Updated on February 6, 2024
7 min read

Stimulant Withdrawal and Detox: Symptoms and Timeline

Experiencing withdrawal symptoms from stimulant use occurs when you abruptly stop taking the drug after developing a tolerance and dependence on it. Stimulant withdrawal symptoms can vary in intensity, depending on the duration and amount of your drug use.

Many people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or ADD use prescription stimulants to aid focus. While these are effective for certain medical conditions, some people abuse stimulants recreationally without a prescription.

Stimulants like methamphetamine and cocaine rarely, if ever, have medical purposes. Others, like crack cocaine or crystal meth, have no medical purpose at all. All of these substances are highly addictive and pose significant health risks when abused.

Stimulant Use Statistics in the United States

According to recent reports:1,2

  • In 2021, a total of 19,674,000 Americans aged 12 and older used prescription stimulants.
  • Among the users, 13,154,000 used amphetamines, 3,970,000 took methylphenidate products, 2,728 consumed anorectic (weight-loss stimulants), 413,000 used Provigil, and 2,976,000 took other prescription stimulants.
  • The use of prescription stimulants among adolescent and adult females and males has significantly risen between 2016 (3.6%) and 2021 (4.1%).
  • Among all age groups, males aged 5 to 19 and females aged 15 to 24 had the highest percentages of receiving one or more prescription stimulant fills.

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Stimulant Withdrawal and Detox: Symptoms and Timeline
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What are the Symptoms of Stimulant Withdrawal?

When a person misuses stimulants, the brain becomes dependent on them to produce dopamine. This results in the brain’s inability to naturally produce a healthy dopamine level.

Those using stimulants may experience physical and psychological dependence, leading to withdrawal symptoms that include:

  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Increased appetite
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Drug cravings
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Psychosis
  • Night terrors
  • Impaired memory
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior
  • Delusions
  • Disassociation

How Long Do Withdrawal Symptoms Last?

The length of time withdrawal symptoms last varies from person to person. It also depends on whether you took a prescription stimulant or consumed an extended-release form.

Factors affecting the length of withdrawal include:

  • Length of time abusing the drug
  • Amount of drug abuse
  • Method of taking the drug
  • If there is a history of previous addictions
  • If you abused the drug with other substances or alcohol
  • Whether they are using a detox tapering schedule
  • Whether there are co-occurring disorders
  • Overall health at the time of withdrawal

Stimulant Withdrawal Timeline

Though each person’s withdrawal and recovery differ, the process follows this general timeline:

Days 1 to 3: Crash Phase

During days one to three, stimulants gradually leave the body. This results in symptoms such as fatigue, depression, and increased appetite, potentially leading to post-acute withdrawal symptoms.

The intensity and duration of the crash phase depend on the stimulant you use. Users of crack and cocaine experience the peak of their symptoms during this phase.

Days 4 to 10: Height of Withdrawal Symptoms

This stage marks the height of withdrawal symptoms, with the specific duration varying depending on the drug of use. Prescription stimulant users (e.g., Ritalin or Adderall) typically experience peak symptoms that last approximately a week during this phase. 

Meth users also experience the peak around this time. The duration of such lasts about ten days.

Crack and cocaine users experience intense cravings during this period, although the peak of their withdrawal symptoms has already passed. Common manifestations during this phase include irritability, restlessness, and difficulty concentrating.

Days 11 to 3 Weeks: Symptoms Begin to Diminish

For most people, withdrawal symptoms begin to diminish during this time. Crack and cocaine users might continue to experience severe cravings for several weeks. 

In general, the worst is over by this point for those with stimulant addiction. Cravings and other withdrawal symptoms can last up to six months but will gradually diminish as time passes.

How Do Stimulants Affect the Brain and Body?

Stimulants impact the brain and central nervous system (CNS) by increasing dopamine levels, often leading to notable physical symptoms. They also block the reuptake of dopamine that naturally occurs in the brain.

This often results in an intense high. However, there are also adverse physical side effects and psychological symptoms, including:

  • Paranoia
  • Suicide ideation
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Heightened risk of seizures
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Delusions
  • Confusion
  • Psychosis
  • Unstable moods
  • Mental health problems
  • Permanent brain damage
  • Extreme depression following the high
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Medical Supervision in Detoxing from Stimulants

Medical supervision is crucial to ensure a person’s safety and provide necessary physical and emotional care during detox. During the detox process, it’s common to experience depression and thoughts of suicide. 

Detoxing from stimulants, while not as physically dangerous as withdrawing from other substances, still requires medical intervention in many cases. Heavy abuse of certain stimulants can lead to more severe symptoms like seizures, delusions, and psychosis.

These risks highlight why managing these symptoms independently isn’t advisable. Detox, particularly under medical supervision, is the most secure way for those addicted to stimulants.

What are Detox Medications?

There are no medications that specifically treat stimulant withdrawal. However, some doctors can prescribe drugs “off-label.”

This means the medications haven’t received FDA approval for treating stimulant abuse and addiction. However, they can be effective and generally safe to consume under such conditions.

For instance, doctors often administer Modafinil during cocaine detoxification. Mirtazapine helps those addicted to amphetamines deal with their insomnia and depression.

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Additional Stimulant Addiction Treatment Options

In addition to medical detox and medications, these treatment programs are available to help you during stimulant withdrawal and throughout recovery:

1. Inpatient Rehab

After medical detox, inpatient rehab can help you work through psychological withdrawal symptoms and develop healthy coping strategies to reduce your risk of relapse. These programs typically last 30 to 90 days and provide a structured environment for recovery.

Inpatient rehab is beneficial for those with severe addiction or co-occurring mental health disorders. These are the activities you can expect during treatment:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Mindfulness training
  • Art therapy
  • Exercise

2. Outpatient Rehab

Outpatient rehab allows you to receive treatment while living at home. This can be helpful if you have responsibilities like work or family obligations that prevent you from attending an inpatient program.

Outpatient rehab typically involves a similar combination of therapy and activities as inpatient rehab but on a more flexible schedule. It also provides a support network and accountability as you navigate recovery.

3. Support Groups

Support groups like Narcotics Anonymous (NA) can be an essential part of your recovery journey. These groups provide peer support, accountability, and ongoing education about addiction and recovery.

Many people find that regularly attending support group meetings helps them stay sober and build community. These groups also often offer mentorship opportunities for those further in their recovery.

4. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a behavioral therapy that helps you identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors. This stimulant addiction treatment program helps you develop healthier coping mechanisms for substance abuse problems, improve self-awareness, and reduce the risk of relapse.

You can do CBT alone or in group therapy settings. It often works in conjunction with other treatment methods for stimulant addiction, such as medication-assisted treatment.

5. Holistic Therapies

In addition to traditional therapies, many people find that incorporating holistic practices like acupuncture, yoga, and meditation can help with stimulant addiction recovery. These therapies focus on healing the mind, body, and spirit and can relieve stress and promote overall well-being.

Some rehab facilities offer these therapies as part of their treatment programs. Or, you can find them in your local community.

6. Tapering Schedule

A tapering schedule involves slowly reducing the dosage of a stimulant over time. It can help ease withdrawal symptoms and minimize the risk of severe side effects.

This approach is often practical for those with long-term stimulant use who may have developed a physical dependence. It’s essential to follow a tapering schedule under the supervision of a medical professional to ensure safety and effectiveness. Safely tapering off stimulants can also reduce the risk of relapse and improve overall treatment outcomes.

Summary

Stimulant use disorder is a serious and challenging addiction to overcome. However, medical detox, therapy, support groups, and holistic practices can all play a vital role in helping you successfully withdraw from stimulants and maintain long-term recovery.

If you or someone you know is struggling with stimulant addiction, seek help from a trusted healthcare professional today. Recovery takes time and patience, but the journey towards a healthier and happier life is worth it.

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Updated on February 6, 2024

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