Crystal Meth Addiction Medications
Why Is It Hard to Break a Crystal Meth Addiction
Treatment for Crystal Meth Addiction
Medications That May Help
Medication Use in Treatment Facilities
Medications Can’t Substitute for Human Support
The Effects of Crystal Meth Addiction
Learn More and Find Help
Methamphetamine, often referred to as crystal meth, belongs to a broad class of drugs known as psychostimulants.
Crystal meth has dominated media headlines because of its alarmingly addictive nature and its potentially destructive consequences for those who use it, as well as its impact on families and communities.
Methamphetamine’s synthetically made chemical structure is much like other amphetamines – but is an even more potent central nervous system stimulant.
The high, or rush, elicited by methamphetamine use creates a rewarding sense of well-being due to the release of the neurotransmitter, dopamine – urging even first time users to repeat the experience time and again.
Why Is It So Hard to Break a Crystal Meth Addiction?
Why is it so hard to stop using crystal meth once you’ve started?
Part of the reason is due to the primary neurotransmitter that gets released in the brain when using the drug: dopamine.
Dopamine – the Body’s Pleasure Chemical
Dopamine plays a role in personal motivation, pleasurable feelings and motor functions. The release of dopamine is thought to be responsible for the rewarding effects of many drugs that are abused. This surge in dopamine activity – combined with the drug’s relatively low cost – makes users of crystal meth highly susceptible to abuse, addiction and dependency.
As a result, crystal meth addiction can be a hard addiction to overcome. For both long-term and short-term users of crystal meth, the crash after using the drug can feel unbearable. The high release of dopamine means that after the meth rush, there is a relative depletion of active dopamine – leaving the user with intense cravings to go back to the drug and regain the high. For long-term users, brain chemistry can change so dramatically that even high doses of meth cannot release enough dopamine to produce desired levels of pleasure.
Treatment for Crystal Meth Addiction
If you or someone you love struggles with crystal meth addiction, there is still hope. You can achieve complete recovery from crystal meth addiction through a comprehensive treatment plan.
Treatment design will vary on an individual basis. However, commonly utilized treatment approaches for crystal meth addiction often include a combination of behavioral treatment strategies1:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy.
- Contingency-management interventions (tangible rewards in exchange for maintaining sobriety).
- Education for family members.
- One-on-one counseling.
- Drug tests.
- 12-step support groups.
- Support for participating in activities that are not related to drugs.
So Where Does Medication Fit In?
The FDA doesn’t currently approve of any specific medications for the treatment of crystal meth addiction.2
Supportive medications, however, are meant to be used alongside therapy to help ease the intensity of the detoxification process – which typically includes a range of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms typically felt by meth users include3:
- Intense desire for the drug.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (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 meth withdrawal.4
Medications That May Help Your Meth Addiction Recovery Efforts
When withdrawal is supervised by professionals, you can usually receive medication treatment to soften the symptoms of both short-term detoxification and long-term psychological withdrawal. While meth is not currently FDA approved for treating meth addiction, research has been starting to show some specific medications that may become approved by the FDA in the near future for their abilities to help treat meth addiction.
Medications Currently Under Study for Treating Crystal Meth Addiction
Trial studies have been performed with many medications believed to possibly enhance long-term recovery success. However, more studies will be needed to confirm drug efficacy in the treatment of meth addiction, and each individual’s response to a given medication may somewhat vary. Some of the medications that have been studied so far include5:
For Reducing Meth Use:
- Buproprion. This drug may reduce meth use in light meth users only.
- Modafinil. This drug shows mixed results. One study has suggested that this drug – when combined with cognitive-behavioral therapy – may help reduce meth use. Other studies have not shown a lot of promise for this drug.
- Naltrexone. More than one study have suggested that this drug has potential for reducing use and increasing abstinence of methamphetamine.
- Mirtazapine. One study found that mirtazapine – alongside cognitive-behavioral therapy – was associated with significant reductions in meth use among a sample of men who have sex with men (MSM).
- Topiramate. One study found topiramate to reduce overall meth use. Total abstinence from meth was not observed in conjunction with taking topiramate, however.
For Reducing Meth Cravings:
A range of medications have been tested for reducing meth cravings, many of which showed no success in reducing meth cravings. Some of the medications that have shown more promise, however, include:
- Dextroamphetamine. While this drug has not been shown to affect meth use, it has been shown to reduce meth cravings. Dextroamphetamine is itself an addictive stimulant, but is available as a prescription tablet – potentially facilitating closer medical vigilance and safer dosing while mitigate cravings.
- Rivastigmine. Studies have suggested this drug might help reduce meth users’ desire for meth.
- Buproprion. This drug has been correlated with reduced meth cravings.
- Nicotine. Nicotine administration during meth withdrawal has show to reduce meth-seeking behavior in some individuals.
- Naltrexone. Studies on naltrexone have appeared to reduce meth-seeking behavior – a possible indicator of its ability to reduce meth cravings.
Medications that May Reduce Both Meth Use and Meth Cravings
Out of the medications that have been studied so far, it appears that two of those drugs may show some promise in reducing both meth use as well as meth cravings:
- Buproprion (including Wellbutrin). Available in several trade name formulations (including Wellbutrin and Zyban), buproprion is currently FDA-approved for major depression, seasonal affective disorder and smoking cessation. Buproprion may be one of the most publicized medications in aiding methamphetamine addiction. Buproprion’s mechanism of action is not completely understood, but it is believed to weakly inhibit uptake of norepinephrine and dopamine. This action results in increased amounts of norepinephrine and dopamine available in the body. As mentioned earlier, dopamine is one of the body’s primary “pleasure chemicals,” while norepinephrine is one of the body’s primary “fight or flight” chemicals. Buproprion’s efficacy in this capacity is reported to be pronounced only in light meth users.
- Naltrexone. Naltrexone is currently FDA-approved for treating both alcohol and opioid drug dependence. It works as an opioid receptor antagonist – meaning that it competes with and blocks other drugs that would normally have an effect on opioid receptors. Naltrexone is believed to have some potential for helping with meth addiction by blocking meth-induced dopamine. More studies are still needed to evaluate naltrexone’s efficacy and role in treating meth addiction.5
Along with these promising medications, some researchers have also been working steadily on immunological treatments.6 This kind of treatment involves engineering antibodies to target methamphetamine in the bloodstream and bond to the molecules of meth. Researchers hope that this method could help halt meth overdose and other dangerous effects meth has on the brain and other organs. It would also negate the pleasurable rush of the drug.
Diverting ADHD medications
Medication Use in Treatment Facilities
When you feel ready to really turn your life around and quit meth, you will want to begin considering the type of treatment facility you’d like to help you along your recovery journey. The two main types of treatment you will encounter are:
Outpatient treatment is an option for some individuals who have less severe addictions and who don’t have any coexisting medical or mental health conditions. Many standard rehab facilities offer outpatient treatment services that let you intermittently check in with your healthcare provider for medications and therapy – while still being able to go home at night after treatment.
While the intense symptoms of acute stimulant withdrawal may only last days to weeks, crystal meth is capable of creating such dramatic changes in brain chemistry over time that prolonged care is frequently beneficial for those seeking recovery. As a result, many crystal meth users maximize their chance of success by quitting their meth use under the watchful care found in an inpatient rehabilitation center.
Inpatient programs offer an immersive treatment environment, with access to medical care and support should it be required. Supportive medications can also be administered to help you navigate the unpleasant withdrawal period, potentially increasing the likelihood of long-term sobriety.
Inpatient Facility Types
When you’ve decided to look into inpatient addiction treatment options, you’ll come across a few different types of treatment facilities, depending on your needs and budget:
- Luxury rehab facilities offer residential addiction treatment alongside a wide range of desirable, high-end amenities to make your recovery process as comfortable as possible.
- Executive rehab facilities provide private residential addiction treatment with accommodations and allowances that enable busy professionals to maintain an active involvement in their workplace throughout recovery.
- Standard recovery programs also provide quality addiction treatment in a residential setting. While these facilities might not offer the luxuries of the aforementioned programs – they are generally the most affordable inpatient treatment option for those on more limited budgets.
Medications Are No Substitute for Human Support
Although medications have been proven to help with crystal meth addiction, they should be used in conjunction with – rather than as a substitute for – some of the primary meth treatment approaches that rely on human support. Group and individual counseling, cognitive-behavioral therapy, family involvement and addiction support groups all have their own substantial roles in contributing to one’s addiction recovery.
- Group and individual counseling. Group and individual counseling are common and important aspects of most addiction treatment programs, as social support and one-on-one therapy both play important roles in successful recovery.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT should be an essential component to your recovery and is often incorporated into group and/or individual counseling. Although medications may aid in reducing cravings and may temporarily address other emotions involved in addiction, ongoing recovery requires resolving the root causes for your addiction and changing your mental and behavioral patterns. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help you understand the triggers and situations that cause you to use meth and can help you learn how to cope with these cravings without meth. This type of therapy teaches real-life techniques for recovery.
- Family involvement. Research has demonstrated that family involvement and support can improve the chances for a loved one to seek help and successfully comply to a treatment plan.7 Family members can offer invaluable support, often providing encouragement and motivation for the user to get sober. This support can lead the user towards a more dedicated recovery process.
- Addiction support groups. Recovery success rates among those involved with a 12-step program tend to be higher than success rates among those who are not. Those in a support program are much less likely to relapse. Involvement in a 12-step group – such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous – can provide you with peer support as well as spiritual growth. Although it may not be for everyone, a 12-step support group may provide just the support you need during your early days of recovery and beyond.
Overall, there are many tools that can help in the process of recovering 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.
The Effects of Crystal Meth Addiction
For individuals addicted to crystal meth, the prospect of quitting the drug can be daunting and even terrifying. These feelings of overwhelming fear are understandable, however, as the idea of going through the withdrawal process can be overwhelming.
But before you run away from the meth recovery process out of fear, consider the consequences of not working through this fear. Continuing use of crystal meth puts you at risk for both short-term and long-term consequences – some of which can even be deadly.
Short-term effects of crystal meth may include8:
- Heightened vigilance or attention.
- Increased activity and restlessness.
- Increased breathing rate.
- Rapid and irregular heartbeats.
- Euphoric rush.
- Decreased appetite.
- Hyperthermia (increased body temperature).
One of the most obvious and hazardous long-term effects of crystal meth use is the potential to develop an addiction. As the functionality and molecular structure of your brain begin to change, the compulsion to persistently use the drug is strengthened. Since your body eventually becomes tolerant to meth over time, however, your regular drug dose will begin to lose its ability to produce the same pleasurable effects – spurring the need to take higher doses to achieve the same effects.
In addition to addiction and tolerance, other long-term effects from meth use include8:
- Profoundly disrupted sleep patterns.
- Mood disturbances.
- Dental problems (“meth mouth”).
- Auditory hallucinations and delusions.
It has been found that individuals who have experienced severe meth-induced psychosis might struggle with persistent psychotic features, even after achieving sobriety. It can take a brain quite a long time to readjust. Strokes and other sudden cardiovascular events may occur, even in the short term with methamphetamine abuse. However, the consequences of the neurologic damage that may result – including paralysis, loss of speech, cognitive decline and dementia, for example – may persist for much longer durations.
Find Help for Your Meth Addiction
- What treatments are effective for people who abuse methamphetamine? National Institute on Drug Abuse.
- Addiction Medications. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
- What are the long-term effects of methamphetamine abuse? National Institute on Drug Abuse.
- Anderson, D. (2015) Narrative of discovery: in search of a medication to treat methamphetamine addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
- Courtney, K. E., Ray, L. A. (2014). Methamphetamine: an update on epidemiology, pharmacology, clinical phenomenology, and treatment literature. Drug Alcohol Depend, 0: 11-21.
- Chen, Y. H., Chen, C. H. (2013). The development of antibody-based immunotherapy for methamphetamine abuse: immunization, and virus-mediated gene transfer approaches. Curr Gene Therapy, 13(1), 39-50.
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (2004). Chapter 1 substance abuse treatment and family therapy. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
- Stimulants. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.