Methamphetamine or meth, as it’s called for short, is a very addictive and dangerous drug. It increases the brain’s levels of dopamine and serotonin, causing an initial rush followed by a stimulating high. When meth is in someone’s system, their energy increases, they focus better, and they experience pleasure and excitement.
The appeal of these reactions is what causes someone to become addicted to meth and depend on it to function normally. Once meth wears off, the user feels depressed, fatigued, and anxious. Many meth users develop a pattern of binging on the drug. They take small doses over several days to maintain their high. This is called a run and it increases the risk of dependence and addiction.
Following a binge, meth users experience something called tweaking. It lasts about 3 to 15 days and includes side effects such as paranoia, irritability, and confusion, as well as desperation to use the drug again.
When a person stops taking meth, he or she experiences withdrawal symptoms. They are intense enough to trigger someone to return to the drug, even if he or she has a desire to stop using it. This is a sign of addiction. Other signs of meth abuse or addiction include:
Treatment for meth addiction is very effective if a person can progress through the various stages of recovery. Even with occasional relapse, some people manage their meth addiction and live a fulfilling life. The timeline for treatment is as follows:
In an intervention, people who care about someone addicted to meth confront the person and encourage them to seek treatment. Interventions involve confronting the addicted person about his or her drug abuse. It’s an opportunity to show the person that his or her actions caused by addiction affect those within their circle of influence. The ultimate goal is to encourage the person to get help and recover from the addiction.
Following the intervention, the person will determine if inpatient or outpatient treatment is preferred. Medical guidance is available for those who are not sure whether inpatient or outpatient treatment options are right for them.
Inpatient programs are better for those with chronic, long-term meth addiction. It helps them break the cycle of substance abuse and remain in a stable environment long enough to overcome the addiction. Inpatient programs provide a safe environment free of all drug use triggers. Most inpatient detox programs are 30 to 90 days.
Outpatient is better for people who have newer addictions or who are unable to participate in an inpatient program for financial or other reasons. Outpatient programs typically include up to 12 hours a week at a local treatment center undergoing detox and counseling.
Treatment programs begin with detox. Ideally, this phase is medically supervised so all serious side effects of withdrawal can be managed appropriately. However, meth detox is available on an outpatient basis, too.
Detox is the process of removing meth from the body safely. Doctors monitor vital signs and administer medication to reduce side effects during detox. Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) begins during detox and can continue throughout recovery.
Currently, there is no FDA approved pharmacotherapy (medication-assisted therapy) for Stimulant Use Disorder.
Behavioral therapy is an effective option for treating meth addiction. One of the most common approaches is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). It is shown to be particularly effective for treating meth addiction, as well as some of the most common disorders that accompany meth use, such as depression and anxiety. The American Journal on Addictions published studies showing that approximately 40 percent of those seeking treatment for meth abuse also struggle with anxiety. Other effective approaches include:
As part of recovery, people learn to change their thoughts and behaviors and adopt healthier lifestyle choices without relying on drugs.
Counseling is an important part of recovery. The goal of counseling is to help a person with a meth addiction to identify the underlying reasons for his or her drug use. It also includes emotional support and guidance for managing those issues. Formal therapy helps people learn new ways of coping with things that previously triggered drug use. Less structured therapy allows a person to speak with peers and learn about the challenges they experience and the tools they use for managing similar addictions.
Aftercare programs are an important part of helping someone with a meth addiction live a clean life. Ongoing support programs include 12-step and other similar programs that provide a forum for peer support. They are also a resource for finding a sponsor. This is someone who offers one-on-one support for someone struggling with addiction. These programs are free.
Two of the most popular aftercare support programs used by those with a meth addiction include Narcotics Anonymous and Crystal Meth Anonymous. SMART (Self-Management and Recovery Training) has also helped those with a meth addiction.
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Wolpert, Stuart. “UCLA Researchers Identify a Potentially Effective Treatment for Methamphetamine Addiction.” UCLA, 19 May 2015, newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/ucla-researchers-identify-a-potentially-effective-treatment-for-methamphetamine-addiction.
“NPR Choice Page.” Npr.Org, 2019, www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/11/07/776135642/a-medication-to-treat-meth-addiction-some-take-a-new-look-at-naltrexone.
Ciccone, Alicia. “Naltrexone May Be Effective for Methamphetamine Addiction.” Neurology Advisor, 25 May 2015, www.neurologyadvisor.com/topics/general-neurology/naltrexone-may-be-effective-for-methamphetamine-addiction/.