Crystal Meth Withdrawal TimelineAnna Ciulla
Methamphetamine is a hydrochloride salt and like the appearance of common table salt, it takes a crystallized form. Therefore, it is called crystal meth. Crystal meth is most commonly smoked through a pipe but can also be snorted or directly injected into the bloodstream. It goes by the names of crank, crystal, and ice. Some of these street names refer to the quality of the meth, but overall, they are all made up of the same chemical structure of methamphetamine.
This drug is extremely addictive and habit-forming. As a result, when someone stops taking it, withdrawals set in. For a person fighting to kick this addiction, the withdrawal timeline can be quite harrowing. So, if you or someone you care for is attempting to get clean, it is best that you go into it fully prepared for what is to come with this type of drug detox. Below, we will discuss the effects of crystal meth and dive into detail about what to expect with the crystal meth withdrawal timeline.
The Brain and Crystal Meth
Unlike other amphetamines, which are generally short-lived, the effects of crystal meth can last up to 12 hours. This is a marathon-like time compared to other amphetamines; for example, cocaine has effects which last less than an hour. The long duration of crystal meth makes it far more dangerous to the brain, as neurotransmitters are overworking for up to 12 hours after each intake. Not only does this overwork the brain for longer, but the duration of time makes the drug cheaper in comparison to other amphetamines, accelerating its popularity.
Methamphetamine can directly damage the brain by causing lasting emotional scarring and physically altering neuroreceptors. Unfortunately, this damage is common in long-term methamphetamine users. Recent studies show that 40% of all global neuropsychological impairments are directly caused by amphetamine use.
This study by the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience states, “Current evidence indicates that exposure to MA is neurotoxic, and neuroimaging studies confirm that long-term use in humans may lead to extensive neural damage. These physiological changes are commonly associated with persistent forms of cognitive impairment, including deficits in attention, memory and executive function” (Barr). These long-term cognitive changes can be avoided if users begin to practice sobriety and maintain healthy lifestyles.
Side Effects of Crystal Meth
Crystal meth changes dopamine receptors in the brain, which gives the user an intense feeling of euphoria during the drug’s course. Users of methamphetamine not only experience euphoria, but increased libido, and a rush of energy. This feeling causes individuals who are under the influence to forget about everyday necessities like food, water, and sleep, which can lead to physical pain, muscle spasms, anxiety, and aggression.
An individual may become addicted to crystal meth after using the drug only a few times. Similar to the body’s reaction to alcohol consumption, the body builds a tolerance to the drug after multiple uses, which forces users to consume higher dosages each time in order to achieve their original high. The milligrams of crystal meth consumed along with the frequency between days impact the severity of the following symptoms.
Repeated use of crystal meth can cause the following:
- Cardiac Arrhythmia
- Compulsive Skin Picking
- Increased Blood Pressure
- Muscle Tremors
- Obsessive Behavior
- Stomach Cramps
The Two Phases of Crystal Meth Withdrawal
The body manifests withdrawal symptoms as it realizes the absence of a substance, and it reacts by firing off signals (which we define as symptoms) to illustrate the bodily change. Two general withdrawal phases occur after someone stops using crystal meth.
- The first phase of meth withdrawal symptoms is the most physically and emotionally intense and initially occurs in the first 24 hours—as the body tries to regulate itself in the absence of the drug. This withdrawal phase will last anywhere from 7-10 days depending on several factors including the seriousness of the addiction.
- The second phase persists over a period of 4 to 6 weeks as the body works to adjust to functioning without the drug. Just as every individual metabolizes food differently, it is important to remember that every individual also responds to withdrawal differently; therefore, some symptoms may be felt more than others, and the timeline can fluctuate per person.
First Phase of Withdrawal
This initial 24-hour break from methamphetamines can be a frustrating and trying experience, with more than half of patients experiencing a drug relapse in this attempt to get clean during the crystal meth detox process. Because of this, it is recommended that individuals go through their meth detox in an inpatient drug rehab treatment program, as this increases their probability of maintaining sobriety.
Often times, this phase of withdrawal is non-isolated, as other drugs are also being detoxed from the system, “SAMHSA reports show 8% of all drug/alcohol treatment admissions involve methamphetamine and treatment studies report frequent relapses to methamphetamine seeking among those that are trying to quit” (Sobieraj).
The Symptoms of Crystal Meth Withdrawal
Around 12 hours after using crystal meth, users will experience a comedown. This is when the body responds to a decrease in dopamine along with other chemicals in the brain, which was previously expelled during drug usage. The body also will suffer from dehydration, extreme hunger, and lack of sleep.
Three things can impact a comedown:
- The amount of methamphetamine consumed
- The frequency of methamphetamine use
- The amount of time a person has been using
It’s important to consider these key factors. The more crystal meth consumed, the more intense the comedown and the withdrawal symptoms will be. The longer a user has been taking the drug, the higher their tolerance is which increases the likelihood that they consumed more of the substance. Also, a body that has experienced more drug-related stress through meth abuse is less able to stabilize comfortably after the substance wears off, further making the comedown worse.
Comedown symptoms include:
- A feeling of hopelessness
- A risk of Psychosis (returning or new)
- Dehydration (a headache, contributing muscle weakness)
- Decreased Appetite
- Muscle pain from jaw clenching
- Muscle weakness
Dopamine, Norepinephrine, and Serotonin
During the first phase of withdrawal, the brain’s chemical structure is changing, “MA [methamphetamine] is a psychostimulant drug that acts on the central nervous system (CNS) through a non-exocytotic mechanism, causing the release of monoamine neurotransmitters, including dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin” (Barr). When one uses meth, the drug informs the brain to rapidly release these chemicals, artificially bringing a sense of euphoria as the chemicals are depleted from the brain’s storage.
As a crystal meth user becomes accustomed to sobriety, their brain lacks natural dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin and therefore the user will likely experience feelings of unhappiness as they begin their path of sobriety. This causes patients to crave the drug to restore happiness; however, relapsing will only decrease these chemicals further which will make withdrawal even more intense and difficult in the future.
Addiction treatment facilities provide therapy to help patients overcome this anxiety, sadness, and meth cravings while also giving the patient medications to help replenish the brain’s storage of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. As the user begins to go through the second phase of withdrawal, they will continue to replenish their body’s natural chemicals, and their brain will continue to balance them out.
Second Phase of Withdrawal
After the initial comedown and first phase of withdrawal, there is a longer period of time where a user recovers as their brain chemicals find balance, and they restore a healthy lifestyle. The physical symptoms and psychological symptoms during this time are less intense, but there is still a chance that the user will relapse. During the first week of withdrawal, users often spend most of their time sleeping and eating. Their appetite will begin to return to normal and eating balanced meals will further restore their brains natural chemical synchrony.
However, users must be prepared to not feel happiness as their neurotransmitters are damaged. Also, users must come to terms that the euphoria they experienced through methamphetamine was artificially created. Some users in this point of recovery will report feeling numb and depressed, but this is only because their sense of perception has been skewed. Therapists often work with patients to explain that feeling is normal, and this gives patients the ability to relax.
Generally speaking, the further a user gets from the initial 24-hour period of withdrawals, the more the physical symptoms of withdrawal wane. That said, this is also dependent on how long the user has been consuming methamphetamine and at what dosage. However, overcoming the initial two days of sobriety during drug detox is a milestone that significantly raises a patient’s chances of successful recovery.
The Danger of Crystal Meth Relapse
Unfortunately, because Crystal Meth withdrawals are quite intense, it is not uncommon for a user to relapse either in the initial phase or later down the road, especially if they are not tied into drug rehab aftercare programs.
When a user relapses, it is common that they will go into day-long binges which can result in psychosis. Often people call users during this time “tweakers.” The term tweaking applies to individuals that embark on a crystal meth binge lasting three days or more. During this binge the user will be awake for over 48 hours, often disregarding food or water. These binges commonly result in hallucinations, and in many cases, the users relentlessly itch and scratch their skin. For some users, these binges can lead to psychosis, overdose, and possible death.
What is Crystal Meth Psychosis?
Psychosis is when one loses complete sense of one’s self and their external reality. Individuals who go through psychosis are not as much of a danger to people around them as they are to themselves. Methamphetamine consumption can cause psychosis days after it is consumed, but it remains a possibility down the road. Some individuals who experience psychosis once can be triggered by their environment to return to a state of psychosis.
People who have co-occurring disorders are at higher risk for psychosis. So, someone is at a higher risk for psychosis if they have been previously diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Because of this, it is especially important for such people to seek help to reduce their exposure to crystal meth or other drugs.
Memory and Recovery
Crystal meth directly impacts a user’s memory; it might take months for the brain to be able to store and recall memories as it once did. But, the sooner a user stops consuming methamphetamine, the more likely they are to recover without suffering long-term memory damage. Some studies show that exercise can help improve memory faster during recovery and we at Beach House Recovery have various suggested routines for memory restoration.
Crystal Meth Withdrawal Treatment
Beach House Center for Recovery effectively employs the Matrix method in both our inpatient and outpatient program models. In this methamphetamine addiction treatment plan, the patient and the therapist act as a team to create a positive relationship that promotes self-esteem, dignity, and self-worth. This is a rounded treatment program that also involves positive friend and family reinforcement alongside the group and one-on-one therapy sessions.
Currently, there are no FDA-approved medicines for methamphetamine addiction. Because of that, the matrix method grounds itself in reliable relationships and therapeutic guidance to accomplish the patient’s goal of sobriety. This method is tailored to each individual’s needs and can be adjusted as the patient works towards maintaining sobriety and a healthy lifestyle.
The crystal meth withdrawal timeline can be a harrowing and possibly deadly process, especially if you try to do it on your own. Our Florida drug rehab facility seeks to make this detoxification process as safe and painless as possible. After that, our goal is to give you tools to fight off crystal meth cravings and urges in this long-term recovery and a life free from addiction.
- Barr, A. M., Panenka, W. J., MacEwan, G. W., Thornton, A. E., Lang, D. J., Honer, W. G., &
- Lecomte, T. (2006). The need for speed: an update on methamphetamine addiction. Journal of psychiatry & neuroscience : JPN, 31(5), 301-13.
- NIDA. (2018, January 17). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide
- (Third Edition). Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition on 2018, November 4
- Nordqvist, C. (2017, July 07). Crystal Meth: Facts, effects, and addiction. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/23207.php
- Sobieraj, J., Kim, C., Fannon, A., & Mandyam, M. (2016). Chronic wheel running-induced reduction of extinction and reinstatement of methamphetamine seeking in methamphetamine dependent rats is associated with reduced number of periaqueductal gray dopamine neurons. Brain Structure and Function, 221(1), 261-276.
- TSRI Study Shows How Exercise Could Reduce Relapse During Meth Withdrawal. (2014).
- Targeted News Service, p. Targeted News Service, Nov 3, 2014.