Methamphetamine is a class of powerfully addictive stimulants that affect the central nervous system. Given the availability of relatively inexpensive and readily available ingredients, the drug is easily made in hidden laboratories – which contribute to its high potential for widespread abuse.
You may have heard about methamphetamines as “speed,” “meth,” or “chalk.” In its smoked form, it is often referred to as “ice,” “crank,” “glass,” and “crystal” – or “crystal meth.” It is a white, odorless, bitter-tasting crystalline powder that easily dissolves in water or alcohol. The drug can be snorted, smoked, injected or swallowed to deliver the high.
Developed from its parent drug, amphetamine, methamphetamine was used originally in nasal decongestants and bronchial inhalers. Methamphetamine’s chemical structure is similar to that of amphetamine, but it has more pronounced effects on the central nervous system. The effects of methamphetamine abuse can last 6 to 8 hours. The initial “rush” can lead to increased activity, decreased appetite, and a general sense of well-being. Afterwards, there is typically a state of high agitation that in some individuals can lead to violent behavior. The National Institute on Drug Abuse notes other serious health conditions associated with use of methamphetamines, including memory loss, psychotic behavior, potential heart and brain damage, and its contributions to increased transmission of hepatitis and HIV/AIDS.
Those who abuse methamphetamines develop an instant tolerance to the drug, causing a need to take more and more of the drug. They eventually will center their lives around the drug and will stay awake for days or even weeks, doing little else but smoking or snorting the drug.
Although use of methamphetamines was initially limited to major urban areas in the West and Southwest, several major Western cities and Hawaii have seen dramatic increases in its use. In addition, rural areas throughout the country are becoming more affected by the drug.
You can beat meth addiction; anyone can; as long as they receive addiction treatment tailored to the unique needs of those in recovery from methamphetamine.
Read on to learn more about what works well for those in recovery from meth addiction and the kinds of therapeutics you need to look for in a meth treatment program.
This page contains some general information on:
- The unique challenges faced by those battling a meth addiction
- The principles of effective addiction treatment for meth addicts
- The kinds of treatments that are proven to work
- What meth addicts need from detox
- Where to get help
The Challenges Facing Those in Recovery
Recovering from any addiction can be difficult, but chronic meth use affects the brain in ways that make addiction recovery doubly challenging.
- Meth users face cognitive deficits and very low mood during the initial period of abstinence. Memory, concentration and decision making skills are all severely compromised, making it far more difficult for meth addicts in recovery to follow treatment directions and comply with treatment recommendations.
- Meth recovery takes a long time, and some of the damage done is irreversible. Some meth users will start to see significant improvements after a year or two, but waiting for a year or more to start feeling better can be very challenging when coupled with strong cravings to use the drug.
- At about 45 days of sobriety, many recovering meth addicts “run into a wall”, experiencing a surge in depressive symptoms and finding it very difficult to experience any pleasure. Unless a person is prepared for this sudden intensification of symptoms, relapse is likely.
Principles of Effective Treatment for Meth Addiction
Meth addicts benefit most when engaged in treatment programs designed to compensate for some of the cognitive and emotional deficits that occur during lengthy meth withdrawal. Some of the principals of effective methamphetamine treatment include:
- Treatment should offer highly structured and intensive programming, and should respond to needs in all areas of life
- If initially residential treatment; the program should offer a lengthy and intensive continuing outpatient aftercare program
- Treatment should last for at least 3 months, or preferably, a year
- Treatment programs should offer cognitive behavioral therapy as a primary treatment technique
- Treatment should include a substantial relapse prevention component, which teaches how to avoid temptation and to manage cravings that do occur
- Treatment should include life-skills training within a matrix of programming
- Treatment programs should help recovering meth addicts get back on their feet, with vocational or educational classes and job opportunities
- Treatment should attend to any health deficits caused by the use of meth (such as dental problems or nutritional deficiencies) and should offer referrals for necessary treatment or direct care
Residential treatment works best for people with long term or heavy meth addictions. A period of inpatient treatment helps people avoid temptation during the initial very risky period. People who inject meth and people with co-occurring disorders will also likely need residential treatment.
Effective Methamphetamine Treatments
Some research proven treatments that help meth addicts recover include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – An evidence based therapy that teaches meth addicts to understand why they use, what situations and people trigger cravings to use, how to avoid cravings and how to deal with cravings that do occur. CBT offers real-world techniques and strategies that can be practiced and that are proven to work. CBT should be an essential component of any comprehensive meth addiction treatment program
- Contingency reinforcement – Therapists that apply contingency reinforcement principals to meth recovery use rewards as positive reinforcement for meeting treatment goals. Rewards are typically vouchers for things such as a restaurant meal or movie tickets, which are given after positive events, such as a clean drug test. These small positive rewards are shown to help improve treatment retention; and since nothing predicts positive outcome more reliably than a lengthy involvement in treatment, this is very important.
The 12 steps – Although meth users will likely require more insensitive and comprehensive treatment than a 12 steps program alone, recent research out of California shows that recovering meth users that attend 12 steps meetings such as narcotics Anonymous (NA) had better treatment outcomes than those who did not attend; and the greater the involvement in 12 steps programs, the better the outcome
- Family Involvement – Meth addicts who stay in treatment have a far better chance than those who drop out early. Research proves that family involvement in the treatment process lengthens the time spent in treatment by the addict. Family members can lend invaluable support, particularly during early recovery, when cognitive and emotional deficits may make treatment compliance challenging.
Education – Methamphetamine addicts who are taught about the drug, the effect it has on the body and brain, the characteristics of meth addiction, relapse and recovery and the physiological and psychiatric implications of abstinence are more likely to stay involved in treatment than meth addicts who do not receive this education.
- Medication – unfortunately, no medications are yet available to treat meth addiction.
The Importance of Also Quitting Alcohol and Marijuana Use
Although many meth addicts who enter into treatment do not consider themselves to have alcohol or marijuana abuse/addiction problems, many meth users frequently use marijuana and alcohol concurrently with methamphetamine.
Research shows that meth addicts in recovery who continue to use alcohol are far more likely to relapse than those that abstain, and so it is vital that meth addicts in treatment address any possible abuse or addiction issues for other substance beyond methamphetamine.
Effective Meth Detox Procedures
The primary (first stage) withdrawal symptoms from meth last for about 2 weeks and are characterized by fatigue, cognitive deficits, hunger and depressive symptoms. In some cases, people coming off meth may also present with psychotic symptoms that require medical attention.
Meth addicts withdrawing off the drug will feel significant confusion, memory problems and a difficulty in making decisions during the initial period of abstinence.
Meth withdrawal is not medically dangerous, so it does not necessarily need to take place on an inpatient basis, but if occurring on an outpatient basis, treatment should be very structured and scheduled due to this temporary period of low cognitive functioning.
Many meth addicts will come into a period of treatment with health issues above and beyond chemical dependency. Meth abuse can cause significant health deficits, such as dental problems, skin abscesses etc. and the lifestyle and personal neglect associated with meth use can mean that long ignored underlying conditions (diabetes, hypertension, etc.) may also require treatment management.
It is important that meth addicts in early recovery receive treatment for these peripheral and underlying conditions. Meth recovery alone is difficult and uncomfortable enough; worsening a period of early recovery with painful symptoms of another condition can easily overwhelm anyone’s good intentions to stay clean. Medical care that reduces the discomfort of any accompanying conditions increases a person’s resilience to fight the addiction.
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