Is Withdrawal From Crystal Meth Painful?


Making the decision to stop using crystal meth can be frightening for some individuals. Understanding what to expect during the withdrawal period might reduce the fear, particularly when a regular drug user has been confronted with friends, family members or associates who have experienced withdrawal from other types of drugs, like heroin.

Heroin is an opiate drug that works on the opioid receptors in the brain and body. These receptors exist for the control of pain, among other things. Therefore, when an individual stops using heroin, the opioid receptors are critically involved. This is why heroin withdrawal, or withdrawal from opioid pain medications, can be painful.

How Crystal Meth Acts on the Body

Crystal meth does not interact with the pain receptors in the brain or the body. Rather, it works on the levels of dopamine and the dopamine receptors in the brain. Dopamine is the brain chemical that is most responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward. If we do something fun or exciting, like riding a roller coaster for instance, the levels of naturally occurring dopamine in our brain are increased and we feel the excited rush of the thrill ride. We also learn that roller coasters make us feel exhilarated, so the next time we see one, we feel another excited rush of anticipation. On the other side of the well-balanced brain function, the brain contains elements that will absorb any excess dopamine. This is why we can feel different levels of pleasure. A favorite flavor of ice cream on a hot summer evening elicits one level of happiness or joy, while seeing an old friend or family member after an extended absence may illicit a more intense reaction. The brain knows just how much dopamine is appropriate.

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As the brain is exposed to crystal meth, the parts of the brain responsible for maintaining the level of dopamine are blocked. The brain continues to release dopamine, artificially stimulated in much higher quantities because of the drug, until there is an overabundance of this powerful chemical. It is this overabundance that creates the euphoria drug users seek. Ultimately, the dopamine receptors in the brain will fail. Because of the effects of crystal meth, the brain may be unable to receive the messages that dopamine provides, such as:

  • Joy
  • Excitement
  • Pleasure
  • Humor
  • Arousal

While there is little or no physical pain associated with crystal meth withdrawal, there may be a certain amount of emotional pain that comes along with a condition known as anhedonia, according to an article published by Psychology Today.

Emotional Pain or Emotional Desert

Try to picture yourself in a fabulous situation – in your dream vacation spot sitting on a beach or hiking in the mountains. Everything is perfect. You’re surrounded by your friends and family. Everyone is happy and laughing. Later, you’ll return to your hotel or campsite and sit around an open fire enjoying the sights and sounds of the most beautiful scenery you can imagine. Now, imagine that you can’t enjoy any of it. While everyone else is finding intense pleasure brought in by their senses, interpreted by their brain and communicated by a fully functioning dopamine supply, you are emotionally numb.

Sounds daunting, doesn’t it?  The good news is that this condition has been shown to be temporary and it is possible for the dopamine levels in the brain to begin functioning properly again, according to NBC News. For someone who is not experiencing the emotional desert, it is easy to see how this can cause emotional pain. Unfortunately, because of the damage to the dopamine production and dopamine receptors in the afflicted individual, they may be left with a shoulder-shrugging, unemotional concern. Still, they believe that using more crystal meth may make them feel something – anything. The condition can be responsible for relapse. However, if the recovering addict can make it through the first few months, up to two years, the brain can recover.

Staying on Course for Recovery

The worst of the withdrawal symptoms concerning crystal meth tend to last from between a few days to a couple of weeks, according to research published by the National Institutes of Health. After this time, the cravings can last for months. Combined with the lack of ability to feel emotion, the cravings may be one’s worst hurdle to overcome.

When you choose a facility to begin addiction treatment, it may be a good idea to understand the level of support you’ll receive after the residential treatment phase has ended. At Axis, we offer a fully comprehensive outpatient program for those individuals who have improved sufficiently as a resident of our program, so you can maneuver back to a new normal in your improved life.