difficult for people to stay committed. Without a strong support system in place, methamphetamine withdrawal is often too painful for one person to handle. In order to obtain relief from symptoms, it is highly likely that most people will simply return to crystal meth abuse, vowing to try to quit again at some unspecified later date.
What Are the Symptoms of Crystal Meth Withdrawal?
It is possible for a person to experience a wide range of symptoms when they are withdrawing from methamphetamine. A number of factors determine the severity of the signs and symptoms of crystal meth withdrawal. These factors include the amount of crystal meth they used, how long they abused crystal meth, how frequently they abused crystal meth, the route of administration they used to abuse crystal meth, and whether or not they suffer from polydrug dependence. Individuals who regularly abuse other substances alongside crystal meth often experience more severe withdrawal symptoms. Individual factors such as a person’s general physical and mental health can also dictate the symptoms that they experience when they withdraw from crystal meth.
Some of the more common signs and symptoms of crystal meth withdrawal include:
- Increased or decreased appetite
- Loss of motivation
- Excessive sweating
- Stomach ache
- Suicidal thoughts
- Itchy red eyes
- Severe depression
Methamphetamine withdrawal causes a wide range of both physical and emotional symptoms. While methamphetamine withdrawal is in itself rarely life threatening, there are a number of meth withdrawal symptoms that can cause people to act dangerously. People suffering from these symptoms are at an increased risk of endangering themselves or others.
Risks of Crystal Meth Abuse
Crystal meth abuse poses a wide variety of risks to individuals in both the short and the long term. From the get go, crystal meth abuse negatively impacts a person’s life. The physical effects of crystal meth can cause people to become ill, lose sleep, lose weight, and look physical unkempt. It is often the behavioral symptoms of crystal meth abuse, however, that are initially the most harmful.
The erratic behavior that people exhibit while high can damage relationships, work and school commitments, and lead to both financial and legal problems. It doesn’t take long for a person abusing crystal meth to damage their own life and the lives of the people around them.
The greatest risk people face while abusing crystal meth is the risk of addiction. Crystal meth is an extremely addictive substance. When people take methamphetamine, their brains release high quantities of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for much of the pleasure associated with methamphetamine use, but it is also known as the brain’s “reward chemical.”
Dopamine is released whenever a person accomplishes a goal, has sex, plays sports, or other healthy activities. It is the brain’s way of reinforcing positive and beneficial behaviors. Methamphetamine releases more dopamine than any of these behaviors combined. As a result, methamphetamine hijacks the brain’s motivation and decision-making centers. With each use, methamphetamine abuse becomes further reinforced.
As physical dependence develops, so too do the withdrawal symptoms that occur when a person stops using meth. These withdrawal symptoms can be excruciatingly painful, and the only relief is a new dose of methamphetamine. As a result, even individuals who have a strong desire to stop using crystal meth often find themselves unable to do so. In fact, they may instead develop a tolerance to crystal meth, requiring them to consume more of it in order to achieve relief from withdrawal symptoms.
Crystal meth addiction leads to a wide variety of dangerous side effects. Substance use disorders cause people to prioritize crystal meth abuse over just about everything else in their lives. Individuals suffering from a crystal meth addiction will do anything to obtain the drug, including resorting to crime. Relationships, goals, and other life commitments fail to offer the same satisfactions. Over time, a person’s life may revolve entirely around obtaining and using crystal meth. Some of the long term consequences of crystal meth addiction include:
- Loss of job
- Isolation from friends and family
- Destruction of nasal tissues if snorted
- Infectious diseases and abscesses if injected
- Respiratory problems if smoked
- Severe dental problems (“meth mouth”)
- Malnutrition and extreme weight loss
- Risky sexual behavior, leading to unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections like HIV and hepatitis
- Permanent damage to the heart, brain, and blood vessels
- High blood pressure, leading to heart attacks, strokes, and death
- Insatiable cravings
- Changes in brain structure and function
- Severe memory loss
- Disorientation, apathy, confusion, and exhaustion
- Psychosis, hallucinations, and extreme paranoia
- Depression and anxiety
- Violent behavior
- Liver, kidney, and lung damage
- Damage to the brain similar to Alzheimer’s disease
It is common for people withdrawing from crystal meth to experience a low, flat, or depressed mood. The feelings of depression that people experience during methamphetamine withdrawal can be painful. Feelings of hopelessness or despondency can cause people to lose their motivation to stay off of meth. It is important to remember that this low mood generally does not last longer than the third week of withdrawal. However, a small percentage of people continue to suffer from low mood even after their other withdrawal symptoms have subsided. Individuals who develop major depressive disorder are at an increased risk of returning to substance abuse. Major depression can cause a dramatic reduction in a person’s quality of life, and it can also lead to suicidal ideation.
People who are going through methamphetamine withdrawal generally have high rates of anxiety. In fact, research shows that 30% of people withdrawing from crystal meth meet the criteria for anxiety disorder. Individuals suffering from anxiety disorder may find it overwhelming to be around other people. It can also lead to cognitive distortions, such as paranoid thinking. In some cases, people withdrawing from meth experience debilitating panic attacks. Anxiety can make it difficult to function in everyday life. While the symptoms of anxiety generally fade by the time withdrawal ends, it is important for people to have a strong support system in place while withdrawing so that they do not seek relief for their emotional distress in the form of a crystal meth relapse.
Methamphetamine withdrawal is infamous for making people feel lethargic and sleepy. While withdrawing from crystal meth, most people experience low energy to such a point where everyday tasks feel so demanding that they are all but impossible. This condition of fatigue is the polar opposite of crystal meth’s main effect. When people abuse methamphetamine, they generally experience a surge in energy levels. They may feel so manic, focused, and hyperactive that they believe that they do not need sleep. As a result, they often do not sleep at all for days on end. The extreme and debilitating fatigue that people experience while withdrawing from crystal meth is both a physiological reaction to the absence of meth and a natural response to going for long periods without rest.
Just as people taking methamphetamine often have so much energy that they feel that they do not need to sleep, it is common for meth users to lose their desire to eat. In fact, habitual crystal meth users often experience dangerous health consequences due to their lack of appetite. Many become emaciated and suffer from nutritional deficiencies. When people stop taking crystal meth, it is common for them to suddenly develop appetites. Most people withdrawing from meth specifically crave carbohydrates, such as starchy or sugary foods, which provide the energy and nutrients that they have been heretofore lacking. This withdrawal symptom is generally one of the earliest people experience, and it can last up until the second or third week. However, in some cases people develop disordered eating habits that can lead to eating disorders that last longer than the withdrawal itself.
Individuals who were severely physically dependent on crystal meth who suddenly quit sometimes experience symptoms of psychosis. Psychosis is a condition that causes people to have delusions, or irrational thoughts, that are often paranoid in nature. People having psychotic episodes often also experience hallucinations; this can cause them to hear, see, and feel things that do not exist in reality. Individuals suffering from psychosis can sometimes be a danger to themselves and the people around them. It is important to stress that this is a symptom of withdrawal that a relapse will not necessarily cure. People taking high doses of crystal meth also often experience psychosis. It is thus of paramount importance that anyone developing the symptoms of psychosis have a strong sober support system in place so that they can recover from their addiction.
Crystal Meth Cravings
By far the strongest and most common symptom of methamphetamine withdrawal is a relentless craving for crystal meth. This is generally the first symptom people experience when they stop using the drug. However, by the time the other symptoms of withdrawal begin in earnest, the cravings for crystal meth can become impossible to ignore. Once withdrawal symptoms become physically and emotionally painful, having access to crystal meth can come to represent relief and freedom from these painful symptoms. As crystal meth withdrawal symptoms peak and the cravings reach their height, so too does the risk of relapse. Having a strong recovery program and social support system in place can help a person resist their crystal meth cravings.
How Long Does Crystal Meth Withdrawal Last?
The length of crystal meth withdrawal is determined by a wide range of factors. The most important factor to consider is how long a person was addicted to methamphetamine. Individuals who used methamphetamine longer are likely not only to have more severe withdrawal symptoms, but the experience withdrawal far longer as well. Age can also be an important determining factor. People who are older take more time to recover from the effects of crystal meth abuse then young people, and as such they can expect their withdrawal periods to last longer. However, it can still be difficult to predict the exact length of time any given individual’s meth withdrawal period will last. Their physical health, the severity of their physical dependence, how much meth they consumed, and how frequently they used meth all play a role in determining the length of withdrawal.
Meth withdrawal generally proceeds in two distinct stages. The first stage is generally experienced as more intense. It begins within the first 24 hours after quitting the drug. This initial phase of withdrawal is known as “acute withdrawal.” During this time, people are likely to experience the widest range of meth withdrawal symptoms. Within the first week, it is likely that these symptoms will reach peak intensity. During acute withdrawal, people face the highest risk of relapse.
After the first week’s acute withdrawal stage, most people enter what is known as a “subacute phase” which can last for an additional two to three weeks. The subacute phase is characterized by all of the same symptoms people experienced in their acute phase, but they tend to experience them less severely. Nonetheless, individuals in the subacute phase continue to experience intense cravings for crystal meth.
While most people only experience crystal meth withdrawal for several weeks, in some cases people can experience symptoms for many months. This condition is known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). Post-acute withdrawal syndrome is relatively little understood by researchers. It is unclear why some people have withdrawal symptoms for significantly longer than others. These individuals are likely to develop other mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. PAWS can make people lose hope and cause them to return to meth. However, the symptoms of post-acute withdrawal syndrome can be dealt with. Individuals who have strong sober social support systems in place and work to develop new coping tools in sobriety can learn to live with their emotional distress without relapsing. While it may take some time, methamphetamine withdrawal symptoms inevitably dissipate.
Coping with Crystal Meth Withdrawal
Crystal meth withdrawal is both painful and debilitating. However, there are a number of things people can do to decrease the severity and dangers of their withdrawal symptoms. Common recommendations for people withdrawing from crystal meth include:
- Eating a healthy diet. When people withdraw from crystal meth, they tend to experience a dramatic increase of their appetite. In particular, they tend to crave sugary foods and refined carbohydrates. This appetite increase is generally a good thing, as people addicted to meth are often emaciated and suffer from nutritional deficiencies. However, it is important to ensure that one’s eating habits during withdrawal actually fill in these nutritional gaps. Unhealthy foods can trigger inflammation and perpetuate pre-existing nutritional deficiencies, which can worsen the symptoms of withdrawal. Eating a healthy diet can aid the body as it recovers from years of crystal meth abuse.
- Exercise. Most people withdrawing from methamphetamine will feel anything but motivated to exercise, given that withdrawal produces overwhelming feelings of exhaustion and fatigue. However, a large body of research supports the notion that exercise reduces anxiety, depression, and even drug cravings. Even something as simple as taking a short walk can mitigate the paranoia and feelings of despair that people tend to experience with withdrawing from crystal meth.
- Distracting oneself. Meth cravings can be overwhelming. While it may be tempting to lie in bed to wait out withdrawal, this can sometimes be a recipe for disaster. Left alone with one’s thoughts, most people are liable to think the same thought over and over: “I need crystal meth.” Instead, it may be a good idea to keep busy and involve oneself in other healthy activities.
- Avoiding triggers. People who have abused crystal meth for many years tend to live lives structured around drug use. It is likely that most of their friends are drug users and that most of the places they regularly frequent are associated with crystal meth. During the withdrawal period, it is generally best to avoid anything or anyone that is likely to trigger a relapse. In fact, it may be a good idea to avoid these triggers even after methamphetamine withdrawal is over. After all, most people who quit meth are hoping to lead new lives. It’s generally not very fun to be sober around people who are high on meth.
Building a New Life in Sobriety
Successfully withdrawing from crystal meth is an incredible achievement. However, it is important for people to recognize that even after getting through withdrawal the chances for relapse remain high. Even after the intense withdrawal-induced cravings have dissipated, most people remain obsessed on some level with methamphetamine. People who use meth abusively tend to do so for underlying reasons. Many people turn to substance abuse as a way to achieve relief from the symptoms of undiagnosed mental health conditions, like depression and anxiety. Others live in dangerous or unstable economic or personal conditions and turn to drugs and alcohol as a form of escapism. Individuals who quit crystal meth and manage to get through the withdrawal period may be drug-free, but they continue to face the underlying problems that led them to abuse crystal meth in the first place.
Building a new life in sobriety involves learning to deal with these underlying issues. It is also important for people to address their substance use disorders, which encompass far more aspects of their lives than mere physical dependence. Furthermore, it is an obvious fact that most people who want to quit meth aim to do so because they want to live a better life. Quitting crystal meth without taking steps to better one’s personal situation can end up feeling pointless. Methamphetamine abuse can harm one’s health, one’s finances, and one’s relationships. If you’ve quit meth but you’re still unemployed, lonely, or simply depressed, it’s likely that you need a strong program of recovery.
Design for Recovery is a structured sober living home for men located in Los Angeles’ Westside. We welcome people suffering from all addictions, including those who are working to recover from a crystal meth addiction. No matter what stage of recovery you’re in, you can find a home — and a new way of life — at Design for Recovery. As a sober living home, we provide a safe and trigger-free place for residents to develop a new sober toolkit. Living together with other people in recovery, former addicts can benefit from others’ experiences while developing a crucial sober social support system. One study on sober living homes showed that former residents of sober living houses had decreased chances of relapse even years after graduation, mostly because of the support systems they develop. Not only do residents obtain valuable support from each other, but they learn crucial coping tools and skills from our staff of dedication addiction experts. At Design for Recovery, residents pursue not just sobriety, but positive goals for newfound sober lives. If you are ready for a new way of living, reach out to us today.