Meth Withdrawal & Addiction Recovery

The following is an intense personal account of the journey to recovery by one of our staff members:

Methamphetamine is so destructive and the havoc that it wreaks on our minds and bodies causes so much pain and in some cases is irreversible. Methamphetamine addiction and the withdrawals associated with it are severe and have devastating effects.  Some methamphetamine withdrawal symptoms from are hard to detect and often manifest into mood disorders and other types of personality and behavioral disorders.  The obvious physical withdrawal symptoms last from a week to a month and the less obvious withdrawal symptoms last up to a year or longer (mood disorders, anxiety issues).

Before I entered treatment, I was on methamphetamines for 2 years.  I came into treatment very skinny and very different than I was before I started using methamphetamines.  The good news is that today, my friends and family will tell you that I once again am the person that they knew before I started using methamphetamines.

Meth Recovery is a Lengthy Process With Multiple Components

So how did I get from there to here?  Well the answer is three fold.  First, I got into a structuredtreatment program and I stayed there for a year.  Second, I got on and maintained non-addictive mood stabilization medications for a year. Third, I became
active in Alcoholics Anonymous.  All three of these are of equal importance. When taken separately, they lose their effectiveness.

It is important to realize that recovery from meth is a slow process.  It takes a long time for the brain to recover from the abuse that was inflicted upon it.  Ruth Salo, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at UC Davis says that “Recovery from meth abuse does not happen overnight…It may take a year—or even longer—for cognitive processes such as impulse control and attentional focus to improve.  Treatment programs need to consider this when monitoring recovering addicts’ progress during their early periods of abstinence” (Science Daily).  Because of this, it is very important to stay in a structured environment where you are safe and can make good decisions for yourself.  The chance for relapse because of cravings and poor impulse control during this first year is very high.  If the recovering person in a structured treatment program the chances of relapse are greatly reduced.

What to Expect During Methamphetamine Withdrawal and Early Recovery

Some common symptoms of withdrawal from meth are:

  • Agitation
  • Anger
  • Paranoia
  • Increased appetite
  • Decrease in energy
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

I experienced all of these and more, some to more degrees than others.  There are many medications to help with these types of symptoms and in the beginning, it seems like my doctor and I tried a lot of them.  It was very important however for me to use medicines that were not addictive since I was an addict.  The last thing that an addict needs is to use an addictive medicine to get over an addiction.  There are plenty of excellent medications that work.  An addict does not need to resort to medicines that are addictive.

Some Examples of Medications Used to Recover from Meth Addiction

I used Effexor XR for depression and anxiety.  I took one pill a day.  I started out on 75mg and then went up to 150mg.  I stayed on 150mg for 1 year.  After a year of taking 150mg, I titrated down to 75mg. The next month, I titrated down to 37.5mg and the next month I titrated off of the medicine completely.  I have had no problems coming off of the drug.

I used Seroquel for anxiety and sleep.  I took one pill a day at bedtime.  I started off at 100mg.  This is a high dose of this medicine.  It really knocked me out.  However, I was very agitated from all of the meth that I had been using and was very uncomfortable in my skin.  I took this medicine at night.  It had a “hangover” effect until about noon the next day.  It took about a month for me to get used to this but it was worth it to me and those around me because of the extreme agitation and anxiety that I was experiencing.  After taking this dosage for a year, I titrated down to 50mg for a month.  The next month I titrated down to 25mg.  The next month I tried to come off the medicine completely but found that I had trouble sleeping and found that my anxiety returned and so I have remained on the lowest dose of 25 mg mainly for sleep and anxiety.  The main side effect of Seroquel is weight gain however; it is relatively minor once your weight levels off after you have been sober for a while.  I find that it causes a person to get the munches after taking it.

I also used Topamax.  I did not start to take Topamax until 6 months after I got sober.  Topamax helps with “weight loss”.  What that means specifically is that it helps with impulse control and so therefore helps with impulsive and compulsive eating.  When a meth addict gets sober he gains a lot of weight!!!  I came into treatment at 138 pounds.  When I started taking Topamax I weighed 214 pounds.  I gained 76 pounds in 6 months!!!  The other reason is that it too helps with mood stabilization. Topamax is generally prescribed for migraines but it is prescribed off label for mood stabilization and for weight loss.  My insurance approved it for a mood stabilizer.  I started off taking 25mg the first month.  The second month I took 50mg.  The third month I was on 100 mg.  Because I am still taking the Seroquel and a side effect of the Seroquel is weight gain, I still take the Topamax.  I take the Topamax at bedtime as well.

I came into treatment at 138 pounds.  When I started taking Topamax I weighed 214 pounds. The combination of these three medicines has made my recovery from methamphetamine addiction a lot easier on me and those around me.  The fact that they are not addictive is the most important thing.  Social anxiety is a huge problem for former meth addicts and the most common medicine prescribed is a benzodiazepine which is addictive.  However, with Seroquel (this is the main one that helps with the anxiety) I am free of my anxiety and don’t have to worry about becoming addicted to something else.

The 12-Step or Spiritual Component

The final piece to all of this is becoming active in Alcoholics Anonymous.  This organization has helped millions across the world.  It has given me friends and a social network.  It is the cornerstone and imperative for any addict in recovery to become active in this organization.

Recovery from methamphetamine addiction is a long process and the withdrawal symptoms can last a lot longer than one might think.  To review, here are the three things that are essential to the recovery of a meth addict:

1) Long term, structured treatment

2) Non-addictive medication

3) A program of Alcoholics Anonymous

Recovering from substance use disorders is a challenging journey that feels more doable in an environment that tends to each individual’s complex needs and strengths. Our goal is to foster a treatment experience that is built on compassion, hope, and caring, and fueled by excellence in the provision of evidence-based and trauma-informed care.

– - Anonymous