Stimulant Withdrawal and Detox
Stimulants are a class of drugs that speed up the normal functions of the body. They change the levels of certain chemicals in the brain and can cause “feel-good” highs which make people more focused, alert, and energetic. However, when they are misused, they can become highly addictive and cause negative side effects. Examples of stimulants include ADHD medications like Adderall and Ritalin, as well as cocaine and crystal meth.
People who become dependent on stimulants may experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit or cut back on their use. These symptoms are typically not life-threatening, but they can be extremely uncomfortable and painful. When people go through withdrawal, they tend to experience intense cravings and often start using drugs again in order to make the symptoms go away.
Stimulant Withdrawal Symptoms and Side Effects
Those who use stimulants often or at high doses will quickly build up physical tolerance. This means that the body doesn’t respond as much to the same dose of the drug, leading someone to take increasingly larger doses of stimulants in order to feel the same effects. When the person later stops using stimulants or tries to reduce how much they use, their body will go into withdrawal as the drug gets detoxed from their system.
Stimulant withdrawal symptoms can be different from person to person. The length and severity of withdrawal depend partly on which stimulant a person has used.
Generally speaking, drugs that produce longer-lasting highs are also more slow to be removed from the body and cause longer detox periods. For example, meth produces a high that can last hours and also leads to a longer withdrawal period than cocaine, which sometimes doesn’t cause any withdrawal symptoms at all. The severity of a person’s symptoms also depends on how often they tended to use stimulants and at what doses. Withdrawal symptoms also vary based on whether the person mixed stimulants with other substances including alcohol. People who use meth are less likely to combine it with other drugs, while people who use cocaine over long periods are more likely to also use other substances like alcohol, marijuana, and heroin. Someone who regularly combines multiple substances may end up needing to detox from several things at once, which can add up to more severe withdrawal symptoms.
Physical Withdrawal Symptoms
When people withdraw from stimulants, they often experience:
- Tiredness, which in some cases can be extreme
- Weight loss
- Feeling jittery
- Muscle aches and pains
- Slow speech patterns
- Sleeping too little or too much
Sometimes, when people use a drug like cocaine, they will go on binges for several days. Following this period, they may end up sleeping for one or two days straight.
Psychological Withdrawal Symptoms
Mental withdrawal symptoms that are common with stimulant users include:
- Extreme depression and suicidal thoughts
- Anxiety, agitation or aggression
- Cravings for the stimulant
- Withdrawal from relationships and activities they normally enjoy
- Intense dreams
- Memory problems
Stimulant withdrawal symptoms aren’t generally fatal on their own. However, the extreme depression that often accompanies stimulant withdrawal can cause people to try to harm themselves or others. In particular, methamphetamine tends to provoke long-lasting, severe mental health issues. People experiencing severe psychological withdrawal symptoms should seek help from a doctor.
Symptoms of Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)
Stimulant withdrawal symptoms tend to disappear within a week or two for most people. However, some people experience a protracted withdrawal, where symptoms can last for months and occasionally even more than a year. This is called Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) and is more likely to happen in heavy stimulant users.
The symptoms that accompany PAWS are mostly psychological. Physical symptoms like headaches and nausea tend to only last for a short time. Protracted withdrawal consists of periods of fatigue, physical and mental weakness and extreme depression that cycle on and off over the course of many weeks. During this time, PAWS patients are at risk of suicide and should receive psychological care to help manage these symptoms.
To treat PAWS, medical specialists can help relieve some of the symptoms such as providing sleep aids. PAWS patients may also find it useful to engage in a healthy diet and exercise, find a support group and seek treatment for other mental health or mood disorders that they may be struggling with.
Stimulant Withdrawal Timeline
There are several distinct phases of stimulant withdrawal:
- Early crash phase: This phase begins as soon as the effects of the stimulant wear off, within a few hours. During this phase, people will feel the reverse of whatever side effects they experienced while taking the drug. If someone felt very happy and alert while on a stimulant, they will feel depressed and tired once they crash. Other symptoms people frequently experience during the initial crash include frustration, agitation and jitters.
- Middle crash phase: Psychological symptoms usually get worse during this period, which can begin within 24 to 36 hours after people stop using stimulants and can last for one to three days. People often have trouble sleeping and may be tempted to use other drugs or alcohol to help them sleep. During this time, people will start to develop a lot of physical and mental withdrawal side effects. Towards the end of this period, they will likely get extremely tired and may sleep for up to 24 hours straight.
- Withdrawal: Acute symptoms of withdrawal tend to last for a few days or up to a week. While most physical symptoms usually go away after this, psychological side effects like extreme depression and drug cravings can last for weeks or months after a person stops using stimulants.
The stimulant withdrawal timeline may change from person to person depending on several factors. For instance, the type of stimulant someone has been using will affect how long withdrawal takes, with methamphetamine causing each of these stages to last longer and be more severe.
In addition, an extended-release prescription stimulant is specifically designed to last in the body longer and will probably produce a longer withdrawal than a quick-release medication. Those who have used stimulants more regularly, for longer periods of time or at higher doses will also likely have a longer and more intense withdrawal.
Medical professionals may use “scales” to track symptoms that appear for other types of withdrawal syndromes, such as opioid withdrawal or alcohol withdrawal. These scales involve rating the severity of different side effects. However, stimulant withdrawal scales are typically not used, because symptoms can quickly fluctuate from one extreme to the other. Instead, substance use specialists treat withdrawal by managing symptoms as they arise, making the patient comfortable and providing them with mental health care.
Dangers of Stimulant Withdrawal
Stimulant withdrawal isn’t usually fatal. However, going through withdrawal can be a very difficult process to cope with emotionally. Someone can feel very intense sadness and despair and may be at risk of suicidal thoughts during this time. These feelings can sometimes last for months, so people who are cutting back or quitting stimulant use should talk to a doctor or therapist, especially if they have a history of depression or other mental health issues.
Stimulant death statistics show that fatalities related to this substance typically happen because of overdoses. People who take high doses of stimulants are increasingly ending up in the emergency room, especially when they mix stimulants with other substances like alcohol or opioids. Stimulants play a role in about 15% of drug overdose deaths.
Stimulant Withdrawal Treatment
Before a person can begin to recover from substance use disorder, they must first remove all of the stimulants from their system. This initial step is called detox. Following this stage, patients can then participate in rehab, counseling and support groups to help them recover.
Stimulant withdrawal treatment may consist of steps such as inpatient rehab, in which someone lives at a facility for a period of several weeks, or outpatient rehab, where the participant receives treatment at a rehab center during the day and goes home at night. Rehab programs often involve individual counseling to help address the patient’s individual reasons for using stimulants, group therapy where people can connect with peers struggling with the same issues and classes that can teach participants how to avoid further substance use.
Withdrawal symptoms can be severe and uncomfortable. Undergoing detox in a medical facility can help people navigate the withdrawal process safely. Medical detox programs consist of monitoring a patient’s symptoms and intervening when things become difficult to bear. For example, doctors can give medications to help with stimulant detox, such as non-addictive sleep aids or painkillers, to relieve muscle aches or headaches. One of the most valuable ways doctors can help patients during the detox phase is to provide counseling or medication to help with severe mental health side effects.
Detox from some substances, such as alcohol or opioids, can be dangerous and doctors nearly always recommend going through this process at an inpatient facility. However, stimulant withdrawal isn’t usually life-threatening and people may be able to go through detox as a part of an outpatient program.
Outpatient detox involves visiting a facility for medical care during the day and returning home at night. It can be a good fit for people whose withdrawal symptoms are mild enough that they don’t need continuous medical supervision. Other characteristics that make people stronger candidates for an outpatient program include having a strong support network at home and having the ability to resist places or people who might trigger further stimulant use.
Detoxing at Home
Stimulant detox at home is riskier than going through detox at a medical facility, and will probably be more uncomfortable. People detoxing on their own won’t be able to manage their own symptoms as well as a doctor could and may not be able to recognize when side effects are starting to become serious. Furthermore, drug cravings can become very intense and people are highly likely to relapse. Going through detox at a treatment facility greatly increases the chances that people will successfully detox and recover.
People who want to detox at home should plan ahead. They can set a goal date for when they will start the detox process and make sure that they will be able to avoid possible triggers while they withdraw. It’s also very helpful to plan other activities during this time so that people are distracted from withdrawal symptoms and have something to focus on besides cravings. People can also help the withdrawal process by drinking a lot of water and eating healthy foods.
Finding a Stimulant Detox Center Near Washington or Oregon
The Western part of the United States has particularly strong problems with stimulant use. Washington has recently reported elevated rates of methamphetamine-related overdoses. Furthermore, students report high rates of prescription stimulant misuse, with 25.6% of people attending one Pacific Northwest university saying that they had tried using stimulants for nonmedical reasons.
Stimulant withdrawal treatment is available for those who want to stop misusing these drugs. Rehab facilities can guide patients through withdrawal and draw up individualized treatment plans to help people achieve recovery. A mix of medical interventions and behavioral therapies can help people make it through detox, withdrawal and treatment.
Those looking for detox in the Washington state area should consider The Recovery Village Ridgefield detox facility located in Vancouver, Washington, Call us today if you’re struggling with stimulant use and want to begin the recovery process. Our detox facility and rehab center offer around-the-clock care and various forms of counseling that can help you learn how to lead the life you want.
Bavarian, Niloofar; Flay, Brian R.; Ketcham, Patricia L.; Smit, Ellen. “Illicit Use of Prescription Stimulants in a College Student Sample: A Theory-Guided Analysis.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, October 1, 2013. Accessed August 18, 2019.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Methamphetamine.” Updated April 2019. Accessed August 18, 2019.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Emergency Department Visits Involving Nonmedical Use of Central Nervous System Stimulants among Adults Aged 18 to 34 Increased between 2005 and 2011.” August 8, 2013. Accessed August 18, 2013.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Treatment for Stimulant Use Disorders: Chapter 5 – Medical Aspects of Stimulant Use Disorders.” Treatment Improvement Protocol Series, 1999. Accessed August 18, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.