There is Hope for Treating Depression After Meth Addiction

The depression many meth addicts feel both during active addiction and in early recovery can be a significant barrier to seeking treatment. But new research is revealing that depression after meth addiction isn’t inevitable or immutable; in fact, mindfulness meditation, medication, exercise, and psychotherapy have all been proven to reduce depressive symptoms and promote mental well-being. At Alta Mira, we integrate all of these modalities to create exceptional healing experiences for those struggling with meth-related depression.

Depression and drug addiction are well-known to overlap, and in recent years both the mental health and recovery communities have come to acknowledge just how interwoven the two often are. This newfound understanding of the complex relationship between depression and addiction has spurred the proliferation of dual-diagnosis treatment programs that seek to treat both disorders simultaneously and examine the ways they impact each other in the lives of clients. In doing so, the underlying impetus to use can often be disrupted, and maladaptive coping mechanisms are replaced by healthy, productive, and safe ways of dealing with distress.

But meth addiction is different. While many drugs can contribute to depression and depression may be experienced during withdrawal from a variety of substances, prolonged use of meth changes your brain chemistry, “destroying the wiring in the brain’s pleasure centers and making it increasingly impossible to experience any pleasure at all.” According to one Australian study, a full 84% of addicts entering meth addiction treatment either met the criteria for major depression or substance-induced depression in the year prior to the study. And that number is very likely to increase once treatment is initiated, as the one thing that does still induce pleasure—meth—is now taken away. Dr. James A. Peck, a clinical psychologist specializing in addiction, explains, “Crystal meth forces dopamine and norepinephrine to be blasted through the brain, so when you stop using meth, there’s a definite effect on your brain, which creates anhedonia.”

While recovering from addiction is a difficult journey for virtually everyone, the neurological effects of meth can make this particular type of recovery especially uninviting. Although neuroimaging studies show that the brain can regrow and repair damaged dopamine receptors, this process is slow—for many users, it can take up to two years to restore brain function to where it was prior to meth use, and for some, the damage may be permanent. The bleakness that so often accompanies recovery from meth addiction is a significant contributing factor to high relapse rates, as people are desperate to experience some form of pleasure again.

Because the risk of experiencing depression is so high and depression endures for so long, many meth addicts are reluctant to seek treatment in the first place. After all, who wants to sign up for years without even momentary happiness? How do you maintain motivation when you cannot feel any reward? But recent research has found that a number of interventions can, in fact, hasten the healing process and decrease depression after meth addiction. These discoveries may be instrumental in not only helping those currently in treatment, but in removing barriers to meth addiction treatment for those who fear prolonged anhedonia.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is increasingly being integrated into mental health and addiction treatment programs; it has been shown to do everything from facilitating the regeneration of gray matter to improving outcomes for Borderline Personality Disorder treatment. Now, a study by a team of researchers at UCLA has found that mindfulness meditation “effectively reduces negative affect and psychiatric impairment” in people recovering from stimulant addiction, including meth.

“I developed an interest in using mindfulness to treat stimulant addiction because one of the most difficult hurdles a stimulant user often faces in early recovery is managing the sadness and anxiety that comes to the surface,” said lead author Dr. Suzette Glasner. “Mindfulness has been used effectively in helping non-addicts cope with depression and anxiety, so the potential to extend this approach to those suffering from drug addiction was very exciting. This way, rather than giving up because of that intolerable emotional discomfort in early recovery, they could develop the coping skills and confidence needed to motivate them to stay in treatment.” While study participants included users both with and without depression diagnosis, mindfulness meditation was especially helpful for those with severe psychological struggles, indicating that it could make a significant difference for those hit hard in early meth addiction recovery.

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Unlike opioid or alcohol addiction, there are currently no specific withdrawal or relapse prevention medications for meth addiction. Simultaneously, SSRI antidepressants are “not only inefficacious for the treatment of methamphetamine dependence, but also produce a number of unprecedented side effects and have no effect on the secondary depression experienced during methamphetamine withdrawal.” However, several studies have shown that Wellbutrin, an antidepressant that acts as a norepinephrine-dopamine reuptake inhibitor, can decrease cravings and may aid in creating chemical equilibrium in the brain. Some physicians are also investigating the potential of Adderall and Ritalin to alleviate both cravings and depression.


Exercise is one of the simplest yet most effective things we can do to promote good physical and mental health. But can exercise really help meth-related depression? According to a study published in the American Journal of Addictions, the answer is yes. Researchers found that individuals in a residential meth addiction treatment center who participated in structured exercise for 60 minutes three times a week experienced a significant relief from depression after 8 weeks. As the authors note, “Our findings suggest that exercise in moderate dose is effective at treating depressive symptoms in individuals in early recovery from addiction, and furthermore, that treatment with exercise appears to be particularly beneficial to individuals who suffer from severe medical, psychiatric, and addictive disorders.” Although the exact reasons for this are not understood, it is known that exercise promotes serotonin and dopamine release in the brain while simultaneously encouraging neurogenesis, both of which likely play an important role in facilitating recovery from meth-related depression.

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The mainstay of meth addiction treatment center programs tends to be behaviorally-focused psychotherapy. And there is good reason for this: psychotherapy, particularly Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), has been found to reduce cravings and relapse rates as well as decrease the frequency and intensity of depressive symptoms. “Meth addicts must relearn certain behaviors. Because meth has trained them to associate all pleasure with the drug, they need to learn to modify their thinking and expectations,” explains PBS’s Frontline. “Counselling helps them cope with their cravings, examine the personal issues that lead to the abuse, and help them avoid situations that may cause a relapse.” Dr. Edward Ratush, a New York-based psychiatrist, puts it another way:

[With CBT] 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 that 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.

By learning how to create positive change while creating new, healthy associations with pleasure, psychotherapy can be deeply enriching, giving you the emotional and behavioral support you need to navigate the challenges of recovery.

Meth Addiction Recovery At Alta Mira

Choosing recovery is hard and it is brave. And you don’t have to do it alone.

At Alta Mira, we are committed to providing addiction treatment of the highest standard. Our integrative approach combines the best therapies available to create truly comprehensive, holistic treatment experiences that change the lives of our clients. Here, we offer an array of evidence-based clinical, holistic, and experiential therapies to provide multiple avenues toward healing, including individual and group psychotherapy, physical fitness, meditation, and pharmacological interventions. With the guidance of highly trained addiction specialists and compassionate peers who understand what you are going through, you have both the tools and support you need to get through the difficulties inherent in early recovery and commit to ongoing sobriety. Together, we can work to make recovery a positive experience, combat depression after meth addiction, and lay the foundation for a brighter, more joyful future.

Alta Mira offers a comprehensive range of treatment programs for people struggling with addiction as well as co-occurring mental health disorders and process addictions. Contact us to learn more about our treatment options and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward recovery.