Crystal Clear: Meth Addiction and the Need for Residential Treatment

Meth is not an introductory drug. Chances are that your road to methamphetamine addiction had several stops along the way. Maybe you found the rush of invincibility in cocaine, a single line transforming you in the smartest, most beautiful, and confident version of yourself. Maybe you spent nights swimming in the bliss of MDMA, your heart open wider than you ever imagined. But then you found meth and, as one addict says, “That was that.” Every insecurity you ever had was stripped away and you saw the world in razor-sharp focus, full of possibility and promise, and you at the center of it all, new and improved, sexier and more daring, euphoric and whole. You have the best ideas, the best sex, the best high. And while your brain produces enzymes to help break down cocaine, MDMA, and most other drugs, meth blocks them, allowing a single dose to last for hours and hours. Compared to meth, cocaine seems downright labor-intensive, not to mention wasteful – for a fraction of the cost, meth delivers a longer-lasting rush. And as other drugs such as MDMA become harder and harder to find in unadulterated form, meth is becoming more pure and more potent, as batches from small-time cooks are being replaced by cartel-supplied “super meth.” And so you turned to meth, and that’s where the spiral began.

The Damage of Meth Addiction

While the comedown from cocaine and MDMA is hard, crashing from is meth is brutal. As John Albert writes for The Fix, “Using crystal meth is, from a biological perspective, like borrowing from a sadistic loan shark who demands resources faster than you can reasonably replace them – and the interest rate is unimaginably high.” The seductive high of meth combined with the overwhelming desire to just stop feeling so horrible makes it easy to turn to meth again and again and before you know it, a one-time party drug becomes the central focus of your life as addiction takes hold. You lose friends, you lose jobs, your family doesn’t recognize you. Even if you manage to keep it together on a superficial level, the things you used to hold dear simply don’t matter anymore. And there’s good reason for this.

Meth is composed of a particularly toxic concoction that includes not only ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, but ingredients derived from matchbooks, paint thinner, lye, rock salt, lithium batteries, gasoline additives, and aluminum foil. The dangerous potency of this mix is what causes the explosion of dopamine and norepinephrine in your brain. It is also what leads to traumatic brain injury over time, severely altering brain function and stripping you of the ability to experience pleasure and happiness. For some, even meth itself can no longer give you a feeling of elation or even normalcy, and you are left with an unrelenting emptiness punctuated only by an overwhelming craving for more meth. While ahedonia is a common withdrawal feature of many drugs, including heroin and crack cocaine, it tends to be a relatively short-lived phase on the way to recovery. For people with meth addiction, it can be enduring.

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Vulnerability to Relapse

The profound damage meth produces goes some way towards explaining why the success rate of meth users who go to short-term detox or recovery programs or try to quit on their own is only 15% after three months. Without the therapies in place to address both the underlying psychological drive towards addiction and the brain dysfunction produced by long-term meth use, you are left highly vulnerable to chronic relapse. In part, this is due to the fact that detox and short-term rehab programs tend to be geared toward other types of addicts, particularly people with cocaine and heroin addictions, and don’t have the resources in place to treat people addicted to methamphetamines. Another factor is that research into psychotropic interventions that can effectively restore chemical equilibrium to the brain, such as Wellbutrin, Adderall, and Ritalin, is still ongoing and the best medication protocols currently available are not in widespread use.

The Promise of Residential Treatment

Despite this bleak picture, effective treatment is possible. An Australian study published in Addiction showed while short-term recovery programs had alarmingly high relapse rates at the 3-month mark, residential treatment programs led to a 48% 3-month remission rate. This is likely attributable to the fact that residential programs are able not only manage immediate withdrawal, but begin the process of repairing the neurological damage of meth use through intensive emotional and behavioral interventions. Chief among these is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which engages the resiliency of the brain to promote healing. The highly adaptable, plastic nature of the brain allows you to actively repair damage by forging new neural pathways that encourage healthy psychological and behavioral function. Psychiatrist Dr. Edward Ratush explains:

You intellectually decide what it is that you need to be doing in life: what is healthy for you and is going to get you to a place where you want to be. And no matter how unmotivated you are, you just do it anyway. Eventually, the hope is that the enjoyment will come from the neurobiological response from doing the activities. You have to run to eventually get a runner’s high.

Indeed, CBT is currently regarded as the most effective therapy available for meth addiction and an integrative program that combines individual and group CBT with family education, 12-step recovery, personalized medication plans, and holistic therapies is regarded as the gold standard in meth addiction treatment. A multidisciplinary approach to addiction treatment is vital to not only break through the addictive drive and provide relief from acute withdrawal symptoms, but lay the foundation for long-term recovery, personal growth, and expansion of your capacity for joy.

Alta Mira provides comprehensive treatment for people suffering from meth addiction using evidence-based therapies and compassionate support. Contact us for more information about how we can help you or your loved one on the road to recovery.