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Crystal methamphetamine (widely known as meth) is a potent and very addictive stimulant drug.1 It is a synthetic substance that sometimes resembles pieces of glass or shiny blue-white colored rocks.2 Commonly referred to as Tina, ice, or glass, crystal meth can be smoked, snorted, or injected.1,2
Once ingested, crystal meth quickly affects the body and brain.1,2 As a stimulant drug, crystal meth raises heart rate, blood pressure, respiration rate, and body temperature.1,2 It causes a dramatic increase in dopamine activity, a chemical in the brain associated with the reinforcing, enjoyable “rush” and pleasurable, rewarding high.1, 2
Since this drug affects areas of the brain strongly associated with pleasure and reward, a person may experience a strong desire to experience the high and intense cravings for more crystal meth.1 Addiction can develop within a week in some cases.3
When snorting crystal meth, the high can last up to 12 hours.2 If the drug is smoked or injected, the high is relatively more intense but also fades more quickly.1,2 Using crystal meth leads to impaired judgment, decreased need for sleep, loss of appetite, heightened energy, and even potential aggression, violence, paranoia, and other psychotic symptoms.1,2
Coming down from crystal meth, or “crashing,” is itself significantly problematic, potentially leaving a person feeling depressed, anxious, and exhausted.1,3 People coming down from a crystal meth high may experience mood swings, increased appetite, and strong urges for more of the drug.1,3
Regular use of crystal meth can lead to the development of tolerance, meaning that a person has to take more of the drug to feel the same effects.3 Since crystal meth floods the brain with higher levels of dopamine than the body normally does, a person may grow to rely on the drug to feel good, making it more likely that a person will develop an addiction to crystal meth.
If a person consistently uses meth and suddenly stops or drastically reduces the amount they use, they may experience withdrawal symptoms.3 Though the physical symptoms of crystal meth withdrawal are rarely life-threatening, psychological symptoms can be intense—it can be difficult or dangerous to attempt to detox without professional help.3 A medical detox facility, where they have access to mental health and medical support staff, is one of the safest environments for a person to allow the crystal meth to process out of the body.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2016, about 1.6 million Americans aged 12 or older reported using methamphetamine in the last year.1 Of those, approximately 964,000 met the criteria for an amphetamine use disorder, or addiction.1 People who struggle with amphetamine use disorders may experience significant impairments in one or more of the following areas: ability to function at work, school, and/or home, physical or mental health, social relationships, and legal issues.1,3
Addiction is a disease that affects brain chemistry and related neural processes; it is associated with maladaptive patterns of behavior and thoughts, including a lack of control over drug use. A person with a substance use disorder will often find themselves unable to stop using drugs even when they desperately want to.3 Drug cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and the desire to avoid them can make stopping crystal meth exceedingly difficult without professional help.
The onset of meth withdrawal symptoms may begin as the drug is eliminated from the body, usually between 12 and 24 hours after it was last used.1,4 The methamphetamine withdrawal syndrome may include the following signs and symptoms:3,4
Over time, using crystal meth can cause people to display violent behavior or psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations, delusions and paranoia.1 Some studies suggest a higher incidence of Parkinson’s disease among methamphetamine users, which is a disorder affecting nerve cells in the brain that impacts movement abilities.1
In general, crystal meth withdrawal symptoms will peak in two or three days after stopping the drug and continue to resolve over the next few days or weeks, depending on the specific symptoms present.4 Some of the withdrawal symptoms related to chronic use of crystal meth may linger for weeks, months, or even up to a year after discontinuing use of the drug.1 Some of the damage to the brain and body may be irreversible.1
Medical detox can help to lessen the severity and duration of crystal meth withdrawal with supportive care. While there are no specific medications that are approved for meth addiction and dependence, certain medications may be helpful for specific symptoms. For example, a sleep aid or mood stabilizer may be helpful for sleep difficulties and emotional distress during crystal meth withdrawal.
In general, crystal meth withdrawal is not considered to be physically life-threatening, but it can be psychologically intense. In general, a medical detox timeline for crystal meth can look like this:
❖ Day 1: Within 12-24 hours, meth will wear off and a crash may ensue; symptoms at this point may including an increase in appetite and exhaustion.
❖ Days 2-3: Withdrawal symptoms will intensify, including fatigue, depressed mood, irritability, lack of ability to feel pleasure or enjoyment, lack of energy, difficulty focusing, drug cravings, and distressing dreams. Increased appetite continues.
❖ Days 3-10: The intensity of the withdrawal symptoms decreases, although difficulty experiencing pleasure, sleep difficulties, mood issues, thought and memory trouble, cravings, and increased appetite may persist. Insomnia is common throughout this period.
❖ Days 10-30: Difficulty feeling pleasure, mood swings, thinking and memory issues, drug cravings, and sleep issues can persist to a lesser degree.
❖ Ongoing: While many of the withdrawal symptoms have resolved, some residual symptoms can persist long after withdrawal has finished. These can include mood, thought, and memory abilities.
Long-term use of crystal meth can lead to paranoia, hallucinations, or delusions—effects that are sometimes associated with unpredictable, aggressive, or violent behavior.1 Additionally, people who use meth are at increased risk of developing a wide range of physical health issues due to the direct toxicity of the drug itself or from risky behaviors while under the influence.1
A medical detox facility can provide a safe, supportive environment to ease the process of withdrawal; additionally, such a treatment setting can facilitate medical assessments to screen for and treat any significant health issues a person may have.
A medical detox program may be conducted for days to weeks, depending on patient progress; it is in this time that the most significant acute withdrawal symptoms are largely controlled. Effective withdrawal management helps to keep a patient comfortable and focused; as such, a professional detox protocol may help prepare a person for more comprehensive substance use treatment program for long-term methamphetamine recovery.
Crystal meth can have neurotoxic effects on the brain, and may be associated with lasting dopaminergic deficits.6 A crystal meth rehabilitation program can teach effective coping strategies and methods for improving quality of life. These skills can help support abstinence to prevent further damage to the brain and body.
Crystal meth withdrawal symptoms and the detox timeline can look a little different for each person. There are several things that can influence the general timeline and specific withdrawal symptoms. Some things that can affect the withdrawal process include:
In order to ensure that crystal meth withdrawal is done safely and effectively, it should ideally be managed in a medical detox, where trained support staff is available to monitor and provide necessary care. Getting off crystal meth can be difficult, but recovery can happen. Finding the right detox is a great first step to take on the path to recovery.