Stage 1: Withdrawal

 

If you’re searching for how to quit crystal meth, you’ve come to the right place. Here you will find an in-depth web-based handbook that explains what you’ll experience during “Withdrawal,” the first stage of recovery from crystal methamphetamine.

You’ll hear the odds are against you. You’ll hear outlandish statistics, that only a small percentage of us ever quit successfully. Cast that out of your mind. You can quit.

As you read these very words, well over a million people have successfully quit crystal meth worldwide and are living drug-free lives. You can, too.

Life is meant to be much more than what you’re experiencing now.

If you’re interested in learning more about what to expect during the first year of recovery from crystal, check out the excerpts from my book found on this site, then head over to my blog for an ongoing conversation about the full and free life beyond crystal meth and addiction.

What follows is excerpted from the chapter on Withdrawal from Quitting Crystal Meth: What to Expect & What to Do.

W I T H D R A W A L

0 – 15 Days

For those first two weeks, all I could do was sleep and eat, sleep and eat, and sleep some more.

— Dana, 1 year clean

Just know you’re not always going to feel this way. Have faith that it will get better, because it does.

— Steed, 7 years clean

 

Withdrawal usually lasts from 1 to 2 weeks, but it can last upwards of 4 weeks—and, in some extreme cases, longer. Also known as the “sleep, eat, and drink” stage, your body and brain are in healing overdrive. There’s a lot of damage meth caused that needs to be repaired before you can move forward.

 

W H A T     TO     E X P E C T

The Crash – Into the Dark Void

One of the hardest parts of crystal meth withdrawal is what’s called “the crash.” Emotionally, it’s that very dark mood coming at the end of a crystal binge—a depression characterized by sadness and hopelessness, on the one hand, and by rising anxiety or panic, on the other. Then add to this emotional hell its physical cousin, profound fatigue. Most likely, you haven’t slept in many days. Most likely, you haven’t been eating or hydrating properly, so it’s no surprise your body craves rest and nutrition.

The crash is emotional and physical. And, other than prescribed medicines (and marijuana), there is little you can do to alleviate the more severe symptoms other than sleeping and eating.

Just expect it. Know what’s happening. Your brain’s dopamine function is severely impaired right now. It may take a week or more to restore the dopamine to levels where your mood lightens, energy returns, and you have a clarity of thinking. Usually the crash lasts from three to fifteen days. But, for some longtime users, the crash may last upwards of a month or more. Remember, depending upon how long you used and how heavily, your body and brain have a lot of healing to do.

I know I was down for almost three weeks when I quit. By “down,” I mean I felt like only sleeping, watching television, eating ravenously, and mostly wanting to be alone, in my bed. I forced myself to do some basic shopping for food, and pay bills, but little else. An addict from San Francisco whom I interviewed had a history of using meth for twenty years and reported his crash lasting over three months. Whereas a housewife from the Midwest, who’d used for just under a year, swore to me her “sleepy time” lasted three days, at most. Like most meth aftereffects, the duration of the crash depends upon a host of cofactors like how much and how long you used, your age, and general health.

Here are some other common meth withdrawal symptoms: teeth grinding, jaw clenching, and night sweats. And, in the meantime, your brain will be screaming for more meth.

To successfully quit, you must ride out the crash without picking up. That’s what separates the men from the boys—or, the women from the girls. Try to remember that the crash will pass and is often followed by what’s called the “Honeymoon” or “Pink Cloud.” This is a very uplifting and joyous part of your recovery.

So, again, the goal of these first few weeks: ride out the crash without picking up. The silver lining—that Pink Cloud—is usually right around the corner.

 

Eating & Appetite

You are going to feel very hungry for the simple fact you haven’t eaten much over the last few days. If you don’t have an appetite at first, at least hydrate. Your appetite will return shortly—and with a vengeance.

 

Sleeping, and More Sleeping

You are going to need to sleep a lot. This is good. You can’t sleep too much during the first couple of weeks. In the beginning, it’s not uncommon for days to pass where you sleep around the clock, except to get up to use the bathroom, or hurriedly eat. If you’re not peeing or eating, you’ll probably be sleeping. Again, depending on how heavily and long you used, your sleep-fest will last from several days to, in some cases, over a month.

This is also where your meth-addicted brain tells you that the solution to all this physical exhaustion is to pick up and use again. The temptation is extreme, especially after a few days of solid sleeping. You erroneously think: Now that I’ve rested a few days, if I just had that little extra bump of chemical energy, everything could get back to normal. As one addict put it, “The life I always went back to was anything but normal. I couldn’t sober up for more than a few days because I always used again so I wouldn’t sleep my ass off.”

The real solution here isn’t more meth—it’s more sleep. Remember, lots of sleep at this point of your recovery is a good thing. You can’t get too much.

 

Confusion, Difficulty in Concentration, and Memory Loss

Depending on how heavily and long you used, you may have problems thinking and concentrating, and experience periods of confusion and memory loss. The most severe of these symptoms generally disappear as you complete detoxing. For now, just remember that your brain is exhausted both emotionally and biochemically.

Expect temporary confusion, difficulty in concentration and memory loss through the Withdrawal stage—and sometimes these extend, to a lesser degree, into the first few months of your recovery. Don’t panic. It won’t last forever. These symptoms are actually a sign that your brain is healing.

 

What About Hearing Voices, Feeling Paranoid, and Seeing “Tree People?”

If you regularly used high doses of crystal meth, you might develop “methamphetamine psychosis,” which is a fancy way of saying your brain is temporarily sick from too much meth.

Here are some symptoms of this kind of brain sickness:

•    seeing things or hearing voices (hallucinations);

•    disorganized speech;

•    feeling sensations such as bugs crawling on your skin or inside your body;

•    elaborate paranoia—for example, the CIA, neighbors, or “tree people” are always just outside your windows, peering in.

Usually this kind of psychosis ends a few days after you’ve stopped using meth. But it can last weeks or, in some extreme cases, might be irreversible. And try not to panic, as these lifelong cases are very rare.

Here are some common hallucinations addicts experience: tree people, shadow people, beings lurking in your peripheral vision, voices that whisper from your attic or basement (even if you don’t have an attic or basement), the sound of police helicopters approaching from the distance, aliens or ghosts speaking to you from within your television (whether it’s on or not), the shuffle of invisible feet across your floor (or ceiling), the sound of that DEA or SWAT team just outside your door. You get the idea. Generally these auditory or visual hallucinations are dosed with a heavy serving of paranoia. Almost always, whatever thing you are seeing or hearing happens to be watching you too.

If you feel you are a danger to yourself or anyone else, see a doctor immediately. If you don’t have a doctor, go to the emergency room. Why risk it? This way, the worst that can happen is you’ll be put in the hospital on suicide-watch for a couple of days. Be sure to tell the doctor you are coming down off crystal meth, so he/she won’t mistake you for run-of-the-mill paranoid schizophrenic. You are a meth addict coming off a run with too much crystal.

If you choose to ride out the hallucinations and paranoia at home, here’s some information you should know:

•    During methamphetamine psychosis your brain is hijacked and you are not in charge. The manic, paranoid tweaker in your head is running the show. And it is not to be trusted at all.

•    The hallucinations and paranoia—the psychosis—usually ends within 2 to 3 days of quitting meth, but sometimes it can last upwards of a week or more.

•    Finally, if your symptoms persist longer than ten days or get worse over time, call your doctor.

If you are in the midst of methamphetamine psychosis, most likely, you are not able to read these words.

If you are reading this for someone who is currently experiencing the above symptoms and has pretty much “broken from reality,” you’ll have to make the call for what to do. Bottom line: if you feel they may be physically dangerous to themselves or others, encourage them to go to the emergency room. And if you can’t safely transport them to the hospital, call 911.

 

Emotional Surges – Tears, Angry Outbursts, or Both

Aside from exhaustion and a general sense of depression, you will most likely experience an emotional rollercoaster of sudden tears. Weeping at television commercials is common. A certain song plays on the radio and tears begin to fall. You are speaking to someone about something as ridiculous as the weather, but find yourself choking up with emotion. Just move through it. This is normal. It may last much of the first two weeks, or for several months.

Remember, your brain has been traumatized chemically. A lot has to happen to get your brain functions back into balance. Emotional intensity should become less over time, but it still may persist. All through my first six months, I could still tear up easily, especially when talking about my recovery or those I love.

Outbursts of anger are also very common in the first few weeks. Looking out from the darkness of the crash, it’s easy to see problems everywhere and to become critical and judgmental.

One addict I interviewed during her first month of recovery told me, “If I’m not exhausted from it all, I’m so on edge I’ll bite your head off. It’s ridiculous and I know better, but just can’t help myself. I’m constantly apologizing afterwards, which is even more exhausting.”

Actually, this is the correct strategy—apologize and explain. I think it helps to prepare others for your sudden outbursts of anger. Let your friends and family know that you are angry and irritable with everything because you’re going through Withdrawal. It’s the side effects of the crash, not the real you, lashing out. Since your brain is not itself, apologize in advance and then try your best. Like much of this stage, it won’t last too long.

 

Feeling Anti-Social

Most likely, the last thing you’ll feel like is being social. The crash pulls you inward, into isolation. You certainly can’t begin to share or empathize with others while in the first few days of recovery.

This is okay. Go easy on yourself.

Sleep, eat, and rest. Leave your important conversations until a couple of weeks have passed. Feeling anti-social during Withdrawal is perfectly normal and to be expected.

 

Abscesses, Staph Infections, and Meth Mouth

One addict who delayed seeing his doctor about an abscess on his arm, confessed, “Putting off the doctor was a huge mistake. Because I waited, I had to be hospitalized for two days on an IV drip.” If you suspect any of your war wounds are becoming infected, or are refusing to heal within a few days, see your doctor immediately. It’s foolish for you to try to handle these yourself.

The same goes for your teeth, if they are in bad shape. Don’t wait. Make an appointment today—besides, it may take several days to get an appointment.

Proper treatment, dressing, and antibiotics can do wonders. We are in the 21st Century. Get some modern-day medical and dental treatment for those war wounds and you’ll recover faster.

 

The First Month is the Hardest, Usually

It’s one of the things you’ll hear at any CMA meeting: the first 30 days are the hardest. The best way to get through it is one day at a time. “That first month was definitely the most miserable,” a lawyer from Beverly Hills told me. “I thought it’d never end. But it did.” This is good advice.

“The first month is the hardest. Just get through it.” If I’ve heard that once—or something close to it—I’ve heard it a hundred times. So expect this time in your recovery to be tough, but also remind yourself it’ll only last a few weeks.

Here’s an opposing voice to the “first month is the hardest” point of view. I’ve known more than one addict who said that, in less than a week, the crash lifted and they loved the first month. In fact, it was their favorite because they felt hopeful and clean of crystal for the first time in a long while. It’s as if they went directly from a brief crash into a very Pink Cloud. If this is your experience, great. The less miserable your withdrawal symptoms can be, the better. Who am I to insist you have a hard first month? Just because most of us do!

Remember, the timeline of recovery is as individual as you are.

 

W H A T     T O     D O

 

“You just put yourself through hell. Now it’s time to love yourself.”

— Maria, 5 years clean

Replenish My Body

The first thing you want to do is to break away from the “meth diet.” This usually consists of Ensure, Gatorade, and the occasional protein drink every other day. Here’s what you need to do.

Eat: Start eating solid foods.

Hydrate: Drink enriched water, vitamin enhanced water, or, even better, coconut water.

Get your stomach back in shape: Try probiotic drinks like Kefir and yogurt. I especially recommend Yakult, a great product from Japan available in most major chain grocery stores.

Vitamins: Take a multi-vitamin daily. Maybe double up for a week. Also increase your potassium intake. Probably the best source is coconut water, but there are always bananas.

And, of course, the next best thing you can do for your body is to rest. Sleep, sleep, and more sleep. Let your body recover from the intense run you’ve just been on.

 

Calm My Mind

As with replenishing your body, resting is very important. This means not only sleep, but you also might want to rest your mind by “zoning out” with a marathon of your favorite TV shows or movies. “Thank God for streaming Netflix,” one addict told me. “I spent my entire Withdrawal watching hours and hours of Glee.”

Basically, you’re just trying to get through the next week or two without stressing your body and mind any more than they already are. In this detox phase of your recovery, you may be depressed and, most likely, highly emotional. Your brain is desperately trying to heal right now. Try to give it a break and just zone out with something mindless from time to time.

And if you are quitting under the care of a doctor, she or he can tell if you need Ativan or Klonopin (and will prescribe a limited amount) to help calm you from the immediate physical and emotional distress of withdrawal.

 

Banish Shame

It’s natural to feel ashamed of the mess your life has become because of this disease. But, if you are to survive, you’re going to have to jettison any shame, at least for the time being. After you’ve moved through the initial stages of recovery, you will be able to address the damage you’ve done and find other ways to move forward responsibly.

For today, try to remember you have a disease. Your brain is still physically malfunctioning and it’s going to take time to heal. It is crucial that you give yourself this time. Feeling shame can keep you in a loop—or shame spiral—where, instead of moving forward with healthy recovery, you become overwhelmed with guilt and keep relapsing. For the sake of your sobriety, you must banish shame from your life today.

Here’s the blunt fact: shame is the great enemy of recovery, in both the short and long term.

 

Do Not Make Any Big Decisions

Now is not the time to make any of those “big” life decisions. In fact, you can’t trust your decision-making process at this point because your brain is a mess.

Now is not the time to quit your job or end a relationship. Now is not the time to come clean to grandma about your addiction. Now is not the time to confess anything to anyone, period. ‎Just sleep, rest, and eat—for now.

 

Set a Sobriety Date

Figure out the date on which you were first clean and sober. I began counting mine at the beginning of my crash, after 24 hours had passed since I’d last used crystal. There are some cool phone apps for this. Search for “sobriety” at your app store.

Though some people don’t like to count days, I think it’s important—especially in early recovery. Just remember, in the first few weeks, every day is a big deal. Don’t fret, it won’t be this hard forever.

Counting your clean days is a good way to bolster your sobriety. The days will add up quicker than you think. And they’re witness to the hard work you’re doing to get and stay clean.

To check out the remaining 4 stages of recovery from meth, go to:

 

The Five Stages

 

DISLCAIMER:

This website is not intended to provide and does not constitute medical, legal, or other professional advice. The content herein is designed to support, not replace, medical or psychiatric treatment. Please seek qualified professional care.

 

photo credit: Gribiche via photopin cc

Living the Full & Free Life After Crystal Meth & Addiction