Crystal meth is a notoriously difficult drug to detox from because of severe withdrawal symptoms and cravings that cause people to relapse quickly to meth use. It is true that meth is highly addictive and can cause devastating physical effects. For this reason, people who want to stop using the drug often fear that detox and withdrawal might be dangerous or even deadly.
Detox from crystal meth can be uncomfortable; however, there is a much higher risk to people who continue to use the drug than to those who go through detox and move into treatment. Knowing what to expect from the process can make it easier to make the decision to enter treatment, knowing that there is light at the other end of that tunnel.
Crystal Meth Abuse and Addiction
Crystal meth – a crystalized form of the illicit drug methamphetamine that is usually smoked or injected but can also be snorted or ingested – is a highly potent drug, according to the Center for Substance Abuse Research. Depending on the method of use, it produces an intense high that lasts 5-30 minutes.
Then, for the following 12 hours, the user experiences:
- Increased energy
- Decreased appetite
- Mild euphoria
- A heightened sense of capability
Once the person has this experience, it is very difficult to resist using the substance again. However, repeated abuse of crystal meth can lead quickly to tolerance – a need to have more of the drug to experience the same effect. This in turn leads to increased use, eventually resulting in addiction to the drug.
Effects of Meth Addiction
Repeated abuse of crystal meth and addiction to the drug can result in some severe side effects and health risks.
As described by the National Library of Medicine Open Chemistry Database, meth toxicity in the body can cause:
- Mood changes
- Aggressive behavior
- Severe heart and circulation problems
- Stroke or heart attack
- Decreased body temperature or hypothermia
These effects can result in other damage to the body. For example, problems with circulation can make it difficult for wounds to heal. At the same time, hallucinations can make it feel like bugs are crawling under the skin, causing the person to pick at sores and tear at the skin. The combination of these two factors can result in severe changes to the individual’s appearance due to open wounds, skin damage, and scarring.
Similarly, lack of circulation combined with poor eating habits and a dry mouth can cause the person to have severe tooth problems, ranging from decay to gum disease and rotting or missing teeth. This is known as “meth mouth,” further explained by Medical News Today.
The severity of these physical and psychological health effects can make it vital for the individual to detox from the drug and get treatment for the addiction as quickly as possible to avoid potentially life-altering injury or illness or even death.
Detox from Crystal Meth
As a general rule, crystal meth stays in the body for about three days. This is based on the drug’s half-life – or the amount of time that it takes the body to clear about half of the drug’s concentration – which is about 12 hours, as presented by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration. However, the actual length of time it takes to detox from crystal meth does depend to some degree on the individual’s specific circumstances.
The person’s existing health, length of time abusing the drug, some elements of personal constitution, and whether the person is taking other drugs at the same time can lengthen or shorten the detox period to some degree. Because of these factors, it is important for the individual to be aware that the detox process may not fit the generalized expectation.
In addition, the withdrawal process will continue for some time after the detox process is complete. Quitting the drug and going through 3-4 days without it does not mean that the drug’s effects are completely gone. Especially with a drug as powerful as meth, the body requires time to adjust to the absence of the drug and to get used to functioning without it again. This results in the withdrawal process.
The following is a general timeline for meth detox and withdrawal, based on information provided by Mental Health Daily:
- 2-3 days after final dose: This is known as the “crash” period, where the person comes down from the drug as it is flushed from the body. This phase results in a strong desire to sleep for long periods and to eat a lot. The individual can also experience the inability to feel pleasure during this phase. While cravings themselves are not so strong yet, the loss of pleasure and energy can cause an overwhelming desire to return to using the drug.
2-3 months after last use: At this point, the individual experiences extreme cravings based on loss of pleasure, lack of energy, and decreased cognitive abilities. This is the hardest phase of meth withdrawal to get through due to the lack of pleasure and energy. The individual will start to display other symptoms during this phase, including:
– Anger and aggression
– Weight gain
– Paranoia or psychosis
- 7-12 months after last use: The final phase is referred to as the “extinction phase,” where the cravings to continue using meth gradually decrease. It is important to get exercise, eat a balanced diet, and otherwise stay healthy during this phase to promote continued abstinence. Healthy behaviors can help the cravings diminish more and also provide other activities that distract from cravings when they do pop up.
Medical Support for Withdrawal
Medical support can help the individual deal with some of the most uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal; however, no medicines have been shown to help with stimulant withdrawal in general.
Still, getting support from treatment professionals through an addiction program or rehab can ease some of the challenges of meth withdrawal.
- Counseling or other therapy to help with the psychological aspects of addiction
- Medicine to deal with the physical effects of meth use, such as skin or heart problems
- Exercise and nutrition programs to help the body recover from meth use
- Emergency support in case of overdose, as described by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, or for serious symptoms of withdrawal
It’s always helpful to get support for detox from drugs like crystal meth. Professionals who understand what happens during detox can provide the support needed to help the individual follow through on the withdrawal process and get into comprehensive treatment. Without complete care, relapse to crystal meth use is likely.
When Treatment Is Needed
Addiction to crystal meth always requires treatment. Because cravings can arise months or even years after detox, learning how to deal with those cravings and the triggers that lead to renewed meth use is vital to staying sober for the long-term. Treatment can provide skills, education, and therapy that supports the individual in this process. It also offers resources and social support, such as 12-Step groups or other peer support, that can mean the difference between staying clean or relapsing to meth use.
Working with a research-based, certified program is a great step in finding guidance for both detox and ongoing recovery, making it possible for the individual to detox from crystal meth and manage the addiction, staying sober far into the future.