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Crystal Meth Relapse and Relapse Prevention

Medically reviewed by

David Hunter, MA.Ed, LPC

March 29, 2019

Crystal meth is a highly addictive drug that has a high rate of relapse. Understanding the signs of relapse and developing coping skills can help to prevent a meth relapse.

Methamphetamine is a powerful and highly addictive drug that is illegal without a prescription. Unfortunately, even when individuals manage to stop using meth, this drug has a high relapse rate.

Meth is a central nervous stimulant that releases high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is directly related to motivation, feelings of pleasure, and motor function. High levels of this neurotransmitter can result in euphoria, increased energy, and focus.

Short-term effects of crystal meth may include the following: decreased appetite, increased physical activity, decreased fatigue, and feelings of euphoria and pleasure. These effects are the primary reason why someone may use and abuse methamphetamine.

However, tolerance to meth can quickly be built up. Tolerance to the drug requires someone to use more of the drug to feel the same effects. Doing so can escalate dependence and addiction.

People who abuse crystal meth often become addicted to the drug and are susceptible to the many negative aspects of addiction. Meth addiction often requires intensive and long-term recovery programs to overcome. Despite treatment, relapse is still a possibility and something that should be actively prevented.

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What Is A Crystal Meth Relapse?

A relapse sometimes referred to as a “slip,” isn’t as simple as using the drug again. Relapse is viewed as a mental, emotional, and physical process that occurs over time. Many people who relapse will exhibit certain behaviors and experience changes in thoughts and feelings long before they actually use meth again.

Common signs that occur before an actual meth relapse takes place include:

Attitude changes — Many people who go on to relapse start neglecting their program of recovery. They may feel that attending meetings or other therapies is no longer needed. Individuals may feel that they’ve got recovery figured out and no longer need outside help.

Increased stress — Major changes or small incidents that build up over time can lead to an increased feeling of stress. Many people who used meth did so to deal with stress and other life situations. This makes the drug especially attractive in times of stress even when someone is in recovery.

Denial of stress — When stress is experienced, the healthy thing to do is experience the stress and cope with it. However, when feelings of stress are denied or ignored, they can further build up. Denying stress or negative emotions can eventually cause some people to go back to drug use as a way to deal with stress.

Post-acute withdrawal symptoms — During times of stress, some people may re-experience symptoms of withdrawal. For example, someone may feel depressed or anxious or have trouble sleeping. This can exacerbate the temptation to use meth again to alleviate these symptoms.

Changes in behavior — People often develop healthy habits and a routine in sobriety. This can help to replace unhealthy habits that were practiced in active addiction. When someone stops participating in these habits or makes a noticeable change in routine, this may be a symptom of future relapse.

Dismissing signs of relapse — Continuing to make unhealthy decisions, avoiding meetings or support groups, and denying negative emotions and stress can further the potential for relapse. Dismissing or denying these signs can leave a person feeling out of control or out of options and desperate to alleviate these feelings.

All of these signs happen before a person actually begins using methamphetamine again. The final stage of relapse is actually using the drug. Some people may use the drug under the assumption that he or she will only use it “this once” or just until things get better. However, this is rarely the case, and most people who relapse will continue using meth for weeks or months or longer.

Preventing Methamphetamine Relapse

While methamphetamine relapse rates are high, preventing relapse is possible. There are several factors that contribute to a successful recovery from meth addiction.

Understanding the warning signs of relapse and addressing them when they occur is important in preventing relapse. Being fully aware of one’s mental and emotional state can help to be in tune with any changes that may be detrimental to a person’s recovery.

Additionally, learning and practicing self-care can help to prevent a crystal meth relapse. Poor self-care can cause people to feel uncomfortable in their own skin and result in negative emotions. This can lead to trying to alleviate this uncomfortability through unhealthy behaviors and eventual relapse.

Developing coping skills is also important in preventing relapse. The goal of addiction treatment should be to help people notice early signs of relapse and develop coping skills to address them. Healthy coping skills may include speaking with a sponsor or counselor, attending meetings or support groups, and remaining honest about one’s internal condition.

Other tips for preventing a crystal meth relapse may include:

  • Addressing stressful situations as they arise, rather than ignoring or denying them
  • Learning how to balance life as a way to prevent stress
  • Avoiding or learning how to manage high-risk situations such as events where a person would have previously used meth
  • Not associating with people who are still actively using meth
  • Building a sober community
  • Learning how to acknowledge and cope with cravings and urges to use drugs

Methamphetamine Relapse Statistics

Studies have shown that relapse rates for methamphetamine are significant when compared to other drugs. In fact, it’s been shown that only 12 percent of people with a crystal meth addiction will achieve long-term sobriety.

People who undergo extensive and long-term treatment have more success in maintaining sobriety. Around 45 percent of people will stay sober for three or more months after treatment.

However, an estimated 88 percent will go on to relapse despite receiving treatment. Most people who relapse will do so within three years of addiction treatment.

Individuals who only attend a short-term detox program have a much lower success rate. Only around 15 percent will maintain sobriety after three months. This is on par with those who receive no treatment at all.

Life After A Methamphetamine Relapse

While relapse prevention and sobriety are certainly the goals of recovery from meth addiction, relapse is still possible and even common. In some programs, relapse is even seen as a natural part of the recovery journey.

Most people experience extreme feelings of guilt, shame, embarrassment, and failure after a relapse. Not dealing with these emotions can lead to continued drug abuse that can quickly escalate.

Being honest about relapse and addressing the emotions felt is important to overcoming a meth relapse. Exploring the factors that led to the relapse can also help to prevent future relapses and act as a guide for needed coping skills.

Some people may need to re-enter a treatment program after a meth relapse. The longer a person participates in a relapse, the more likely he or she will need formal treatment.

While managing life after relapse may seem difficult, continuing to abuse methamphetamine will only result in worsened consequences and potential harm and even death.

To learn more about crystal meth relapse and relapse prevention methods, contact our treatment specialists today.

The Fix - Why Do Meth Addicts Have Such a High Relapse Rate?

Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine - Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Methamphetamine

Drug and Alcohol Dependence - Time to relapse following treatment for methamphetamine use: a long-term perspective on patterns and predictors

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