Methamphetamine, or crystal meth, is a powerful stimulant that is primarily used as an illicit recreational drug. The substance is sold in a crystal or powder form and smoked for a powerful but short-lived high. Meth can cause an intense sense of euphoria that wears off quickly. This can encourage users to continue to use the drug in several consecutive doses called a meth binge. Binging on stimulants like meth can cause insomnia and days without sleep. The combination of sleeplessness and stimulant abuse can cause psychosis and psychological side effects. High doses or repeated use of meth can also quickly lead to chemical dependency and addiction that is notoriously difficult to overcome.
Meth works in the brain by increasing the release of a natural brain chemical called dopamine, which is closely tied to the reward center of the brain. Dopamine is released and binds to its receptors which activated feelings of excitement, alertness, wakefulness, and reward.
Meth also blocks a chemical function called reuptake, which is when a chemical is reabsorbed back into a nerve cell to be removed and recycled. Blocking dopamine reuptake causes more of it to bind to receptors, flooding the nervous system with the chemicals. In some cases, excessive dopamine can even damage receptors leading to the inability to feel pleasure, called anhedonia.
Since meth causes a powerful, rewarding response and damaged receptors make it less likely to feel pressure from anything besides meth, the drug can lead to severe addictions. Quitting meth use can also lead to uncomfortable side effects of withdrawal.
As a stimulant, meth withdrawal is typically characterized by two prevailing symptoms: depression and fatigue. Stimulants can cause insomnia, and they can cause your body to work harder, increasing your blood pressure and heart rate. They can also cause you to increase your movement with the feeling of an elevated energy level.
When you stop using it, your body crashes without the stimulating effects. This can lead to tiredness and hypersomnia. The sudden release of massive amounts of dopamine also depletes dopamine reserves, which need time to regenerate. This can cause feelings of depression. If dopamine receptors are damaged, depression can be long-lasting and severe.
Other symptoms of withdrawal can include:
Meth withdrawal and the timeline on which it’s experienced may be unique for individuals who go through it. The length of time you’ve been dependent on the drug, the size of your typical dose and the size of your last dose can all be significant factors in your withdrawal timeline.
Other issues like mental health problems, your size and weight, and your age can alter your experience. However, you may go through withdrawal on a timeline that’s similar to the following:
Meth has a biological half-life between five and 30 hours and can be effective for up to 20 hours. As the drug wears off, you will begin to feel the first effects of withdrawal called the comedown or crash. During this phase, your body is coming off of the intense high it just experienced, causing feelings of fatigue and depression.
After five to ten days, symptoms will reach their peak, causing the most intense effects of fatigue, depression, general discomfort, dizziness, and other symptoms. Some users may also experience paranoia or hallucinations.
After the withdrawal symptoms peak, your symptoms will start to get better over the next several weeks. Symptoms like depression and anxiety might linger the longest.
Most of your symptoms will have dissipated after the first month, but psychological symptoms like anhedonia, depression, and drug cravings may need treatment to overcome effectively.
Meth withdrawal can be extremely unpleasant, but it’s not known to be life-threatening like other drugs can be during withdrawal. Besides fatigue, meth’s most intense symptoms are psychological. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t serious or potentially dangerous. Severe depression is common among meth users, and it can lead to suicidal thoughts and actions in some people.
In fact, suicide is a significant contributor to the number of deaths related to meth use. While you may not experience life-threatening physiological symptoms, the psychological symptoms can be overwhelming. If you start to feel deep depression or suicidal thoughts, speak to a professional right away. In most cases, depression caused by meth use and withdrawal is temporary or treatable. Medical detox can help ease symptoms and maintain your safety through withdrawal if it’s necessary. However, if you don’t need detox, other levels of care may be recommended.
If you complete detox of if you don’t need medical detox, you might need lower levels of care in addiction treatment. Detox is an important part of treatment for many, but it’s not the only level of care you need if you have a severe substance use disorder. If you have high-level needs after detox, you may go through an inpatient or residential treatment program that involves 24-hour care. When you are ready to live on your own, you may continue to intensive outpatient or outpatient treatment. Through each level of care, you will receive therapies that are appropriate for your needs, including individual, group, and family therapy.
Crystal meth is a dangerous substance that can be extremely addictive. If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder, it’s important for you to seek addiction treatment as soon as possible. Addiction, especially when it involves meth, can slowly start to take over different parts of your life. It’s difficult to keep a severe substance use disorder secret and under control. Eventually, it bleeds out to different aspects of your life, including your mental and physical health, personal relationships, and financial stability.
Luckily, addiction is a treatable disease. Getting treatment early can help you avoid some of the most dangerous consequences of addiction. But no matter where you are in the disease, there is help available. Learn more about meth addiction and your treatment options and start your road to recovery today.
Darke, S., Kaye, S., Duflou, J., & Lappin, J. (2019, February). Completed Suicide Among Methamphetamine Users: A National Study. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29444345
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019, May). Methamphetamine. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/methamphetamine
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, February). 8: Medical detoxification. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification
Shiel Jr., W. C. (2018, December 21). Definition of Reuptake. Retrieved from https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=25240
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2019, September 11). Stimulants: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002308.htm