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Meth Withdrawal Symptoms And Timeline

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

March 28, 2019

Meth withdrawal symptoms can set in within hours after last use and cause both physical and psychological distress. Symptoms of meth withdrawal can be most safely monitored and treated through medically-supervised detox in an inpatient setting.

Methamphetamine, known as meth, can cause symptoms of withdrawal in those who have become meth-dependent. The withdrawal process from meth most often consists of two phases, with the most severe symptoms typically lasting no longer than 7 to 10 days.

While symptoms are not usually life-threatening, meth withdrawal can cause high distress, which can result in an increased risk of relapsing back into drug use. Treatment for meth withdrawal is recommended in order to ease the most severe symptoms of withdrawal and prevent relapse.

What Causes Meth Withdrawal?

Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant that, when used, can quickly become addictive. Meth causes changes in the brain that can affect movement, behavior, and mood. The rapid and intense effects of methamphetamine, including the initial high, can often drive a person to keep using the drug.

This begins a pattern of meth use, which can cause in a buildup of meth in a person’s system, resulting in drug tolerance. Tolerance occurs when a person needs more of a drug to achieve the same effects, and can lead to both physical and psychological dependence.

This dependence on meth can cause people to experience certain physical and psychological symptoms if they go more than a few hours without use. These are known as withdrawal symptoms, and occur as your body’s reaction to the depletion of meth in your system.

Meth Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal from meth can cause a number of symptoms that affect the mind and body. These symptoms tend to reach their peak 24 hours after last use and decline sometime after.

Symptoms of meth withdrawal may include:

  • fatigue
  • anxiety
  • agitation
  • meth cravings
  • increased appetite
  • insomnia
  • hypersomnia
  • paranoia
  • red, itchy eyes
  • suicidal thoughts

The process of withdrawal from methamphetamine can vary from person to person. This means that the symptoms a person experiences, and how long they last, may depend on certain personal factors. The amount of time you have been using meth, for instance, can play a role in the timeline due to the effects of long-term use on the body.

The severity of withdrawal symptoms may also be influenced by how long someone has used meth, and through what method. Long-term meth use and shooting meth through injection may increase the chance of experiencing more intense withdrawal symptoms.

Additional factors that can affect meth withdrawal include:

  • age
  • amount of the drug used
  • polydrug abuse (abusing more than one substance)
  • severity of drug dependence
  • mental and physical health before drug use

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Methamphetamine Withdrawal Timeline

Methamphetamine withdrawal can be an uncomfortable process and may begin within hours after last use. There are two phases that make up the meth withdrawal process: an initial acute phase of withdrawal, and a subacute phase.

Acute Phase of Withdrawal (7 — 10 days)

The initial acute phase refers to the first week or so of meth withdrawal, when most symptoms will reach their peak. The most common symptoms include disturbances in sleeping and eating patterns, depression and agitation, as well as strong drug cravings.

Symptoms experiencing during this period are expected to reach their initial peak about 24 hours after last dose. From there, symptoms will likely decline in severity over the next 6 to 9 days, lasting between 7 and 10 days overall.

Subacute Phase of Withdrawal (up to 30 days)

Most physical symptoms of meth withdrawal decline during the initial acute phase, or within the first two weeks. Exceptions may include continued increases in appetite and sleep. Certain psychological symptoms — including depression and drug cravings — may also continue for up to a month or longer. The exact timeline for these lingering symptoms may vary based on personal factors, and can cause distress.

Withdrawal symptoms that continue beyond 30 days may indicate the presence of post-acute withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS. People who experience PAWS may continue experiencing symptoms of depression and drug cravings for months or, in severe cases, even years after stopped use.

Certain treatments, including individual and group therapy, can be effective to help manage the distress caused by these continuing symptoms. At this time, there are no medications currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat symptoms of meth withdrawal. However, some resulting effects of withdrawal, including depression or symptoms of psychosis, may be treated with antidepressants or antipsychotics for symptom relief.

Potential Dangers Of Methamphetamine Withdrawal

Meth withdrawal is not known in most cases to be life-threatening, but there are certain dangers that may be posed by some of its symptoms. This should not deter someone from trying to stop using meth, but highlights the importance of seeking medical help during this stage of drug detoxification.

Severe Depression

It is common for those undergoing withdrawal to experience mild to moderate depression, which may include a flat mood and fatigue. Severe cases of depression, however, can be a serious concern during meth withdrawal. Those undergoing withdrawal may have suicidal thoughts, and feel motivated to act on them.

This, paired with other symptoms such as drug cravings and anxiety, can lead to serious consequences that include suicidal behavior or drug relapse.

Psychotic Symptoms

In some cases, meth withdrawal may cause symptoms of psychosis. Most commonly, this may include hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there), paranoia, and delusions. Delusions are beliefs that are not true in reality but feel true to a person, and may lead a person to act out in erratic ways.

These symptoms can be best monitored and treated under the supervision of medical specialists. While these symptoms do not usually last beyond one to two weeks, they may cause high distress and pose harm to a person’s well-being if not closely monitored.

High Risk For Relapse

Relapse among people with a history of meth addiction is most common within the early stages of recovery. This includes the withdrawal process, which can cause symptoms severe enough to motivate a person to return to drug use for relief.

The risk for relapse is higher among those who have used meth for longer and have severe dependence, as this can cause more intense withdrawal symptoms. The best way to manage these symptoms and avoid relapse is to enter medically-supervised detox.

Treatment For Methamphetamine Withdrawal

The safest way to stop using methamphetamine is to enter a medical detox program, where symptoms of meth withdrawal may be monitored and treated. Drug detoxification (detox) is the process of removing toxic substances from the body in order for it to heal.

Attempting to detox on your own can be dangerous, and may increase your risk of relapsing back into drug use. Medical detoxification offers a safe setting where doctors who understand your condition can provide effective care to treat your withdrawal symptoms.

The process of detox is often only the first step in treating meth addiction. Additional treatment, including counseling, may also be needed to help treat the mental and emotional aspects of addiction, including drug cravings. The best way to determine a treatment plan that meets your personal needs is to consult an addiction specialist.

For more information on treatment options for meth detox and addiction treatment, contact one of our specialists today.

U.S. National Library of Medicine: PubMed - The nature, time course and severity of methamphetamine withdrawal

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