Crystal methamphetamine, more commonly known as crystal meth, is a powerful and highly-addictive man-made stimulant that affects the body’s central nervous system.
Like with the majority of drugs, when people who use crystal meth abruptly stop using the drug they will go through a withdrawal process. For many users, the withdrawal process can be the scariest part of seeking treatment. Depending on how long the person has been using crystal meth, and in what quantities, the severity of withdrawal symptoms will vary. Becoming educated on what crystal meth withdrawal looks like and how it is treated may help you convince a loved one to get the help they need and begin a life of long-term sobriety.
How Crystal Meth Effects the Body
To understand crystal meth withdrawal, it’s initially important to learn how crystal meth affects the body.
Crystal meth is a form of methamphetamine, which as was mentioned previously, is a stimulant drug that acts on the body’s central nervous system. Many crystal meth users ingest the drug by melting down the crystalline substance and smoking it out of a glass pipe. Some users, however, may snort, swallow, or inject the drug directly into their veins. When a user ingests crystal meth, the brain releases a surge of neurotransmitters, including dopamine and serotonin, which create a sense of euphoria and increase the user’s energy, levels of sociability, and alertness.
The effects of crystal meth are intense and fairly immediate, typically beginning within 5-20 minutes after ingesting the drug, and last for a long time. Depending on the dose taken, crystal meth users may feel the effects of the drug anywhere from four to twelve hours after they have initially ingested it. This long-lasting high is one of the reasons users tend to be drawn to crystal meth.
Although crystal meth creates a euphoric feeling for the user, there are other changes in the body that occur while using the drug. In the short term, meth can have several effects on the body, including:
- Disturbed sleep patterns
- Heavy sweating
- High body temperature
- Increased blood pressure and breathing rates
- Jaw clenching
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea, diarrhea, and/or vomiting
- Shortness of breath
Over time, meth can cause even more detrimental changes to the body. For instance, long-term meth users may begin to experience hallucinations due to changes in their brain chemistry. A common hallucination reported by crystal users is the sensation of bugs crawling under the skin (also known as “meth mites”), which cause the user to scratch and pick at their skin. Crystal meth users also tend to clench their jaws and grind their teeth, which in combination with decreased saliva production due to chronic dehydration, can contribute to what many people call “meth mouth.” Meth mouth is a term attached to chronic meth users who suffer from severe tooth and gum decay. A crystal meth user presenting with blackened, rotting, broken, or missing teeth and gum disease would be described as having “meth mouth”. Some other effects or dangers of long-term crystal meth use can include:
- Decreased learning ability
- Extreme weight loss (due to decreased appetite)
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts
- Intense mood swings
- Irregular heartbeats
- High blood pressure
- Memory loss or gaps
- Stroke (from damaged blood vessels in the brain)
- Violent behavior
Crystal Meth Comedown
When the effects of crystal meth start to wear off, the user will typically start to experience what is known as a “comedown”. A comedown is different than withdrawal (although there are some similarities) and can be viewed more like a hangover. However, due to the way crystal meth affects the body, the symptoms of a comedown are typically far more severe than a hangover from alcohol. When an individual experiences a comedown from crystal meth, the user will usually experience a severe “crash” (both physically and mentally) and may experience a variety of unpleasant symptoms.
These comedown symptoms occur due to exhaustion from overexertion of the body while using meth, lack of food and water consumption while high, neurotransmitters being imbalanced in the brain, and toxic chemicals being metabolized in the body.
Symptoms of a crystal meth comedown include:
- Decreased appetite
- Headache (usually from dehydration)
- Lack of motivation
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle pain (particularly in the jaw from jaw clenching)
- Suicidal thoughts
Because comedown symptoms can be severe and uncomfortable, many crystal meth users ingest more of the drug to avoid these symptoms. This can lead to a drug binge. For crystal meth users, meth binges are specifically referred to as “tweaking”.
Tweaking occurs when a crystal meth user binges on the drug in attempts to keep recreating that initial feeling of euphoria. Over time, however, ingesting the drug does not recreate the desired effects, yet the user may still experience other effects of the drug such as decreased appetite, high energy, elevated body temperature, dehydration, jaw clenching, and sleeplessness. While tweaking, the crystal meth user may not sleep for a period of 3-15 days. Due to this lack of sleep, the user can enter a state of temporary psychosis. In this place, the crystal meth user may become aggressive or violent and suffer from intense paranoia or hallucinations.
Withdrawing from Crystal Meth
Although crystal meth withdrawal can be uncomfortable, in the majority of cases, the symptoms themselves are non-life-threatening. The exception here is if the affected individual is experiencing extreme emotional instability or depression and engages in self-harm. Some crystal meth users are able to withdraw from meth at home. However, because crystal meth withdrawal is typically accompanied by intense cravings for the drug, crystal meth users may have greater success in the withdrawal process if monitored or assisted by medical professionals. If your loved one is withdrawing from crystal meth and is suffering from depression, psychosis, or any other mental health condition, withdrawal should always be done under the care of medical professionals and addiction specialists.
In addition to intense cravings, depression, and suicidal ideation or thoughts, other symptoms of crystal meth withdrawal may include:
- Excessive sleepiness
- Inability to feel pleasure (also called anhedonia)
- Night terrors
- Increased appetite
- Slowed brain cognition
- Repetitive movements or jitters (finger or foot tapping, pacing).
- Psychosis (typically hallucinations or delusions)
The intensity of these withdrawal symptoms can vary based on how long the person has been using meth, the amount they typically ingested, and their overall physical and mental health.
Crystal Meth Withdrawal Timeline
Crystal meth is a fast-acting drug, meaning its effects are felt quickly after consumption. The amount of time the drug stays in the system, however, depends on several factors, including:
- How much crystal meth the individual has most recently used and how much the individual normally uses (Higher quantities of crystal meth will take longer to leave the body).
- Whether or not the individual is also using other drugs or alcohol (Additional drugs or alcohol may slow the release of crystal meth from the body).
- Weight, age, and metabolism of the individual (Individuals who are younger, weigh less, and have faster metabolisms tend to metabolize the drug more quickly)
Because these factors all affect how long crystal meth stays in the body, they also affect how quickly the individual will begin to feel withdrawal symptoms once they completely stop using.
In general, however, many crystal meth users will begin to feel withdrawal symptoms within 24 hours after stopping the drug. Once users enter into withdrawal, studies have shown that most people experience the most intense withdrawal symptoms in the first 7-10 days. Withdrawal symptoms, particularly cravings and depressive-behavior, tend to be most intense at the beginning of the withdrawal period and then steadily decrease over time. Symptoms of withdrawal may be felt for up to a month after abstaining from crystal meth. After the initial withdrawal period, however, any remaining withdrawal symptoms tend to be more mild.
Treatment for Crystal Meth Withdrawal
Many crystal meth users fear the withdrawal process because they’re concerned that coming off the drug may be fatal. Luckily, as mentioned previously, crystal meth withdrawal is rarely life-threatening. It can, however, be uncomfortable and cravings for the drug can be intense in the initial withdrawal period.
Consequently, although it is possible to withdraw from crystal meth in a home environment, many crystal meth users may have more success and feel more at ease going through withdrawal in a medically managed treatment center or hospital. In these environments, individuals will experience withdrawal under medical supervision, meaning doctors and other addiction specialists can supervise individuals in case any complications occur.
In medically managed detox facilities, doctors may also be able to provide medication to help ease crystal meth withdrawal symptoms. Like all medication, these need to be tailored to suit the individual’s personal needs. However, most medications prescribed to counter the withdrawal symptoms of crystal meth aim to:
- Manage depressive symptoms
- Reduce crystal meth cravings
- Help individuals obtain a regular sleep pattern
For many crystal meth users, withdrawal is just the first step in the recovery process. Most people find they need ongoing treatment, typically either in an inpatient or outpatient program, where they can work with addiction specialists and medical professionals to get to the root of their addiction and learn how to live life without the need for drugs or alcohol. To learn more about ongoing treatment for crystal meth addiction or discover what steps you can take to begin the recovery process for either yourself or a loved one, contact Nexus today. Our trusted recovery advisors are here to answer your questions so you or a loved one can start living a life of long-term sobriety.