Meth , also known as crystal meth or methamphetamine, is a very potent man-made stimulant. The drug is a popular drug of abuse because it can be made with some rather common ingredients that can be purchased at hardware stores and/or drug stores. Meth is normally in the form of whitish rocks or small bluish rocks or sheets that appear similar to glass. The drug is highly addictive and goes by a number of other street names, including ice, glass, and crank. The drug is most often smoked or snorted although it can be injected.
The United States Drug Enforcement Administration classifies methamphetamine as a Schedule II controlled substance, meaning that it is a very dangerous drug of abuse. It has a significant potential to develop physical and/or psychological dependence in individuals that use it.

Physical Dependence on Meth

There are numerous research studies investigating the specific aspects of the physical dependence that develops due to chronic methamphetamine use. Users of methamphetamine develop tolerance quickly, and this results in them needing more and more of the drug to achieve effects that were achieved previously at lower amounts. As tolerance increases, more of the drug is used and the probability that the user will develop physical dependence on meth becomes increasingly higher.

The withdrawal process from methamphetamine can begin very quickly as the drug has a relatively short half-life; the half-life of drug refers to the amount of time that normal metabolic processes reduce the amount of the drug in the system by half its original concentration. This means that normal bodily detoxification processes rid the system of the drug rather quickly, and withdrawal can begin soon after an individual has stopped using the drug.

Research studies investigating the withdrawal syndrome from meth suggest that the course of the withdrawal syndrome:

  • Often begins within the first 24 hours of discontinuing the drug
  • Peaks within 7-10 days following discontinuation of meth, after which there is a steady decline in the severity of the symptoms
  • Averages from two to three weeks total

The symptoms and effects of the withdrawal syndrome from methamphetamine are not considered to be physically dangerous in the same way that withdrawal from alcohol or benzodiazepines can lead to potentially fatal seizures; however, there may be some potential dangers involved with methamphetamine withdrawal as a result of emotional distress or bingeing on the drug due to cravings. Empirical research has indicated that the most common symptoms that occur during withdrawal from meth include:

  • Dry mouth, excessive thirst, and an increased appetite
  • Lethargy, fatigue, and sleeping excessively
  • Feelings of depression that peak rather early and then decline over the entire withdrawal period
  • Cravings to use methamphetamine
  • Suspiciousness, delusions, and even hallucinations for some people

A meta-analytic study reported in the journal Addiction determined that although the withdrawal syndrome from methamphetamine is not potentially dangerous, individuals who experience severe depression or psychosis may be at risk for self-harm. Additional research has indicated that patients who have been followed after the withdrawal syndrome may be more prone to display cognitive deficits, such as issues with attention, speed of mental processing, recall for new information, and complex problem-solving or planning abilities. In many cases, these issues are still present even after six months of abstinence. Long-term follow-up studies continue to be performed investigating the possible long-term effects of neurological damage associated with methamphetamine use and withdrawal.

  • Because of the psychological symptoms associated with withdrawal from powerful stimulants like methamphetamine, these drugs are very difficult to discontinue without professional help. In addition, during withdrawal, cravings to use the drug combined with severe feelings of hopelessness, apathy, and sadness are powerful motivators that often lead to relapse in individuals who attempt to stop using the drug on their own.
  • When individuals repeatedly go through a cycle of methamphetamine use, attempted abstinence, and relapse, they often begin to believe that they are unable to function properly without the drug and that there is no hope for them to discontinue the drug. For other individuals, the euphoric effects, increased feelings of energy, and feelings of increased control that result from use of the drug lead to significant bingeing episodes, and this results in increased tolerance and increased physical dependence on the drug.

It is strongly suggested that anyone who has been using methamphetamine consult with a licensed addiction medicine physician before attempting to discontinue use of the drug.