Stimulants are substances that increase the activity of several neurotransmitter systems throughout the brain, and are capable of creating a state of heightened energy and alertness. Additionally, many of the stimulant drugs elevate physiological processes such as heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure 1. Some common stimulants include:
- ADHD medications (amphetamine, methylphenidate).
- Cocaine/crack cocaine.
- Methamphetamine (including crystal meth).
When a person stops using stimulants, they may experience a series of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Often, the physical and mental effects that present during detox and withdrawal resemble a near-opposite of the substance’s primary effects. This means that stimulants, which normally provide feelings of enhanced mood and energy, have a withdrawal period that is characterized by feelings of depression, low energy, and lethargy 2.
In most cases, stimulant withdrawal does not produce life-threatening effects, but it can be difficult to cope with emotionally and physically.
In most cases, stimulant withdrawal does not produce life-threatening effects, but it can be difficult to cope with emotionally and physically. Symptoms may begin immediately following cessation of use, and some of the longer-lasting symptoms may persist up to 5 months afterward, which is why professional help can be an invaluable source of support during recovery 2.
In general, the various types of stimulant withdrawal follow a similar course 2:
- Immediately after a person stops using they may feel anxious, sad, agitated, and experience intense cravings for the drug.
- Following this initial phase, the user will likely begin feeling both mental and physical exhaustion, insomnia, and worsening depressive symptoms.
- Around 12 hours after this initial “crash” phase, a person may notice an increase in symptom severity that can last from 96 hours to multiple weeks, accompanied by drug cravings.
The duration of effects will vary based on the stimulant that was being abused. For example, cocaine’s depressive symptoms usually alleviate within a few hours, whereas methamphetamine users may experience depressive symptoms lasting much longer 3.
One of the biggest risks during stimulant withdrawal is intense depression that can be associated with suicidal ideation 2. Having a doctor or therapist on-site, or otherwise easily accessible, can make a huge difference for a person struggling with harmful thoughts – one of the many ways that professional treatment programs can help recovering users through the difficult stimulant withdrawal period.
What Happens During Stimulant Detox?
Once a treatment program is selected, the patient will meet with a doctor or treatment advisor to determine the best course of action. Treatment always begins with detoxification, wherein all of the substances are cleared from the body through abstinence.
Stimulants clear from the body relatively quickly, generally within a couple days, depending on the dose and frequency of use. As the drug leaves the body, withdrawal symptoms may set in. The withdrawal period for stimulants can last anywhere between a couple days to a couple months.
Professional monitoring proves to be a key component of successful detox for many people. Psychological symptoms can be difficult to cope with alone, and having encouraging support throughout the challenges often makes a big difference for recovering users.
Antidepressants may be prescribed to help recovering patients in the event that clinically significant, impairing mental health conditions arise following stimulant use cessation. Use of these medications will generally be reserved until after the acute withdrawal phase has passed 4:
- Sedative anxiolytics or other forms of anti-anxiety medications may sometimes be used, in the short term to help with the anxiety associated with withdrawal.
- Similarly, a short course of antipsychotic medication may be indicated should significant signs of psychosis emerge during the recovery period.
Once detox is complete, the patient begins participating in therapy and counseling sessions, both in a group and one-on-one with a doctor. Therapy will help recovering users learn how to cope with cravings, resist relapse, and find fulfillment without stimulants.
Why Should I Enter a Stimulant Detox Program?
Medical complications during stimulant detox are not generally life-threatening. Symptoms are mainly agitation and mood fluctuations 2. Physical manifestations of stimulant withdrawal are generally limited to fatigue and a general loss of energy, neither of which are dangerous 2.
While the physical symptoms of stimulant detox are unpleasant, they are fleeting, and rarely pose serious health risks. However, some users may be especially affected by significant mood changes. Intense depression, especially in people who suffer from a mood disorder regardless of substance use, can be accompanied by suicidal thoughts 2. Psychological symptoms of this severity can feel unbearable for some people, and professional help may be necessary to ensure the safety of recovering stimulant users.
Every treatment plan, including detox, will be tailored to the individual. Because each person begins using for different reasons, it is vital that professional treatment meets each person’s unique needs.
How to Find a Detox Program
Looking for the right treatment and detox program can seem daunting, but there is help available to anyone seeking it. There are several things to consider when selecting a treatment program for stimulant abuse or addiction:
- Do you prefer inpatient or outpatient care? Both program types will typically involve detox as well as therapy and counseling sessions to help a person learn how to cope with cravings and resist relapse. Inpatient treatment involves a stay at a sober facility, whereas outpatient programs allow a person to work treatment from home. Evaluation by a physician or other addiction treatment specialist can be helpful prior to selecting treatment, as they will be able to make a recommendation for the type most likely to benefit the recovering individual.
- Do you want to stay close to home or get away? Some people find that taking an extended break from their hometown provides them the best mental space to work through their substance abuse problems, while others prefer to stay close to the comforts of home and take advantage of the support of family/friends.
- Does it offer medically-assisted detox? Having professional medical or psychological monitoring can make a big difference in a person’s stimulant detox, especially when it comes to poly-substance use or a dual diagnosis (co-occurrence of a mental health disorder with a substance use disorder).
- Does the program specialize in stimulant abuse treatment? Finding a program that has experience helping people addicted to stimulants means that they have dealt with the issues surrounding stimulant detox and withdrawal before and are better equipped to help patients.
Withdrawing from stimulants can give rise to a range of effects, mostly psychological. Relapse and depression are the biggest risks, and having professional support provides many users with the motivation and strength to stop using. For help finding a program to suit your needs, call us at 1-888-744-0069Who Answers? to speak with a treatment program advisor.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). What are stimulants?
- National Center for Biotechnology Information. Chapter 5 – Medical aspects of stimulant use disorder. Treatment for Stimulant Use Disorders.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2001).
- Australian Government Department of Health. (2004). The place of pharmacotherapies. Models of Intervention and Care for Psychostimulant Users, 2nd Edition.