Stimulant drugs include cocaine, methamphetamines, and amphetamines. Over 900,000 people in the U.S. ages 12 and older had a cocaine stimulant substance disorder in 2014, and 569,000 in the same age group had reported using methamphetamines (“meth”) within the month prior to the survey. Stimulants are dangerous drugs that speed up bodily processes such as the heart rate and blood pressure, potentially causing heart attacks and strokes. Some stimulants such as cocaine can cause severe changes in the brain, such as hallucinations and paranoia (known as cocaine psychosis).
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While stimulants don’t produce a physical addiction, they do create a psychological addiction, and it can be very difficult to stop using them. Stimulant withdrawal treatment focuses a lot on intense therapy to unlearn addictive behaviors and build coping skills.
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How Stimulant Withdrawal Affects the Brain
Addiction to stimulant drugs is different from addictions to many other drugs because it is mostly a psychological addiction rather than a physical addiction. Because of this, therapy is key to recovery from a stimulant addiction.
Stimulant drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamines work by increasing the amount of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is an important part of the brain’s reward system. The more dopamine that is released in the brain, the greater the sense of pleasure or “high” a person feels.
Once the dopamine levels go down, the high goes away. At this point, there will be a drive, or a craving, to feel the high again, so the person may want to use the drug again.
Substance abuse causes the body and brain to adjust to the changes made by the drug and to develop cravings for the substance. The more someone uses a substance, they build up a tolerance to it, which means they need more of the drug to get the same effect.
One of the most difficult aspects of stimulant withdrawal is experiencing cravings.
Cravings are a powerful learned response that combines the desire for the physical sensation with the cues and triggers associated with using the substance, such as certain friends, places, or situations.
Over time a person can develop such a strong addiction that they prefer it over food or sex. At this point, they have developed a dependence on the drug. If they stop taking it, they will feel many uncomfortable or even dangerous stimulant withdrawal symptoms.
- Trouble sleeping
- Vivid or disturbing dreams
- Changes in appetite
- Slowed heartbeat
- Inability to feel pleasure (anhedonia)
Stimulant Withdrawal Timeline
When someone stops using a stimulant drug, they experience a “crash.” Symptoms can last anywhere from five days to three or more weeks. The crash typically occurs over the course of four phases: early crash phase, middle crash phase, late crash phase, and protracted withdrawal.
Within a few hours to a few days, the following stimulant withdrawal symptoms usually begin:
- Low mood (dysphoria)
- Movement problems
- Appetite changes
- Paranoid delusions
- Vivid, unpleasant dreams
After the initial early crash symptoms, the next phase kicks in, which is known as the middle crash phase. These symptoms may include:
- Increasing depression
- Anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure)
- Decreased mental and physical energy
- Strong desire to sleep coupled with insomnia
- Ends with an extended period of sleep, usually lasting about 24 to 36 hours
After the long period of sleep at the end of the middle crash phase, the late crash phase hits. This phase is marked by”intense hunger.”
Some of the stimulant withdrawal symptoms such as anhedonia and dysphoria may last for six to 18 weeks. This can be a difficult time in the withdrawal process because cravings may come back.
What Are the Stimulant Withdrawal Treatment Steps?
While treatment for stimulant addiction is available in different formats and levels of intensity, following a full continuum of treatment provides the most comprehensive approach. It begins with the highest and most intense level of care during the detox phase and then progresses through less intense levels of treatment. Going through the full continuum of treatment will position you better to be successful in your recovery.
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Stages of treatment usually include: detox, inpatient, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and alumni or aftercare.
During the first stage of withdrawal treatment, the goal is medical stabilization. You will receive a complete medical assessment to determine your level of addiction and any additional medical needs you may have. This will include a medical exam and urine or blood tests to screen for drugs.
Your physician may also require additional testing such as: additional blood tests, including a CBC (complete blood count), chest X-ray, ECG (electrocardiogram), and testing for other diseases.
Once the doctor has your test results, he or she will design a detox plan for you. Then, under the care of your medical team, you will begin the detox process. Your medical team will include doctors, nurses, and support staff.
Detoxing from stimulant drugs is somewhat different from detoxing from other substances because there is no physical addiction. You experience the “crash” symptoms as the effects of the drug wear off, but these are not usually life-threatening.
However, people who are addicted to stimulant drugs are also using or addicted to other substances, including alcohol, opioids, or other substances. Because withdrawing from these substances can be very difficult and even life-threatening, a personalized treatment plan that may also include medical intervention to withdraw from these other substances.
In addition to medical care, your treatment plan will also include behavioral therapy and emotional support. This is the most important part of withdrawal treatment for stimulant drugs because addiction is primarily emotional and psychological.
You will be under clinical surveillance 24/7 because often people going through stimulant withdrawal experience deep depression and suicidal ideation.
During this phase of treatment, you will live at the addiction treatment center and undergo a structured full-time therapy program.
The full continuum of treatment is designed to help you slowly adjust to life outside the rehab facility while helping you build the skills and resources you need to cope and avoid relapsing. After completing the medical detox and inpatient phases of stimulant withdrawal treatment, the next stage is to continue treatment in an intensive outpatient program (IOP).
During this phase of treatment, you will still attend intensive therapy sessions, up to about 20 hours per week.
This stage of treatment is intended to help you continue to be accountable for your recovery. It will also include periodic weekly drug testing. The main focus of IOP is to help you continue to build coping skills and prevent relapse.
After completing the treatment program, you will have the opportunity to join other treatment center alumni during weekly support groups and social events. Meeting other program graduates at these events can help you develop new friendships and build social support with others who understand the recovery process. This support network can be a vital resource to help you grow and stay focused on your recovery as you continue to adjust to life after the treatment program and take on new responsibilities.
If You’re Suffering from Stimulant Addiction, We Can Help
If you’re seeking help to overcome an addiction to stimulants, contact the admissions specialists at Ocean Breeze Recovery today for free and confidential help. They are here to provide the guidance and support you need to start your recovery. They can explain the treatment process and answer any questions you may have. After speaking with a specialist, you will know what to expect from our evidence-based services and you will feel confident to make an informed decision about your treatment plans. Our specialists can also check with your private health insurance to see if your treatment costs will be fully covered.
SAMSHA. How Stimulants Affect the Brain and Behavior. In Treatment for Stimulant Use Disorders. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books
SAMSHA. Medical Aspects of Stimulant Use Disorders. In Treatment for Stimulant Use Disorders. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books
(2004, April) The Amphetamine Withdrawal Syndrome. In Models of Intervention and Care for Psychostimulant Users, 2nd Edition, Monograph Series No. 51. from http://www.health.gov.au/internet/publications/publishing.nsf
(2015, October 27) Substance Use Disorders. from https://www.samhsa.gov
(2017, September 9) Stimulant-Related Disorders. from https://www.psychologytoday.com