Methamphetamine Addiction and the Challenges of Early Recovery


Addiction to methamphetamine starkly illustrates the intrinsically irrational and self-destructive nature of addiction.

Risks outweigh rewards

The “positive” experience of intense stimulation from injecting, smoking, or snorting methamphetamine is comparatively short term while the risk of getting hooked is significant. The long-term associated damage to body and mind is also considerable. There is mounting evidence of the harmful effect of protracted use of methamphetamine on the brain’s biochemistry and physiology. Fortunately, some impairment may be repaired and brain-function normalised after a sustained period of abstinence.  However, since damage occurs to brain cells, complete restoration is in doubt.

Methamphetamine users tend to neglect self-care in the hyperactive state induced by the drug.  Eating and sleeping habits are particularly prone to disruption. Methamphetamine is sometimes used to help lose weight but once again there are serious risks. As a consequence of use a person’s appearance may deteriorate markedly and it is common for irreparable damage to be done to teeth and the mouth more generally.  This may be as a result of the drug itself and/or as a consequence of the excessive consumption of sugary drinks common among methamphetamine users. There are many other physiological problems associated with methamphetamine use. Respiratory function, heart rate and blood pressure may all be adversely affected. At the same time, mental and emotional states are disturbed with users showing signs of confusion, irritability, agitation, aggression, anxiety and even paranoia.

Managing powerful cravings in withdrawal

The longer use continues the harder it becomes to give up. The impulse to return to methamphetamine use for immediate relief from withdrawal symptoms can be quite powerfully compelling despite the potential horrors probably soon to follow. The essential process of withdrawal may take a couple of weeks, with the early hours and days likely to prove the most difficult. The intensity of cravings is a particular issue during withdrawal and early recovery. Given a tendency for a transitional increase in impulsivity, such cravings become a primary focus of treatment and relapse prevention.

People withdrawing from methamphetamine will, after a few days, generally experience heavy fatigue while also being subject to feelings of anxiety and depression.  Some people may experience psychotic symptoms for a short while. Symptoms of depression are usually quite short-lived in most people withdrawing from methamphetamine and will usually fade away after two to three weeks.  For a few they may last quite a bit longer and some may require psychiatric attention.

Shift from withdrawal to recovery

With the above in mind, it makes sense to undergo withdrawal from methamphetamine in a safe environment where medical and psychological care is fully integrated and in which all manner of support for recovery is readily on hand around the clock. It is also important continually to focus on recovery goals as well as to have emotionally and physically rewarding activities, including exercise, available to divert patients from obsession with symptoms. Help to restore good sleep and eating routines is also vital.

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Clinically Reviewed By

Dr. Victor Leroy

Dr. Victor Leroy, a psychiatrist with specialised training in addiction psychiatry from Lausanne University Hospital, combines medical expertise with a passion for systemic psychotherapy. He has worked at length in both the public and private sector, utilising a combination of patient-centered approaches to support them and their loved ones in recovery. A member of AVMCA and COROMA, he consults in French, English, German, and Italian, focusing on integrated care for addiction medicine.

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