Methamphetamine Detox and Withdrawal

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Withdrawal occurs when a person suffering from methamphetamine addiction stops using and is at risk of potentially life-threatening health complications. A medical detox in a hospital is recommended for safe withdrawal from methamphetamine.

What is Methamphetamine Addiction

Amphetamines are a class of compounds that exert powerful effects on the central nervous system (CNS), with particular sympathomimetic effects ie. the “flight or fight” part of our nervous system. Amphetamines can be legally prescribed for conditions such as childhood ADHD, or manufactured illicitly, eg ecstasy, speed, ice etc.

Alongside cannabis, methamphetamines are the mostly commonly used illicit drug in Australia. Use occurs across the spectrum of society and has been associated with highly addictive neurotoxic effects which translate into acute mental health symptoms and long-term behavioural issues. These issues have grave health and social consequences for both the user and society.

Illicit methamphetamine can take on many forms, from powder, (speed) to residue, (base) to its most potent form, crystal methamphetamine, also known as ice. Ice use is associated with greater rates of dependency and side effects.

While amphetamine use has remained stable overall in recent years, there is a higher proportion of people using ice, which has escalated in purity (from 10 to 70%) within a few years. This increase in purity has been met with undeniably more severe physical and psychological harms.

Methamphetamine use, both acute and chronic, is often complicated by accompanying mental health conditions such as psychosis, behavioural disturbances, and cognitive impairment. With methamphetamine use, a rapid tolerance is often built up to the drug.

The DSM-5 defines tolerance as the need for increasing doses of the drug over time to give the effect that was previously experienced at lower doses. This leads to escalation of dosage (and use) of the drug.

Often methamphetamine users are engaged in poly drug use – often to counter the effects of the methamphetamines themselves. For example, some users will use methamphetamines to keep themselves awake during the day and benzodiazepines to sleep at night. Poly drug use, particularly with methamphetamines, can make the withdrawal process clinically challenging, with a detox in a hospital setting preferred.

The Causes of Methamphetamine Withdrawal

Withdrawal from methamphetamines takes longer than for other illicit drugs. The detox process encompasses both acute and longer-term phases.

Depending on the level of addiction, the adverse effects of methamphetamines can range from mild to life threatening.

Methamphetamine Withdrawal Symptoms

Symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • accelerated heart rate
  • shortness of breath
  • sweating
  • appetite changes
  • panic attacks
  • aggressive violent behaviour
  • insomnia
  • anxiety
  • headache
  • palpitations
  • raised blood pressure
  • gastrointestinal effects, including nausea and diarrhoea
  • cardiovascular effects, including tachycardia (increased HR), arrhythmia (disturbance in heartbeat rhythm), circulatory collapse
  • hyperthermia
  • rhabdomyolysis (muscle tissue breakdown)
  • seizures
  • cerebral haemorrhage
  • coma
  • death

How to Safely Treat Methamphetamine Withdrawal Symptoms

Detox from the effects of ice in a hospital setting is likely to be necessary if there is a history of heavy use, and especially if ice has been routinely combined with other substances of addiction (poly use).

A safe hospital environment markedly improves safety for a user withdrawing from ice. The risk of suicidal ideation and psychosis is significantly increased in heavy methamphetamine users due to the effects of the drug on the pleasure/reward centres of the brain. Methamphetamine also has an adverse impact upon behavioural control which can result in the impairment of decision making (particularly emotional), plus users can engage in irrational actions that occur without forethought. Additionally, methamphetamine impacts cognitive control in many spheres. Impairment of social cognition, where the user fails to pick up subtle emotional cues, can result in hostility, violence, and defensiveness on the part of the user.

Hence, when considering detox for a methamphetamine user, the environment should be a key consideration. This is where a 24/7 detox hospital environment can make the biggest positive impact, with a quiet, stable environment that is safe and easy to access.

Additionally, as the withdrawal from methamphetamines can be a protracted process, studies suggest that the most successful rehab outcomes for this substance occur with more than just detox. Residential rehabilitation over the longer term where users can engage in psychosocial approaches to recovery and gradually take ownership of their journey is key.

How Long Does Methamphetamine Detox Take?

Detoxification and withdrawal from methamphetamine usually take 10-15 days.

The first phase is known as “comedown” and lasts one to three days. Symptoms include:

  • depression, anxiety, and irritability
  • anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure about normally pleasant events)
  • suicidal ideation and behaviours
  • exhaustion and increased requirement for sleep
  • increased appetite

The second phase of withdrawal lasts for three to ten days, and symptoms include:

  • mood swings and anxiety
  • poor concentration and confusion
  • paranoia
  • being emotionally fragile
  • strong cravings
  • sleep difficulties including nightmares
  • increased appetite
  • aches, pains, and headaches

The third phase of withdrawal lasts anywhere from ten days through to three to six months. Symptoms include:

  • mood swings
  • anxiety
  • intermittent strong urges to use
  • sleep difficulties
  • nightmares

Hader Clinic Queensland Private Hospital’s unique bushland environment supervised medical detox and intensive psychosocial program provides an ideal platform from which to start the recovery journey. Hader Clinic Queensland’s residential rehab program can further tailor and scale longer term recovery options that address the need for a stepped approach to methamphetamine withdrawal that meets the user where they are.

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For more information about our detox and withdrawal programs please get in touch.

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