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Why Is Meth So Addictive?
Crystal meth works by causing your central nervous system to produce more dopamine, which is the reward chemical in your brain. This dopamine spike is what makes meth abuse lead to addiction so quickly.
When a person becomes addicted to crystal meth, it can become very hard to quit. The body will depend on the high amounts of dopamine it starts receiving.
Quitting crystal meth can result in extremely strong cravings, leading many addicts to return to using the drug again. Seeking meth addiction treatment for yourself or a loved one as soon as possible is crucial.
The Dangerous Effects of Meth Use
As mentioned, crystal meth is extremely addictive. The short- and long-term effects of meth abuse can also take a major toll on the body. Some effects can last months or even years.
Another notable risk with crystal meth use is that the synthetic opioid fentanyl is often mixed into meth, usually without the user’s knowledge. Fentanyl is an extremely potent and highly addictive opioid that can easily lead to overdose and death.
“In 2017, about 15% of all drug overdose deaths involved the methamphetamine category, and 50% of those deaths also involved an opioid, with half of those cases related to the synthetic opioid fentanyl.”
—The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Seeking treatment for meth use as soon as possible can help you or your family member avoid many of these potentially dangerous side effects.
The Short-Term Effects of Meth Use
Using crystal meth even for a short period can have severe health consequences and lead to overdose even after trying it once. Short-term use of crystal meth can also lead to developing a substance use disorder in a short period of time.
Additional short-term side effects that can occur because of meth abuse include:
- High blood pressure
- Extreme weight loss
- Faster heart rate
- Insomnia, restlessness
- High body temperature
- Compulsive scratching
- Heart attack
The Long-Term Effects of Meth Use
Individuals who abuse crystal meth for a long period of time put themselves at high risk for major health complications and life-threatening overdose.
Long-term meth users put themselves at risk of experiencing the following side effects:
- Significant weight loss
- Liver damage
- Rotted teeth (aka “meth mouth”)
- Lowered immunity
- Increased risk for heart attack or stroke
- Nerve damage
- Memory loss
- Sores on face or body
- Mood swings
- Paranoia, delusions
- Permanent brain damage
If you or a loved one is struggling with meth addiction, seeking help from a meth treatment center as soon as possible can help you quit your addiction and provide you with the healthcare you need to reverse some of the damage that meth has caused.
Meth Withdrawal Symptoms
During the withdrawal stage after quitting crystal meth, recovering individuals may experience the following symptoms:
- Dry mouth
- Severe depression
- Psychosis (confusion and delusions)
For most individuals, withdrawal from crystal meth lasts about two weeks. The initial withdrawal symptoms will begin within the first 24 hours after the last dose. During the first week, cravings can be very intense, and many individuals return to meth use. Withdrawal symptoms will peak within 7-10 days after the last dose.
Crystal meth withdrawals, for the most part, are not life-threatening. However, due to meth’s highly addictive nature and the subsequent impact on mental health, seeking medical detox is strongly recommended.
Safely Detoxing From Meth
Detoxification is the body’s natural process of eliminating any chemicals or toxins in your system. When quitting a drug addiction to something like crystal meth, your body will begin the detox process independently.
However, if you have formed a dependency on substances like meth, you will likely experience cravings and other withdrawal symptoms while your body adjusts to the new normal.
In many cases, seeking medical assistance during detox keeps you safe from potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms. It greatly increases your chances of avoiding relapse during the more challenging phases of withdrawal.
Medically Assisted Meth Detox
A medically-assisted detox for crystal meth addiction can occur at an inpatient facility or through an outpatient program. Not everyone recovering from meth addiction will need to stay at a facility while they go through withdrawals.
In addition to monitoring you during the detox process, medical professionals may prescribe you special medication to help you during withdrawal. These prescription drugs can alleviate some of the discomforts you might experience and help you avoid relapse.
Sometimes depression and anxiety can accompany withdrawals after crystal meth use. This happens due to crystal meth impacting the brain’s natural chemicals. Wellbutrin is also a stimulant, which can help reduce cravings during the withdrawal process.
Provigil is a synthetic stimulant, and the brain will receive this chemical similarly to how it reacted to crystal meth. However, Provigil is far less dangerous and has a low potential for addiction. This drug is sometimes prescribed in treating stimulant addiction, including addiction to crystal meth.
As both a stimulant and antidepressant, Remeron is another potential medication that can be prescribed during your recovery from crystal meth addiction. Remeron has been shown to decrease withdrawal symptoms (including cravings) and help people avoid relapses during the early stages of their recovery.
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
Because crystal meth impacts serotonin and dopamine, it can take a while for the body’s natural chemicals to re-adjust. Antidepressants like SSRIs can sometimes help assist recovering addicts with mental health issues.
A healthier, more positive mental state can make the individual more successful in long-term abstinence from drug use and recovery.
What Happens After Meth Detox
The next step after detox is participating in a meth drug rehab program. Both inpatient and outpatient addiction treatment centers are equipped to help you or your family member recover from meth addiction.
Your physician or licensed addiction counselor can help you determine which option will be best for your recovery.
Inpatient Rehab for Meth
Inpatient rehab is a type of residential treatment where the recovering addict will stay at a facility 24-7. During their stay, the patient will receive any necessary medical care—which may be especially necessary for recovering meth addicts due to the way meth impacts the body.
Inpatient treatment usually lasts for a minimum of 30 days. Patients receiving inpatient care will participate in multiple individual and group therapy sessions. Inpatient care is also highly structured to help recovering addicts develop healthier lifestyles outside of previous drug use.
Outpatient Rehab for Meth
Some individuals may have a treatment plan that only calls for outpatient care. Outpatient rehab centers provide therapy and structure much like inpatient drug rehab but do not require the patient to stay overnight.
Outpatient care can generally be broken down into two major types. The first, and more time-intensive of the two, is known as Partial Hospitalization. Former crystal meth users participating in a Partial Hospitalization Program will visit a treatment center multiple times weekly for 4-8 hours daily. They will participate in individual and group therapies like at an inpatient facility.
For those with a much more minor addiction, there are also Intensive Outpatient Programs. An Intensive Outpatient Program, or IOP, provides therapy at a facility multiple times a week for approximately 10+ hours each week. An IOP is also beneficial for recovering addicts that have completed another rehab program (such as inpatient drug rehab) and are transitioning back to regular daily life.
Meth Addiction Behavioral Therapy
Mental health is a major component of addiction recovery, but it can be essential to manage while recovering from crystal meth addiction. Crystal meth takes such a toll on the brain’s natural chemistry that former addicts may struggle with depression and anxiety for some time as their body heals.
Working with counselors during and after substance abuse treatment can help former meth users build better habits and continue to abstain from meth use well into the future.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive-behavioral therapy can be incredibly beneficial to patients recovering from meth addiction. Not only does CBT help patients work through precious negative thought patterns and develop better habits, but it can also assist individuals that are struggling with anxiety and depression as a result of how meth affects their brains.
Contingency management programs are often very effective for individuals recovering from stimulant addiction, including crystal meth. Contingency management therapy is a voucher-based program where recovering addicts can earn tokens for positive behaviors. Good behavior can include participation in group therapy, volunteering, or even just clear drug tests.
12-Step Programs for Meth Recovery
Twelve-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) provide a peer support group of fellow recovering addicts. During these meetings, individuals will share personal struggles and accomplishments related to their addiction recovery journey.
These programs also provide a structured checklist to help people in recovery work through their addiction and sobriety journey one step at a time.
Staying Sober After Meth Rehab
It is possible to stay sober after rehab. While the therapies that took place at your rehab facility will help teach you better coping techniques and overall relapse reduction life skills, recovery is usually a lifelong journey. You can still look forward to a happier, drug-free future with the right support and post-rehab activities.
Sober Living House
A sober living house or community provides recovering addicts with a drug and alcohol-free community to live in both during and after rehab. Sober living houses come in different styles, with some houses under the observation of a life-in counselor and others with less supervision.
Another important aspect of recovery and relapse reduction is the many aftercare programs available once rehab is complete.
Some of the most common types of aftercare include:
- Continuing individual therapy sessions
- Participating in family therapy
- Joining local or online support groups
- Getting active at the gym or fitness studio
- Volunteering as alumni at a previous rehab clinic
Get Help for Crystal Meth Addiction
Crystal meth can take a significant toll on a user’s body. Getting help as soon as possible can make a huge difference. To find out what treatment services are available in your area, you can check the SAMHSA program locator.