Methamphetamine Detox – Withdrawal Symptoms and TimelineAnna Ciulla
Methamphetamine (“meth” for short) is classified as a highly addictive stimulant by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Also known on the black market as “ice,” “crystal,” “chalk,” “blade,” “quartz,” “glass,” and by a host of other street-savvy code names, methamphetamine is available in a variety of forms— most commonly fine, crystallized powder.
Originally developed by Japanese scientist Nagayoshi Nagai in 1893, methamphetamine was first used during World War 11 by American, German, English and Japanese soldiers for preventing fatigue and increasing endurance on the battlefield. In subsequent decades, its popularity quickly burgeoned, reaching epidemic proportions by the time Congress passed the Comprehensive Methamphetamine Control Act in 1996. This legislation imposed strict regulations on mail order companies and chemical plants selling chemicals used to mass produce meth. Now manufactured in underground “meth labs,” the dangerously potent drug is responsible for spawning a culture of crime, disease, overdose and death.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Introduction to Methamphetamine Detox
- Methamphetamine Withdrawal Symptoms
- Methamphetamine Withdrawal Timeline
- Inpatient Treatment for Methamphetamine
- Outpatient Treatment for Methamphetamine
- Can Methamphetamine Detox Be Done at Home?
- Tapered vs. Cold Turkey
- Considerations for Methamphetamine Detox
- Recovery Success and Aftercare Services for Methamphetamine
Although methamphetamine is legitimately prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and as part of short-term weight loss regimens, the adverse effects associated with the drug far outweigh its benefits. According to the US Department of Justice (DOJ), in 2017, approximately 900,000 people age 12 and older currently used methamphetamine, many of them illicitly. Additionally, 85-90 percent of stimulant-related drug deaths involved meth: a whopping 225 percent spike in stimulant death rates over the past decade. In 2015, a record 225,000 people began using meth. Increasing evidence implicates the drug in a lengthy list of health problems and diseases. In light of these statistics, chronic methamphetamine users place themselves at incredible risk, with the majority requiring professional medical detox in order to recover from its debilitating effects.
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METHAMPHETAMINE WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMS
Methamphetamine is extraordinarily damaging to the human body. As a stimulant, it assaults the cardiovascular system, disrupts normal rhythms and causes abnormal clots— resulting in elevated blood pressure and an increased likelihood of heart attack. Aside from the deadlier, long-term potency of the drug, short-term effects may include severe malnutrition, weight loss, insomnia, damaged nasal passages, tooth decay, open sores and infections, and damage to the kidneys, liver and lungs.
Prior to beginning detox, clients are given a comprehensive medical and psychiatric evaluation that helps determine specifics, including when medication-assisted treatment (MAT) will begin and optimal behavioral therapies. Depending upon the age and overall health of the client, and whether or not they are experiencing early or late stage symptoms, methamphetamine withdrawal may include the following cluster of symptoms:
- Loss of motivation
- Red, itchy eyes
- Mood swings
- Suicidal ideation (SI)
- Increased appetite
METHAMPHETAMINE WITHDRAWAL TIMELINE
Methamphetamine withdrawal is characterized by three formal stages:
- The crash phase typically lasts less than two weeks, during which time clients experience a drastic decline in cognitive function and energy levels.
- Subsequent cravings (the second phase of meth withdrawal) are often intense and longer lasting—up to 10 weeks in some cases—and can accompany heightened depression as the drug steadily exits the system.
- Physical recovery, which can last approximately 30-40 weeks and is characterized by a noticeable cessation in cravings and overall physical and psychological stabilization.
Unlike the accelerated withdrawal process associated with certain opiates and other recreational drugs, methamphetamine withdrawal is renowned for being slow and difficult.
Undoubtedly, the most intense symptoms peak within the first 24 hours following dosage. Although the intensity gradually wears over the course of a week, it is considered the most critical period for clients, with medical supervision and management necessary in order to achieve optimal outcomes. After successfully transitioning through all three stages, clients face an extended withdrawal process known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) that can last for months and, in some cases, years following discontinuation of use.
Methamphetamine is a fast-acting stimulant that is metabolized fairly quickly. Depending upon kidney, liver and heart function (and individual biochemistry), the effects of methamphetamine last for approximately 8-24 hours in the majority of clients. The half-life of methamphetamine lasts between 12-34 hours, which means that it takes between 12-34 hours for the quantity of meth present in the blood to decrease by half.
Urine testing, the preferred method of ongoing screening used by drug rehabs, can typically detect meth for up to 72 hours. Blood and saliva testing yield similar results, with detectable traces registering for approximately three days. Other methods of detection like hair analysis provide the longest range of detection, with traces registering for up to 90 days.
INPATIENT TREATMENT FOR METHAMPHETAMINE
Inpatient treatment offers an intensive, short-term protocol where clients live at a designated treatment facility while completing a medically supervised, clinically-focused program. Inpatient treatment is widely considered the industry-preferred method of methamphetamine detox, since clients receive the evidence-based benefit of ongoing care from licensed medical professionals and clinicians. Above and beyond the premium level of care that includes 24/7 staff monitoring, reputable facilities often include valuable amenities such as aftercare planning, alumni networking, holistic education and supervised recreational activities.
Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is the staple of methamphetamine detox and consists of Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved pharmacological interventions in combination with evidence-based therapies. In addition to regular medication management, clients are assigned one-on-one and group therapy as part of their ongoing treatment regimen. Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), motivational interviewing (MI), trauma-informed therapy, family therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are all commonly utilized depending upon duration of treatment and specific client needs. Primary medications geared toward minimizing the adverse effects associated with stimulant use include:
- Benzodiazepines “Benzos” help calm agitation, anxiety and reduce panic attacks.
- Antipsychotics help reduce the intensity of insomnia and psychosis.
- Antidepressants help curb depression while reduce insomnia and anhedonia.
A variety of anxiety and depression-related disorders are statistically associated with methamphetamine addiction. If present, these “co-occurring” disorders require medical treatment in order for optimal outcomes to be achieved. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), in particular, has been increasingly implicated in meth addiction. Precipitating factors associated with PTSD including unresolved emotional conflicts and dissociation lead clients to self-medicate, unintentionally producing isolation and a negative, self-perpetuating feedback loop.
OUTPATIENT TREATMENT FOR METHAMPHETAMINE
Outpatient treatment is another popular treatment method for those requiring greater flexibility. Since clients are not required to live at a designated facility for the duration of treatment, outpatient treatment is a cheaper, but generally less effective alternative, ideally suited for client’s whose personal and professional schedules demand it. Also appropriate for use as a transitional level of care by those successfully completing inpatient detox, outpatient treatment may be an excellent choice for those struggling with social and environmental triggers or experiencing first-time relapse in early recovery.
Self-guided, at-home methamphetamine detox is never recommended under any circumstance. Even in cases of mild recreational use or short-term experimentation, self-detox invariably leads to suboptimal treatment outcomes and increases the likelihood of future relapse.
TAPERED VS COLD TURKEY
Tapering is a highly controversial practice that involves a doctor administering diminishing doses of methamphetamine to a client undergoing detox. In addition to subjecting the body to the same addictive substance that led to a downward spiral, tapering is associated with unfavorable treatment outcomes. By the same token, abruptly discontinuing methamphetamine use—a phenomenon known as “quitting cold turkey”—is equally risky. Therefore, the safest, most reliable treatment method is based upon appropriate pharmacological interventions as described previously in the MAT section.
CONSIDERATIONS / HOW TO DECIDE WHAT IS RIGHT FOR YOU
Affordability, insurance coverage, facility reputation, location, duration, and level of treatment required are all key aspects involved in making an informed decision. Fortunately, this process can be relatively stress-free thanks to the help of experienced admissions staff who are able to verify coverage and benefits prior to beginning treatment. Even in cases where partial or total coverage is denied, additional options may be available to help make treatment affordable.
RECOVERY SUCCESS AND AFTERCARE SERVICES FOR MEHTAMPHETAMINE
Success in early recovery, especially long-term success, depends upon a variety of factors such as individual client motivation and family support. Beyond these critical ingredients, an empirically-proven, industry-trusted relapse prevention plan should include the following components:
- AA or NA (12-Step) involvement
- Life and jobs skills coaching
- Random drug testing
- Regular sober peer support
- Healthy dietary and lifestyle decisions
- Abstinence from social/environmental triggers
- One-on-one and/or individual therapy
Remember, overdose is considered a life-threatening medical emergency to be treated at a hospital emergency room (ER).
For more about methamphetamine addiction and recovery, check out these related articles:
- Experimentation vs. Addiction – How to Tell the Difference
- The Dangers of Drug Detox at Home and Quitting Cold Turkey
- The Real Costs of Addiction
- Top 10 Signs of Addiction
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The Medical Journal of Australia. “Ice” (crystal methamphetamine): concerns and responses. March, 2016.
Science Direct Pharmacological Research. Methamphetamine: Effects on the brain, gut and immune system. June, 2017.
Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Methamphetamine Abuse: A Perfect Storm of Complications. Jan, 2006.