How Bad is Meth Withdrawal
When an individual abruptly stops taking methamphetamine, withdrawal can begin almost immediately. While withdrawal is a natural process, it can be a painful and uncomfortable experience; especially for users resistant or new to the recovery process.
Meth Withdrawal Timeline
Withdrawal does not last forever. Typical symptoms subtly start to wear off as the user’s body adjusts to the chemical components of the drug no longer being present in the body. For meth users, withdrawal can begin as early as the first 24 hours after last using the drug.
Collaborative research throughout the years consistently shows that methamphetamine withdrawal consists of two phases. The initial phase is the most intense. This phase takes place during the first 24 hours after the user last had meth in their system. During this phase, symptoms can include fatigue and increased appetite. It is normal for the individual to feel irritable, anxious, hopeless, and depressed. Although, the symptoms become gradually less intense over the next seven to eight days.
The next phase is often a “sub-acute” phase lingering for another couple of weeks. This last phase is less intense and can last for another two to three weeks. Although, some meth users may even experience withdrawal symptoms for months. This long-lasting withdrawal period is called post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).
Factors That Influence Withdrawal Symptoms
The intensity of meth withdrawal depends on many different factors, including the duration of active use, the quantity of meth consumed, and the quality of meth that the individual had been using. A more obvious indicator for the severity of withdrawal symptoms is how dependent the person was on meth in their daily life.
Typically, the longer a person has been using methamphetamine, the worse their withdrawal symptoms will be. This rule of thumb also applies to age: older people typically experience more severe withdrawal symptoms than younger people. As with many other symptoms, a user’s mental and physical health before and during meth use can play a role. Additionally, some research has indicated that meth users in recovery who have a history of using other drugs, especially alcohol, experience more difficult withdrawal symptoms than those without a significant history of other drug use.
Common Meth Withdrawal Symptoms
Symptoms associated with meth withdrawal can be both physical like feelings of fatigue and increased appetite as well as psychological. Psychological symptoms include anxiety, depression, and psychosis. It is important to note that the physical symptoms go away, but the psychological symptoms like anxiety can take a while to shake off.
Although the experience of meth withdrawal is different for every meth user, and some individual’s health issues, drug history, and life circumstances may intensify symptoms, there are common symptoms that tend to emerge for almost every user. These common symptoms include:
- Fatigue, sleepiness, exhaustion, and lethargy
- Uncontrollable meth cravings
- Increased and abnormal appetite
- Anxiety is likely to emerge during any drug withdrawal. Anxiety is even more common in the first phases of withdrawal if the drug was used to mask any upsetting feelings or internal battles. With the drug absent from the body, the individual will not have anything blocking these unpleasant emotions or producing surges of artificial “happy hormones” like dopamine and serotonin. In fact, studies have shown that among all meth users, one third are estimated to struggle with anxiety disorders.
Fatigues & Sleepiness
- It is also important to understand the effects meth has on the body. When an individual has meth in their system, the body becomes hyperactive and unable to relax or get the necessary sleep it needs to function. When a user is withdrawing from meth, their body will revert, overcompensating on sleep in order to allow the body to heal. As a result, it is very common for those detoxing from meth to feel lethargic and unable to participate in almost any daily function during the first week. These individuals may feel very tired, and sleepy during the initial phase of meth withdrawal and detox period. The body is trying to heal itself and reset homeostasis. With patience and time, the individual can work towards healthy sleeping patterns and sleep cycles.
At Boardwalk Recovery Center, we understand this symptom is common among our clients withdrawing from meth. If they seem lethargic and are falling asleep in group sessions, staff encourage them to participate when prompted and to individually set up a sleep schedule that best aligns with their personal recovery plan. Overall, these symptoms of uncontrollable fatigue peak around day five or six of the user’s withdrawal. During this time, these individuals may sleep around 11-12 hours per day, clinically referred to as hypersomnia. It is also important to note that during this deep slumber, users withdrawing from meth may experience vivid dreams or nightmares. Fortunately, these dreams and nightmares subside after the first or second week in their recovery journey. We have physicians on staff who specialize in dream interpretation and can assist patients in managing and coping with these abnormal and upsetting episodes.
- Along with anxiety, depression is also likely to re-emerge for individuals withdrawing from meth. Mental health is one of the prominent aspects affected during the withdrawal period because of the alteration of the brain during heavy drug usage. Therefore, having a low, flat, or hopeless mood is normal while going through meth withdrawal even though it may seem concerning to the client at the time. For most users, these intense feelings of depression will lessen by the end of the third week in recovery. Depression may continue for a small percentage of people coming off meth. The chances of this are more likely if the individual’s baseline mental health included depression before and during meth use.
- The most stereotypical symptom of meth withdrawal is psychosis. Psychosis is an experience consisting largely of hallucinations. Hallucinations may lead to abnormal behavior in response to seeing, hearing, and feeling things that are not actually present. Psychosis may occur in the so-called “come-down” of a drug. Psychosis also involves delusions, which are thoughts or ideas that seem true but that are not valid or possible in reality. This symptom can be confusing for users because even though they are withdrawing from meth, they may experience the same type of psychosis as they did when they were high on the drug.
- A more obvious withdrawal symptom is intense cravings. Most users who are withdrawing from meth will have a strong desire to use again, despite whatever traumatic circumstance may have led them to stop using in the first place. Cravings are common when withdrawing from almost any addictive substances.
Increased and Abnormal Appetite
- When an individual is using meth, they may lose their appetite. Since meth activates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) by increasing central and peripheral norepinephrine (NE), there is a reduction in the time that the body is in “rest and digest” mode or is dominated by parasympathetic activity. Users without meth in their system will feel the opposite effect, and in this case, will have an increased appetite. It is usually the case that those in withdrawal will have strong cravings for carbohydrates like sugary or starchy foods at the beginning of withdrawal, which usually lingers into the second and third weeks.
Meth Withdrawal Treatment & Detox
Meth withdrawal can be one of the most difficult parts of a user’s recovery journey. At Boardwalk Recovery Center we encourage our clients to find ways to cope and get through this difficult phase of their recovery. We provide opportunities for clients in withdrawal to distract themselves by reconnecting them with their favorite sober hobbies that they may have lost touch with due to their addiction. Exercising, eating well, and avoiding triggers are effective ways to get through withdrawal symptoms and successfully start their recovery journey.
It is important to note that if symptoms of depression continue following the discontinuation of meth, it is necessary to see a physician. Sometimes medications are useful in treating these symptoms. Additionally, individuals should only go through the meth detox and withdrawal process under the supervision of trained health professionals. Even though some symptoms begin to fade after the first week of withdrawal, meth addicts can run into serious difficulties trying to cope with symptoms, such as psychosis, on their own. Antipsychotic drugs may be prescribed along with other medications to treat psychiatric symptoms.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests that behavioral therapy is one of the most effective long-term treatments currently available for methamphetamine addiction. At Boardwalk Recovery Center, we practice behavioral therapy, led by a variety of psychologists and psychiatrists who specialize in addiction treatment and can help users overcome their meth addiction and get through the difficult withdrawal phase.