methMethamphetamine (Meth) is a powerful stimulant that is a popular illicit drug. In small doses it can increase alertness, concentration, and give the user an energy boost. It also produces a wide variety of adverse effects, and has a very high incidence of dependency and addiction.

Meth users often find themselves binging for days trying to avoid the bad feelings they experience when the drug wears off. While binging they don’t sleep, eat very little, and generally don’t take care of themselves. With continual use they form a tolerance to the drug and need to take more in order to get the desired effect from it. When the drug finally wears off the user will crash, and will eventually wake up to experience what they have put their body through. They will often be malnourished, and experience a low mood, or depression due to depleting the natural chemical in their brain dopamine.

Meth Withdrawal and Treatment

Methamphetamine withdrawal has both physical and psychological symptoms. Most symptoms last between 2 to 3 weeks, with the first week being the worst. Initially users will experience hypersomnia and be sleepy all the time, they will also experience cravings for carbohydrates, due to the appetite suppressing effect the drug has during use.

One of the biggest side effects of meth use that causes problems in withdrawal is the damage that has been done to the brain’s dopamine system. Dopamine is essential in signaling reward activity, when the brain releases it dopamine sends the message that things are better than usual. Meth addicts experience a depletion of dopamine and find themselves in a state called anhedonia, with an inability to experience pleasure. In heavy users there may be long-term damage to the dopamine receptors, which can take up to two years of abstinence to start to recover.

Low mood and psychosis can also be associated with meth withdrawal. All of these symptoms combined make it tough for addicts to stay away from meth, knowing that it will give their bodies that spike in dopamine that they are missing. Because of this the psychological grip meth has on the user is one of the toughest addictions to beat. The user may crave the drug for long after they have stopped using, and this can lead to relapse, even in a treatment setting if the drug is available to them.

Knowing What to Look For

Methamphetamine presents a wide variety of signs that someone is using it. Some of the most common are:

· Dilated pupils
· Increased energy
· Staying up all night
· Irritability
· Anxiety
· Auditory hallucinations
· Aggressive behavior
· Paranoia
· Overly interested in one repetitive action
· Delusions
· Picking at skin

In light of all these behavioral changes meth use is easy to recognize. If a person crashes or sleeps for an extended period of time it may also be an indication that they recently used meth.

With the high risk of relapse due to cravings and lack of dopamine, it is especially important to watch a meth addict during their acute withdrawal. The acute symptoms typically start to go away by the end of the third week of abstinence, making this the most dangerous time. Post-acute withdrawal symptoms, while not as severe as the acute withdrawal symptoms, persist for much longer.

Preventing access to the drug in rehab through security is paramount to ensure a full recovery. In the instance where drugs become available, knowing the signs and acting quickly may be the only things that keep the addict of going down the road of another full-blown addiction.