Methamphetamine is a psychostimulant, very addictive, and the consequences of meth addiction can be disastrous for not just the addict but also his family, and society at large. Meth is not unlike amphetamines in its effect on the central nervous system; however, its effects are more pronounced and the high produced by meth is more intense because of the release of dopamine. The drive to accomplish objectives, the feeling of pleasure, and motor functions are linked to dopamine activity. All drugs invariably stimulate the release of either dopamine or serotonin, or both these neurotransmitters.

The rush of dopamine released into the body results in a feeling of euphoria very quickly,

This high discharge of dopamine, combined with the drug’s low cost, makes a user of crystal meth highly susceptible to abuse, addiction and dependency. If you struggle with crystal meth addiction, or have a loved one who does, there is hope. You can achieve complete recovery from crystal meth addiction via substance abuse treatment – which incorporates various behavioral therapeutic interventions as well as the use of supportive medications to ease the detoxification process.

Crystal meth addiction can be a hard addiction to overcome. For users of crystal meth – even short-term users – the crash after use can be seemingly unbearable. The high release of dopamine means that after the “rush” there is now a shortage of dopamine, leaving the user with intense cravings to use again to regain the “up” feeling. For long-term users, brain chemistry can change so dramatically that high doses of meth cannot even release enough dopamine to produce desired levels of pleasure.

Help via Medication

While crystal meth withdrawal symptoms are generally psychological, the user going through this withdrawal will experience anxiety, agitation, sadness, insomnia and intense desire for the drug.

Many crystal meth users find it necessary, and have exponentially better success, quitting their use in a drug rehabilitation inpatient center. Although the intense withdrawals may only last three days to a week, crystal meth causes such intense changes in the chemical makeup of the brain that prolonged care is almost always needed to achieve true sobriety. An inpatient program not only offers medical care and support; medications can also be administered to help the patient cope with the withdrawal period, increasing the likelihood of long-term sobriety.

Although the FDA hasn’t approved any specific medication for the treatment of crystal meth addiction, theNational Institute of Drug Abuse promotes certain medications to aid users with redeveloping natural neurochemical processes and to alleviate the intensity of the withdrawal symptoms. The NIDA has made medication development for crystal meth addiction a priority, and NIDA’s National Drug Abuse Clinical Trials Network has made great strides to find medications that enhance the user’s ability to cope with withdrawal. In a supportive inpatient atmosphere and under physician supervision, specific medications – when combined with models of behavioral therapy – have proved to be effective in helping individuals to loosen the shackles of meth addiction and start on the road to recovery.

The Effects of Crystal Meth Addiction

For many crystal meth addicts, the prospect of quitting the drug can be daunting or even terrifying. It’s understandable – the idea of going through the withdrawal process can be overwhelming. But before you dismiss the detox process, you should first understand the short-term and long-term consequences of crystal meth addiction.

According to the National Survey of Drug Abuse and Health, there were 105,000 new users in 2010 and most were either teenagers or young adults in their early 20s.

Most neuroscientists agree that the brain does not fully develop until around the mid-20s, meaning the young addict is disrupting the chemical balance of a brain that hasn’t yet fully developed. However, it has been shown that some damage inflicted on the chemical balances and nerves of the brain by long-term meth users can be reversed. For younger addicts, it is even more imperative to find help quickly for a full recovery.

When you think of a few days or a week of withdrawal discomfort, especially with the aid of medication to ease the process, the pain and desperation of being actively addicted pales in comparison. Many of the medications that are being used for the withdrawal process of short-term and for long-term recovery directly relate to the symptoms associated with coming off such a damaging neurotoxin.

Short-term effects of crystal meth include:

  • Heightened attention
  • Increased activity and restlessness
  • Increased respiration
  • Rapid and irregular heartbeats
  • “Rush” of euphoria
  • Decreased appetite
  • Hyperthermia (increased body temperature)

As such an incredibly powerful stimulant, crystal meth, even with short-term use, can cause serious cardiovascular complications for someone prone to cardiovascular problems. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an overdose can also cause convulsions, paranoid and odd behavior, hallucinations, coma and even death.

How Medications Can Help Short-Term Detoxification and Long-Term Addiction

Now a lot of this information is riddled with doom and gloom and for good reason, crystal meth addiction is grim, but there is hope. When you compare the short= and long-term effects of crystal meth use, the prospect of having to go through withdrawal begins to seem like a wise investment. This is especially true when withdrawal is supervised by professionals who can treat you with medications to soften the symptoms of both short-term detoxification and long-term psychological withdrawal.

As stated before, the FDA has not formally approved any medications to specifically treat methamphetamine addiction, but they have approved the use of some drugs to help the treatment process. There are medications that have showed to increase the likelihood of recovery and deter relapse. There are also medications that can help you, or a loved one, through the initial withdrawal process.

Withdrawal symptoms commonly include anxiety, restlessness, sleeplessness, depression and a strong urge to use.

Some medications used for the initial detox in an inpatient treatment center can include Seroquel, which induces sleepiness and reduces anxiety, and non-benzodiazepine tranquilizers which are used to aid restlessness associated with the initial withdrawal. Bromocriptine is sometimes administered to mitigate the sudden drop in dopamine levels, which is thought to cause the intense craving to use. But the medications to get you through withdrawal are not as important as the medications that have shown to reduce the likelihood of relapse.

Medications Used in Crystal Meth Addiction Treatment

Trial studies have been performed with many medications thought to enhance long-term recovery success, but the particular medication that may work for an addict will depend on the individual. The medications that have shown to aid in the recovery process and are commonly used include:

  • Modafinil
  • Buproprion
  • Paroxetine
  • Mirtazapine

Specific Medications

  • Modafinil.  Commonly used for narcolepsy, this medication enhances dopamine and glutamate creation, lessening withdrawal severity and the urge to use. Its stimulating properties can also reverse disrupted sleeping patters and boost low energy levels associated with someone recovering from meth addiction. It has also been noted to help concentration and cognitive functioning. The medication is well tolerated and is not a medication that is normally abused.
  • Buproprion (Wellbutrin).  FDA-approved for depression and smoking cessation, buproprion may be the most publicized medication in aiding methamphetamine addiction. In a study conducted at UCLA and reported on by the National Institute of Health, the trial showed significant improvement for participants that took buproprion compared to those taking the placebo. During withdrawal, the brain of a methamphetamine addict is much like that of a depressed individual. Buproprion is said to help with the depression of the addict and introduce the beneficial properties said to be active in helping with smoking cessation, effectively lowering the intensity of cravings among meth users. The drug is reported to be especially effective with light and moderate users. It actually reduces the “rush” of pleasure if an individual uses crystal meth while on buproprion.
  • Paroxetine (Paxil or Pexeva): FDA-approved as an antidepressant, paroxetine has been shown in trials to be effective in decreasing meth cravings. In studies performed under the direction of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, Paxil was shown to help ease individuals’ cravings significantly compared to those receiving a placebo.
  • Mirtazapine (Remeron): Much like Paxil and buproprion, mirtazapine is commonly used as an antidepressant. In a small 12-week study, the use of mirtazapine with substance abuse counseling decreased meth use significantly compared to only implementing the counseling. The function of the medication is to release and help balance neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine – the chemicals commonly disrupted during methamphetamine addiction.

Along with these promising medications, the NIDA has also been working steadily on immunological treatments. This involves engineering antibodies to target methamphetamine in the bloodstream and bond to the molecules of meth. Researchers hope that this method could help meth overdose and the dangerous effects it has on the brain and other organs. It would also negate the pleasurable rush of the drug.

Medications Are No Substitute for Human Support

Although medications have been proven to help with crystal meth addiction, they shouldn’t be used as an substitute for the support and proven effectiveness provided by addiction support groups, cognitive behavioral therapy and, if applicable, family involvement.

  • 12-step help. There is an evidential comparative success rate between those involved with a 12-step program versus those who are not. Those in a support program are much less likely to relapse. Involvement in a 12-step group, like Narcotics Anonymous, can provide you with peer support as well as spiritual growth. Although it may not be for everyone, a 12-step program can be the most beneficial support group available to you, especially during the early days of recovery.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy. This should be an essential component to your recovery. Although medications may aid in cravings and help with other emotions involved with recovery, there is, at this point, no miracle drug to completely control every feeling in the recovery process. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you to understand the triggers and situations that cause you to use and help you learn how to cope with these cravings without using. This type of therapy teaches real-life techniques for recovery.
  • Family involvement. Research proves that family involvement and support can improve the chances for a loved one to seek help and to be compliant to that help. Family members can offer invaluable support because initially, in many cases, the addict may believe they are seeking recovery more so for their loved ones than for themselves. It may take some time for the addict to feel their own self-worth when sober, but family involvement can be a constant reminder to them that there is something to get sober for, leading to a more dedicated recovery process.

Overall, there are many tools that can help in the recovery process from methamphetamine addiction.

Medication is one of these tools and can certainly aid you, or a loved one, in the recovery process. Although recovery from crystal meth can seem like a daunting ordeal, the long-term effects are considerably more daunting. With the help of medication, you can avoid some of the common pitfalls that can lead to relapse.

If you’d like more information on how medication can play a part in your recovery from crystal meth addiction, contact us today. We are here to help.