The Latest Scientific Data About Recovery from Crystal Meth

(SPOILER: IT’S SOME VERY GOOD NEWS!)

Since the publication of Quitting Crystal Meth: What to Expect & What to Do, several new studies have been published on meth recovery, withdrawal timelines and what to expect during the first six months after quitting. I’m happy to report none of the studies conflict or contradict what you’ll read in the book in any substantial manner, but they do augment and, in some cases, give a few new insights into our first year of recovery.

When the second edition is published in 2018 (it’s important to keep up with the latest data), I will include all of this information and, hopefully, more. For now, however, I didn’t want for you to have to wait. So here’s what the scientific and medical community has learned about our journey of quitting.

On Cravings:

  • After you get through that awful first month of withdrawal, though you may feel much better emotionally and physically, studies show that “cue related” cravings actually begin to increase. These cravings usually peak during the third month of abstinence.

This was a surprise to me, at first, but, as I thought about it, I began to see how this fits into the current timeline outlined in the book. Though the more acute withdrawal symptoms from using tend to ease up over the first month, lessening as time goes by, one’s cravings from “external cues” (triggers from people, places or things) or “internal cues” (triggers from emotions) begin to intensify substantially. Though the brain is healing and you might be experiencing a “pink cloud” (see the “Withdrawal” excerpt from the book), your mind is poised to be triggered. Here, it’s important to follow the book’s instruction on how to avoid, triggers and counteract cravings (see “The Honeymoon” and “The Wall” chapters). Two related blogposts on triggers, how to avoid them and, ultimately, deal with them, are here and here.

  • Another study shows that after you’re clean for six months cravings decrease substantially.

So to summarize in brief: science says six months is the magic number for the easing up of cravings, with three months being when they are at their peak. Knowing and expecting the upswing in your cravings during months two and three can help you prepare for them. And holding on to the fact that after that third month the cravings dramatically start to fall can give you hope to get through the early months. It get’s better, but it’s somewhat of a rollercoaster at first.

On the Healing of the Brain:

There’s some very good news from the new scientific data available on brain healing.

  • When tested, meth users who were abstinent for five years or more and non-meth using control subjects had similar neurochemical levels. In short, after 5 years the brain can often show no sign of meth destruction.
  • A group of meth addicts were compared to a control group of age-matched non-meth users.  Just upon quitting, the meth addicts performed far worse on measures of cognitive performance and neuropsychological functioning, as well as emotional distress. But, after a year of continuous abstinence from meth, these subjects performed comparably to the healthy control subjects.

And for those of you who have severe brain impairments, like hearing voices and bouts of continued paranoia, take comfort in this:

  • Among those meth users who stayed clean for a year, those with the worst brain-damage related impairments showed the greatest improvement when retested.

It’s not exactly new information as the book notes the one year mark as a significant turning point. However, in the book, the “magic number” for major brain healing is two years (anecdotally, I found that was usually when the fog had seemed to completely lift). But the scientific data tells us that usually this significant healing happens earlier. It is something I will change in the next edition.

Bottom line and great news: for most of us who can stay clean for a year or longer, studies show substantial thinking improvements and visible brain healing. For most of us, the brain can come close to being completely healed in time.

So spread the news: it gets better. This takes only two things: not using meth and clean time.

Let any addict who’s struggling in their early months know these new facts:

  • The cravings will probably increase in month two and peak in three, but they will have decreased substantially by month six. (As I recall, it was around this time, my cravings and using dreams dwindled into obscurity.)
  • As far as brain healing goes: it does heal dramatically in merely one year.

Great news… Evidence-based… Facts…