Meth's Extreme Harm
Methamphetamine is a highly addictive and extremely dangerous stimulant drug. Commonly known as meth, it is often used in crystalline form (as rocks or crushed up into a powder) by smoking, swallowing, snorting, or injection 1. The effects of meth are felt quickly after ingesting the drug and fade quickly, which leads many people to take multiple doses within a short time 1.
The short-term effects of meth include increased focus and energy, decreased appetite, rapid breathing and heartbeat, and elevated body temperature 1. Chronic meth use can result in a pervasive decline in physical and mental health and give rise to a number of devastating symptoms, including 1:
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 5.4% of individuals over the age of 12 will use meth at some point in their life 2.
Approximately 0.3% of all Americans over the age of 12 have used meth within the past month, indicating a possible ongoing substance addiction problem 2.
Meth relapse statistics indicate that about 61% of meth users will relapse within 1 year of finishing substance abuse treatment 3.
- Confusion and problems with concentrating.
- Extreme weight loss.
- Dental problems including gum disease, rotten teeth, and tooth loss.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Hallucinations and paranoia, even after stopping meth use.
- Itching sensations, which can lead to excessive scratching, sores, and scarring.
- Violent behavior.
Because of the dangers and harmful consequences of using meth, many meth users seek treatment. However, because meth is so addictive—and leads to the development of significant physiological dependence—treatment, and the period of abstinence that it entails, will often immediately usher in a potentially intense withdrawal syndrome, complete with troubling symptoms such as anxiety, depression, fatigue, symptoms of psychosis, and intense drug cravings 1.
The sheer level of discomfort that accompanies acute stimulant withdrawal frequently leads former meth users to relapse.
What Is a Relapse?
Meth relapse occurs when a person returns to using meth after a period of abstinence, such as while completing a drug rehabilitation program or other form of treatment 3. Even if a person only uses meth once after a period of self-restraint, this is still considered a relapse because the goal of substance abuse treatment and recovery is complete abstinence from the drug.
Recovery from meth addiction is a lifelong process that requires ongoing treatment, dedication, and support.
Meth relapse rates are measured by tracking how often people in recovery use meth. Interestingly, meth relapse rates are similar to relapse rates for chronic medical problems such as diabetes, asthma, and high blood pressure 4. This has led many mental health professionals and addiction experts to adopt the perspective that recovery from meth addiction is a lifelong process that requires ongoing treatment, dedication, and support.
It is important to note that relapse does not mean that recovery has failed or that the individual will never be able to abstain from meth 4. Rather, many professionals believe meth relapse statistics indicate that relapse is a natural part of the recovery process 5. They believe that when relapse occurs, it means the patient has not identified the root cause of their drug use yet 5.
For example, many female meth users report that they use meth to cope with depression 5. Therefore, if depression symptoms persist after substance abuse treatment, it is likely that the patient will relapse if she has not found a healthier way to cope with the depression symptoms 5. Relapse can be used as a way to better understand triggers for meth use and can serve as a way to prevent future meth relapse.
Why Do People Relapse on Meth?
Many people who have never struggled with an addiction problem find it difficult to understand why people relapse.
Meth relapse has been compared to the process of toppling a line of dominoes 6. When a recovering meth user first steps outside the protective environment of a drug rehab facility or addiction treatment center, they are forced to face the world and all its stressors on their own. The first problem that arises is like the first domino falling 6. They may be able to sustain their recovery for a while by themselves, but without the help of a relapse prevention program or support group, they will be forced to carry the weight of the problem on their own 6.
As more and more stressors mount, the urge to return to old behaviors, like using meth, grows.
As life moves forward, more problems arise, as they do for everyone. However, for a recovering meth addict, these problems contribute to a mounting world of stress that meth had once erased. As more and more stressors mount, the urge to return to old behaviors, like using meth, grows 6. Toward the end of the line of dominoes, the weight of all the problems and stressors becomes too much, and the result is meth relapse 6.
Others, including doctors Sharon Boles and Nancy Young, say that people relapse often on meth because treatment interventions wear off over time as individuals re-acclimate to the regular world 5. In such cases, professionals recommend that “treatment needs to be reinstated or adjusted or that another treatment should be tried 5.”
Meth Relapse Warning Signs
In order to prevent meth relapse, it is important to be aware of the warning signs. Most people who relapse say that, in hindsight, they could see their relapse warning signs starting weeks or even months before the actual relapse event. Warning signs of meth relapse may include 7:
- Feeling overwhelmed with problems or stress.
- Bottling up emotions.
- Isolating oneself from friends and family members.
- Not going to recovery support meetings or not participating while at meetings.
- Focusing on others’ problems rather than talking about one’s own problems.
- Poor self-care, such as not getting enough sleep or having poor eating habits.
- Thinking about people and places associated with meth use.
- Minimizing the consequences of meth use.
- Talking about the good times associated with meth use.
- Scheming or negotiating with others or oneself to justify reasons to use.
- Looking for opportunities to be around meth.
- Experiencing meth cravings.
Stress and attempting to cope with recovery alone are serious threats to sobriety. To be successful in long-term recovery, it is important to establish a strong social support system, remain diligent about your aftercare, and ask for help when you need it.
What to Do When You Relapse on Meth
Meth relapse is common, so if you relapse, remember that you are not the only person to do so. If you know someone who has been abstinent for a significant period of time, call him or her. Explain that you relapsed and need help getting back on track. Another option is to immediately check yourself into a detoxification program or attend a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.
As soon as you realize that you have relapsed and you do not want to continue on the path of meth use, it is time to take action. Rather than beating yourself up or assuming that you cannot stay sober, focus on what you can do to regain control. You have several options, including:
- Calling a trusted friend or family member.
- Reaching out to your sponsor.
- Calling your therapist for a session or increasing your number of sessions per week.
- Increasing your attendance at 12-step meetings.
- Journaling about all the reasons you have to get sober and maintain your recovery.
- Calling a drug rehab facility or a drug helpline for more information.
Going to Treatment After Relapse
Relapse means many things to different people, but it always sheds light on what is and is not working for your recovery. Use this relapse as a chance to learn more about yourself and work to find a better recovery plan that suits you. This often means reentering some form of treatment after a relapse.
Your goal for future treatment and recovery should be to beat that time and continue to become stronger in your sobriety.
Attending treatment after a relapse is common. If it is your second time or more attending treatment, consider this experience a time to be honest about what did not work for you and what you believe you need in order to maintain your recovery. It is easy to fall into the mental trap of calling yourself a “failure,” but doing so does not help you and is simply untrue. The amount of time that you were able to abstain from using meth is a victory. Your goal for future treatment and recovery should be to beat that time and continue to become stronger in your sobriety.
If you believe you need help understanding what your relapse experience means for you, we want to help. Call our helpline at 1-888-744-0069Who Answers? for more information about the best treatment options following a meth relapse.
How to Create an Effective Relapse Prevention Plan
Relapse prevention is about maximizing your strength and minimizing any factors that may threaten your sobriety. To do that, you need a relapse prevention plan, which is a list of options or steps you can take if you feel yourself weakening to the possibility of relapse.
Everyone goes through periods of self-doubt or difficult days when they think about using meth again. A relapse prevention plan is your guide to dealing with those thoughts and feelings in a way that helps you become stronger and does not derail your goals. An effective relapse prevention plan includes:
- A list of your triggers, such as people, places, or specific emotions.
- Options for managing your cravings.
- Activities and tools for protecting your mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing.
- A list of people you can call in case you feel an urge to relapse.
- A list of 12-step meetings near you that you can attend if you feel the urge to relapse.
- Your favorite tools that you can use to help you cope with stress and everyday problems, such as exercise, yoga, meditation, hobbies, or worksheets.
- A list of your passions, things that are important to you, and people you love to remind you why you are fighting for sobriety.
Over time, your relapse prevention plan may change as you meet new people, learn more about yourself, discover new interests, and find new ways to stay strong.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2017). Methamphetamine.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Methamphetamine.
- Brecht, M. L. & Herbeck, D. (2014). Time to Relapse Following Treatment for Methamphetamine Use: A Long-term Perspective on Patterns and Predictors. Drug & Alcohol Dependence, 139 (1), 18–25.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction.
- Otero, C., Boles, S., Young, N. K. & Dennis, K. (2006). Methamphetamine Addiction, Treatment, and Outcomes: Implications for Child Welfare Workers.
- Gorski, T. (2001). Understanding Relapse.
- Melemis, S. M. (2015). Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery. Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine, 88 (3), 325–332.