Once a person is in a recovery program for a methamphetamine addiction, the hard work begins. The treatment may go on for several months and even after that, there will be residual insecurities and emotional difficulties for the recovering patient to deal with.
Methamphetamine impairs the mind, working not only on the dopamine receptors but also memory impairment, memory loss, a reduced ability to think clearly or logically, a reduced ability to maintain focus and attention, and a reduced ability to regulate violent or aggressive urges. It takes time to heal from all of these impairments. The brain craves the stimulation that methamphetamine provides, and the dopamine receptors can take up to a year to recover.
The First Few Weeks
When a person first starts withdrawal, sleep will be the number one priority as their body detoxes from the methamphetamine. This is the hibernation part of recovery. Depending on how much they had been doing up until then, and how many nights they had been awake, they may sleep nonstop for up to four days. After that, they will want to eat and go to the bathroom, but sleep is still number one. They will be moody, cranky and lethargic, and even violent at times.
Now comes the “honeymoon,” when the recovering patient will feel fantastic, possibly even better than in years. The body has now had a chance to rest and has made some immediate physical and emotional repairs. The patient will feel overconfident and will want to minimize their addiction because they feel so much better. This is when most people relapse.
The Next Few Months
The “honeymoon” does not last long. The recovering patient now hits a wall, and sometimes pretty hard. The dopamine levels have dropped so much now that they could win the lottery and still not perk up. They will also feel boredom and loneliness. The patient will want to use again, just to feel something better. The depression rarely lasts longer than three months.
Frustration will also set in, and the patient will be irritable at the slightest annoyance and experience a fair amount of anger and absentmindedness. This part will last in proportion to how long and how much the patient had been using meth.
After All That – Readjustment
Eventually the cravings, irritability and anger will lessen. At this time, the patient might want to revisit earlier hobbies and interests from before using. Or, maybe he or she will find new productive and meaningful hobbies or tasks to stimulate the mind. This helps them from relapsing so quickly.
Using Coping Mechanisms to Deal with Triggers
In the first few months, it is paramount to the recovery of the patient to avoid places and people that they associate with meth use. The patient will also experience many internal triggers that will have them craving. Intense emotions such as anger, fear, desire or hurt will lead the patient to want to use.
The person will have to learn coping skills to maintain the recovery. They must build a new life for themselves that doesn’t include any aspect of their former using life. They must also change certain behaviors that had them getting into trouble and using. Using the HALT acronym will help them.
The recovering patient needs to take better care of themselves to avoid these situations: eating regularly and healthfully to avoid hunger; joining a support group to avoid loneliness; learning to relax, possibly through mediation, to avoid anger; and developing better sleeping habits to avoid being tired.
Recovery isn’t about one big change. It’s about lots of little changes. Avoiding those high-risk situations helps the person create a new life where it’s easier not to use.
Learning to Relax
The reason most people start using meth is because it makes them feel better. It is used as an escape from the real world: to relax, to relieve tension and to reward oneself. Everyone needs to feel better, relax, relieve tension and reward themselves. It’s the way we stay sane, and it’s natural coping skill for a happy life.
The addict knows no other way besides using. The recovering patient needs to learn new ways to relax and relieve tension. Going for walks is an easy way to relax and can be done easily. Sometimes the simple techniques don’t work. There are many other ways to relax, including something more structured, such as meditation.
The recovering patient should do something to relax, escape and reward themselves every day and turn off the chatter in the mind. Cultivating an open mind and becoming open to new ideas and experiences (that do not include using) are also good ways for recovering patients to walk toward having a happier life.
The Bottom Line for Methamphetamine Addiction Treatment and Recovery
For the recovering patient, the longer they stay in a structured rehabilitation program and remain drug-free, the more likely it is that they will recover some important brain functions, such as impulse control and focus. This may take up to a year – or even longer. Recovery takes time and perseverance.
The methamphetamine addiction is particularly difficult to break because of prolonged, intense cravings of the drug. However, it is not all that bleak. Right now, well over a million people worldwide have successfully quit meth use and are living drug-free lives.