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Crystal Meth Withdrawal

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With two sons to take care of and heroin addiction to satisfy, Christine was fighting a vicious cycle day in and day out. She found that after a morning of heroin, a little crystal meth at night could help her cook, clean, and complete chores like she never could before. Thanks to crystal methamphetamine, Christine felt like “Super Mom.”

Now employed at a substance abuse treatment center, Christine hasn’t touched crystal meth in years. But she does notice that more people who come through the doors of the facility seeking assistance have a drug history that includes methamphetamines. Experts in substance abuse circles say many people addicted to heroin or are opiate abusers will turn to crystal meth for relief from unpleasant symptoms associated with withdrawal.

But, like any other illicit drug, crystal meth is dangerous. Although considered not as lethal as some opioids, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that deaths involving crystal meth tripled from 2011 to 2016. Many of those overdoses involved opioids, such as fentanyl and heroin.

Nationwide, the death toll from crystal meth is equal to “Sept. 11 every three weeks,” according to the president’s drug addiction commission. While deaths from opioids may still be much higher, those fatalities are on a downward trend. Death rates from meth, on the other hand, continue to rise. Law enforcement authorities believe the spike in meth is a direct result of opioid addictions.

 Stimulants including methamphetamine, Ecstasy, cocaine, and even coffee and nicotine make up a class of drugs that raise dopamine levels in the brain and enhance physical and mental activities. Crystal meth comes in clear “crystal” chunks or blue-white rocks. The popular party drug is also referred to as “ice” or “glass”. When smoked as a white powder, swallowed as a pill, snorted or injected, meth creates euphoria, elevated blood pressure, and energy that enables users to function without sleep for days.

Even small doses of methamphetamine may result in many of the same side effects as those of other stimulants, such as cocaine or amphetamines. These include:

  • Increased physical activity or awareness
  • Decreased appetite
  • Faster breathing
  • Rapid and/or irregular heartbeat
  • Elevated blood pressure and body temperature

Unlike opioids, no medications exist to help combat meth addiction. In some cases, long-term meth use can alter the brain and cause psychotic symptoms that can take up to one year after the last dose to dissipate.

This means that those who are addicted to methamphetamine are at an increased risk of contracting infectious diseases transmitted through contact with blood or bodily fluids, such as HIV and hepatitis B and C. Poor judgment and decision-making can also lead to risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex, which also increases the chance of infection during extended periods of crystal meth use. 

Continued methamphetamine abuse presents many negative consequences including:

  • Extreme weight loss
  • Severe dental problems including cracked teeth and enamel ware
  • Intense itching and scratching leading to skin sores
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Violent behavior
  • Paranoia — an extreme and unreasonable distrust of others
  • Hallucinations — sensations and fictional images that seem real

Beyond the devastating consequences to those who abuse meth, the powerful stimulant also plagues entire families and communities that become exposed to new levels of crime, unemployment, child neglect or abuse, and other social issues.

Another problem is that individuals who take meth tend to abuse other substances as well, which complicates the efforts of first responders to treat a patient who has overdosed. Too much meth can also prompt the body to overheat, which can lead to organ damage such as kidney failure, heart attack or stroke and sometimes death. Because many meth patients who overdose are a threat to themselves as well as medical staff, they often require physical or chemical restraints until the drug leaves their systems.

WHAT IS CRYSTAL METH WITHDRAWAL?

Unfortunately, some people believe that crystal meth is safe to use. They are wrong. The higher the dose of meth, the higher the risks. Unlike opioids, which often cause users to pass out, meth can keep people up for days. When meth is taken repeatedly, larger and more frequent doses are needed to experience the initial high that seemed so enjoyable.

Meth withdrawal occurs immediately after the last use and includes a predictable set of symptoms that gradually wears off as the body adjusts to a reduction or elimination of the drug. Withdrawal includes both physical and mental symptoms that can last for a long period of time.

WHAT ARE CRYSTAL METH WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMS?

Methamphetamine is highly addictive. In most cases, the longer the use, the greater the propensity for more severe symptoms from withdrawal. When people stop taking crystal meth, withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Severe depression
  • Psychosis
  • Intense drug cravings

Depending on the individual and severity of use, withdrawal symptoms may also include muscle aches, irritability, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and insomnia. Patients who display intense psychiatric symptoms should be directed to a hospital for further assessment and care.

WHAT ARE THE STAGES OF THE CRYSTAL METH WITHDRAWAL TIMELINE?

People in active addiction know better than anyone else about the highs and lows of meth dependency. The decision to stop using meth is a good idea. What’s even better is to know what to expect following that choice. The timeline and stage of crystal meth withdrawal can vary depending on the individual, genetics, frequency of use and dosage. A general timeline might follow:

STAGE 1

Anxiety, sadness, agitation and depression along with intense cravings may set in immediately after ceasing use. These feelings will decrease over time. Fatigue usually peaks by the fifth day of withdrawal. Abusers may also experience wild dreams in the early stages.

STAGE 2

The abuser will experience mental and physical exhaustion, trouble sleeping, and a more intense state of depression for up to three weeks.

STAGE 3

About 12 hours into withdrawal, symptoms including cravings for the stimulant will continue to increase and go on for days, weeks, or even months.

TREATMENT FOR CRYSTAL METH WITHDRAWAL

No government-approved medication can treat crystal meth addiction – except for a wise decision to stop taking the stimulant. However, antipsychotic drugs along with other prescribed medications may treat some mental symptoms related to meth withdrawal. Behavioral therapies are regarded as the best measures to treat crystal meth addiction following detoxification.

WHY SHOULD I DETOX?

The last thing you want to do is give this highly destructive stimulant more time to damage your body. When you are tired from inadequate sleep and nutrition and sick of what meth as done to the way you look and feel, then you should know that detoxification under the care of a certified medical professional can help.

Through treatment, you can manage the general symptoms of withdrawal and any complications related to a post-acute withdrawal syndrome in a secure and drug-free environment.

This type of care is best found at a detox and/or residential treatment facility, where medication can be prescribed to alleviate any initial pain and physical discomfort and highly trained staff can monitor progress and prevent any complications associated with high blood pressure, vomiting, breathing, and dehydration.

WHAT IS THE NEXT TREATMENT STEP?

Detox is just the first step toward recovery. Perhaps the greatest danger related to meth withdrawal is a return to using. Another relapse should not be a part of your recovery program. You should be committed to an extended stay at a residential treatment center.

A personalized recovery plan is customized to meet your issues and unique circumstances and will give you the best shot at sobriety. To strengthen your resistance to relapse and to start feeling good about yourself during your stay, you will also be exposed to group therapy, one-on-one counseling, educational lectures and workshops as part of your recovery program.

Sources

Withdrawal Management. (2009, January). from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK310652/

Methamphetamine. (2013, October 29). from http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/meth.asp

Office of National Drug Control Policy. (n.d.). from https://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/

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