While the country is focused on the fight against opioids, government officials and those in charge have overlooked the severity of an epidemic that is brewing in our communities. Meth use is surging in some areas throughout the country and outpacing heroin use. It won’t be much longer than we’ll see the opioid crisis overshadowing meth use in the media. Emergency rooms have already seen the devastating effects caused by meth use.
According to a recent study conducted by The Journal of the American Medical Association, amphetamine-related hospitalizations jumped 245 percent from 2008 to 2015, which dwarfs how many people have been rushed to emergency rooms from other drugs. The increase has been felt mostly in the West and Mid Western regions.
Doctors have seen the evidence of the meth come back in their emergency rooms. When paramedics transport patients and arrive in the ER, the individuals are paranoid, agitated, and aggressive. Police officers have also discussed, from their perspective, that suspects they come into contact with on the streets using meth have heart rates so high they are immediately taken to the hospital for medical clearance before being booked into jail.
In addition to the significant uptick in meth use, there has been an explosion in overdose deaths. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), over a 6-year span, overdose deaths have more than quadrupled.
Oregon health authorities spoke on the issue recently and stating that meth is now the leading cause of drug-related deaths in their state. Dr. Andy Mendenhall, chief medical officer for Central City Concern in Portland, says that meth has a long history in the region, but the last few years have seen an unprecedented uptick in overdoses that outpace opioids.
We commonly hear about meth being one of the most challenging drugs to quit, and those who attempt to do so cold turkey can deal with a host of other symptoms that make it nearly impossible to stop. Let’s delve a bit deeper into the topic to get a better understanding of why it is so hard to quit meth cold turkey.
What is Meth?
Methamphetamine is a potent and highly addictive stimulant drug that affects the central nervous system (CNS). The drug looks like glass fragments and is similarly chemical to amphetamine, which is a drug used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It can be smoked, swallowed (pill), snorted, or injected once it is dissolved into water.
The initial high fades quickly, and those who use it repeatedly fall into a binge and crash pattern. Some users will go on what is known as a “run,” which means they’ll give up food and sleep while using the drug every few hours for several days. It is very dangerous and puts the user at an increased risk of overdose.
What Makes Meth So Difficult to Quit?
Meth increases the levels of dopamine, a natural chemical in the body that is responsible for movement, motivation, and reinforcing rewarding behaviors. Meth causes the rapid release of dopamine in reward areas and leaves the user wanting more of the substance. Even when taken in small amounts, it can result in health effects similar to cocaine. Meth also has the power to block the reuptake of dopamine, causing a user to feel depressed if they run out of the drug.
Short-term effects of meth include:
- Decreased Appetite
- Euphoria & Rush
- Increased Activity & Wakefulness
- Increased Attention & Decreased Sleepiness
- Increased Respiration
- Rapid Heartbeat
Long-term effects of meth may involve:
- Addiction Psychosis
- Changes In Brain Structure & Function
- A Deficit In Thinking & Motor Skills
- Memory Loss
- Severe Dental Problems
- Weight Loss
Initial research has shown that meth alters brain structures responsible for decision-making, and impairs a user’s ability to suppress habitual behaviors that become counterproductive. The changes in brain structure and function demonstrated in the research highlight why meth addiction is so complicated to treat.
Additionally, it gives us a better understanding of why relapse is so prevalent early in treatment. Users describe the depression associated as crippling, and many feel that using the drug is in their best interest.
Quitting Meth Cold Turkey
Those who struggle with meth abuse understand how much the drug has damaged their lives may try to quit cold turkey. Unfortunately, the cravings, compulsive behaviors, lack of medical or social support, and discomfort are going to push someone right back into meth use. Several studies, as we’ve highlighted above, discuss why meth users have such a high relapse rate.
If you have thought about stopping cold turkey, you must be familiar with the meth withdrawal symptoms. It is found to be extremely difficult to quit the routine and ignore the compulsions to take more. You will begin to experience the first wave of meth withdrawal around 24 hours after you abstain from the substance.
Cold turkey meth withdrawal symptoms include:
- Severe Depression
- Intense Cravings
- Rapid Mood Swings
- Disturbed Sleep
- Unpleasant Dreams
- Extreme Anxiety
- Increased Appetite
- Extreme Fatigue
The most severe withdrawal symptoms when stopping cold turkey will occur during the acute withdrawal phase. At this stage, severe symptoms can last anywhere from seven to 10 days, but there can be long-term neurotoxic effects, such as low levels of dopamine in the brain that take longer to overcome.
Fewer dopamine receptors can activate after the constant floods brought on by meth. It can take weeks, months, and in some cases, years before the structural changes in the brain can heal.
Meth Withdrawal Timeline
Those abstaining from meth know the withdrawal symptoms can be incredibly difficult. While meth withdrawal symptoms don’t produce the same physical symptoms you’ll find with opioids or potentially deadly symptoms like alcohol or benzodiazepines, that doesn’t mean it’s not fraught with its own unique challenges. Many people wonder how to quit meth and will attempt to do so cold turkey, but that’s never the right approach. Reaching out for professional help is the only way to achieve meaningful, long-term sobriety.
While acute meth withdrawal shouldn’t last for a week, post-acute withdrawal symptoms, also known as PAWS, can persist for months. Depending on the severity of the individual’s substance use disorder, it could last for years. It complicates the treatment process as cessation from meth often leaves the individual feeling empty, worthless, and in a battle for their life to overcome crippling depression. The crystal meth relapse rate is extraordinarily high for this reason.
Symptoms of meth withdrawal are fierce, but the post-acute symptoms are just as horrendous. If you’re facing the prospect of getting sober and you’re wondering how long it takes to detox from meth, we’ll answer that question below. While the timeline will vary from one person to the next, acute symptoms typically arise within a few hours after your last dose. How the drug was ingested will also play a role – were you snorting meth? Did you inject it? Did you smoke it? Were other drugs used in conjunction? These can also make it more severe.
- One to six hours after your last dose: Again, based on the factors above, you may not experience withdrawal symptoms until several hours or even a day has passed. The purity of the meth will also influence how soon you experience withdrawal symptoms.
- One to three days after your last dose: At this point, you may experience what is known as a “crash.” These symptoms include irritability, excessive sleepiness, an increasingly negative mood, mood swings, and severe depression. On average, these last around three to five days but may last even longer. Extreme cravings for meth will accompany these symptoms, which can push the individual into getting more to overcome feeling awful and satisfy their cravings. However, if you’ve gone three days without meth, it can be dangerous as your tolerance has dropped, meaning you’re exposed to a potential overdose. You’ll also experience psychomotor retardation, vivid or unpleasant dreams, and an increased appetite.
- Four days after your last dose: Other symptoms of withdrawal will creep in, including an inability to feel pleasure, paranoia, and decreased sexual satisfaction. Users report feeling empty inside – even simple pleasures, such as delicious meals, exercising, playing video games, or other activities that once made them happy, won’t have any effect.
- Seven to 14 days after your last dose: If you’ve made it to this stage, it’s a significant accomplishment. Symptoms should gradually improve at this stage. However, depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues will persist. You will benefit from therapy or addiction treatment. Even at this stage, the potential for relapse is there. You might feel that even though you’re sober, your life hasn’t improved. You’re still depressed and feel empty, despite doing the right thing. Professional medical treatment will identify these issues, get to the core of why you’re feeling that way, and prescribe medication or therapy as a means to cope healthily. It’s in your best interest to get this help. Should you avoid it, you’re at risk of relapsing. The primary danger of relapsing at this stage is an overdose, which can be fatal as your body is no longer tolerant to meth.
I Want to Quit Meth, But How?
Meth can cause someone to lose all control of their lives. Many individuals touch on how meth caused them to sell their belongings, sell their bodies, and steal to support their habit. As highlighted above, it’s difficult to quit because of the changes it causes in our brain. The only way to quit meth for good is to consider treatment. While quitting cold turkey may seem like a cost-effective measure to avoid standard treatment, it is not a sustainable option.
Modern treatment methods have evolved over the years, and those attending treatments have a much better chance at abstaining long-term. Those who use meth must consider medical detoxification as an alternative to stopping cold turkey.
Addiction specialists can provide medications that alleviate some of the depression and help the former user feel stable throughout the process. No matter which path you choose, it won’t be easy, but being surrounded by a support team that provides medications to counter the negative side effects will help immensely in your recovery process.