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. (2018 Update)

 

W I T H D R A W A L

3 – 21 Days

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.

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

 

W H A T     TO     E X P E C T

The Crash – Acute Withdrawal

It’s called “the crash.” Most likely, you haven’t been eating or hydrating properly, so it’s no surprise your body craves rest, nutrition, and water. All you can do is crash, which basically means sleep and eat and sleep some more. For days. I know, as far as getting life done, moving forward, I was worthless. It was all sleep, eat, hydrate and back to sleep for around a full week.

Just expect it. Know what’s happening. Your brain’s dopamine function is severely impaired right now. Usually the crash lasts from 2 to 7 days. But for some longtime users, the crash lasts 2 weeks or more. Remember, depending upon how long you used and how heavily, your body and brain have a lot of healing to do.

Protracted Withdrawal – What Comes After Acute

It may take several weeks to a month to restore dopamine levels to where your mood lightens, energy returns, and you have some clarity of thinking. I know I was down for almost three weeks when I first quit. By “down,” I mean pretty much incapacitated and overwhelemed by the entire experience of withdrawal.

For the first week, the acute phase, I felt like only sleeping, watching television, eating ravenously, and mostly wanting to be alone, in my bed. At some point, I forced myself to do basic shopping for food and pay bills, but little else. An addict from San Francisco who had a twenty-year history with meth reported his protracted withdrawal lasting over a month. 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 and she never looked back. Like most meth aftereffects, the duration of your withdrawal depends upon a host of cofactors like how much and how long, your age, and general health.

Here are some other common meth withdrawal symptoms: inability to concentrate, feeling emotionally flattened, red/itchy eyes, teeth grinding and jaw clenching, night sweats, bodyaches and pains, headaches, and strong cravings for more meth.

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

So, again, the goal of these first few weeks: ride out the crash and the rest of withdrawal 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, weeks, or longer. If you don’t have an appetite at first, at least hydrate. Your appetite will return shortly—and with a vengeance. I always forgot to hydrate during the crash, mostly because I was unconscious much of the time and when I did awaken, I was so hungry my mind went to food not drink. So eat and hyrateif you can remember to.

Sleeping, and More Sleeping

As mentioned, 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 week.

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 exhaustedboth 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.

Strong Cravings to Use

According to a 2010 study published in Addiction, the most vulnerable time for relapse with crystal meth is during days 7–14. It’s not coincidental that week two is also when meth cravings peak – at least for the withdrawal stage. Just get through that week and things will be much better on the other side.

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.

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 psyhosis 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 21stCentury. Get some modern-day medical and dental treatment for those war wounds and you’ll recover faster.

On Average, Most Withdrawal Symptoms Resolve Within 14 Days

According to a 2010 study published in Addiction, aside from cravings, most meth withdrawal symptoms were, on average, resolved within 14 days of continued abstinence. Notice the phrase “on average.” It could be sooner.

The First Month is the Hardest, Usually

It’s said that one of the things you’ll hear at almost any CMA meeting is: 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.

According to that same 2010 study published in Addiction, the most vulnerable time for relapse is during days 7–14.

“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 recovering addict who said that, in less than a week, withdrawal 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     TO     DO

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

— Maria, 5 years clean

If Possible, Get the Expertise of a Certified Addiction Specialist

If at all possible, get a doctor’s expertise now, at the beginning. I know it’s a hassle for most and impossible for others. But if you live near any major urban center, you can find an M.D. with certification from the American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM), or a Certificate of Added Qualification in Addiction Medicine conferred by the American Osteopathic Association (AOA).

Of course, most of us won’t contact a doctor for various reasons, from insurance to privacy. We’re going to do withdrawal by ourselves, regardless. (I know I did. But, in my defense, I didn’t know any better and, then, there were no drugs approved for methamphetamine withdrawal anyway. But that was then.) Today, new research gets published almost monthly. Let’s take autumn of 2017, randomly, for example:

  • Separate studies demonstrate the same result: intranasal insulin immediately reverses meth-induced psychosis, even in severe cases.
  • Naltrexone is a drug successfully used with heroin/opiate withdrawal to reduce the severity of symptoms and cravings (it’s been called a “miracle drug”). A new 2017 study suggests that Naltrexone has the same positive effect on meth withdrawal.

Those two amazing developments in pharmacology – and the many, many others — may get rapid FDA approval. It does happen. A medical specialist knowledgeable in addiction medicine would know.

Bottom line: You certainly don’t need a doctor to take you through detox from a wicked meth addiction. Asside from suicidal thoughts, there’s nothing in meth withdrawal that can kill you. It just feels like a living hell. So I say, if there’s a new medicine that might make your withdrawal easier, go for it. You’ll have to find a specialist, however.

Replenish My Body

You want to break away from the “meth diet” immediately. Here’s what you need to do, instead:

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 been on for however long.

Calm My Mind

Along with replenishing your body with nutrition, replenish by resting your mind. This means not only sleep, but you also might want to calm your mind by “zoning out” with a marathon of your favorite TV shows or movies. “Thank God for Netflix,” one addict told me. “I spent my entire withdrawal watching Buffy Vampire Slayer.”

Basically, you’re just trying to get through the next few weeks of withdrawal without stressing your body and mind any more than they already are. Your brain is desperately trying to heal right now. Try to give it a break and just zone out with something mindless for awhile.

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 limitedamount) 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 addiction. 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 amedical condition. 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 a 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 notthe time to come clean to grandma about your addiction. Now is notthe time to confess anything to anyone, period.

Just sleep, rest, and eat—for now.

Set a Sobriety Date (or Not)

If it’s your first time to recovery or if you’re in a 12-step program, you’ll probably want to set a sobriety date. I began counting at 1 at least 24 hours after I’d last used. Some people start counting time from the moment they put down the drug and quit. But most start counting 24 hours or so after we quit. You get to decide. Also, there are some cool phone apps for counting days in sobriety. Search for “sobriety” at your app store.

In the first few weeks, every day is a big deal – and rightly so. Don’t fret, it won’t be this hard forever. Also, 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. I know counting days was crucial to me at one point in my recovery. I took every chip offered at my CMA meetings and celebrated each year’s sobriety date, again and again, with a bang. At that point in my journey, I couldn’t imagine being clean without counting time.

But that was then. Today, I don’t count days or years.

Honestly, I couldn’t even tell you the date I last used. I’m not even sure of the month. It was a fuzzy time, memory-wise – which I know you understand. And, also, it’s not my life today.  After 4 yrs clean, then a 2 year relapse, and now clean again and “done,” I found counting days more harmful than helpful.

As far as my own meth use goes, I’m done… and it’s one day at a time, anyway. I don’t do anniversaries, at least for myself, any longer.

So set that sobriety date – or not. Either way is just fine.

 

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.

 

Living the Full & Free Life After Crystal Meth & Addiction