Reclaiming Life After the Ravages of Meth Addiction

Once someone who’s been addicted to meth goes through treatment, those who love and care for that person may breathe a sigh of relief. At last, you think, the nightmare is over and everything will get back to normal. The reality is that meth addiction is tough to get over. Even after treatment, which may go on for many months, there may be some residual insecurities and emotional difficulties that still need work. New skills may need to be learned, and there’s a whole lot of self-esteem and self-confidence rebuilding required. Still, reclaiming life after the ravages of meth addiction is possible. Here are some points that may prove helpful if you or someone you know and love is entering the early stages of recovery from meth.

Meth is a Growing Problem

The rush from meth is more than three times as strong as cocaine and 4-5 times as long. Statistically, the numbers are staggering. Worldwide meth addicts number 25 million. That’s more than the total number of cocaine and heroin users combined. One-fifth of all meth users are in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Three percent of students in the U.S. have experimented with meth before they leave high school. In the U.S. alone, 5 million people of all backgrounds are impacted by meth. From 20 to 50 percent of the jail population is incarcerated due to meth-related crimes: burglaries, thefts, assaults, and domestic violence. The economic costs of meth use in the U.S. is over 20 billion dollars a year. This includes loss of productivity, medical costs, foster care, treatment, and incarceration.

External and Internal Meth Triggers

Wherever the former meth user goes, external triggers can immediately summon the desire to use. External triggers include the people, places, and things associated with met use – and can be overwhelming to the person in recovery without strong and effective coping mechanisms. Similarly, the internal triggers – intense emotions such as anger, hurt, desire, or fear – can cause the recovering meth abuser to want to use. Again, without a toolkit of effective coping mechanisms and strategies, the individual in recovery is at risk of relapse. The sequence happens in different parts of the brain but it can be simplified this way: triggers lead to thoughts to use. If these thoughts continue, craving occurs. If the person stays in craving mode or moves toward the drug, at some point the individual will do whatever it takes to get to meth. Meth use overstimulates our emotional centers, producing powerful emotions of anger and fear – which can lead to aggression and irritability.

Overcoming Anhedonia

Scientists and researchers know that meth affects the reward center of the brain. In effect, it drains the dopamine supply with the result that activities that used to provide fun, joy, and pleasure no longer are seen as enjoyable. Instead, they seek to lack the spark of life. This is called anhedonia. Even after a person stops using meth, this part of the brain takes time to heal. But the good news for those seeking to reclaim life after the ravages of meth is that the brain does heal. At the cellular level, damaged receptors and transmitters regrow within 6 to 12 months. Brain scans of recuperating meth addicts show the brain healing itself. Transmitters work again and dopamine levels rise. Maintaining effective recovery for a period of a year goes a long way toward the restoration of joy in life’s pleasures. You can begin to enjoy life again.

Multiple Treatment May Be Required

Meth addiction is a chronic disease. Like other chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, meth addiction can be managed. But due to its nature, rewiring and changing the brain, healing takes time. And not all meth addicts heal at the same rate or timetable. Some may require multiple episodes of treatment before the strategies and new ways of thinking lead to effective long-term recovery. This is not a hopeless situation, however. Not everyone who goes through treatment for meth addiction will relapse – although many will. And relapse, while it can be serious, can also lead to a recognition that more treatment is required in order to “get it right,” or to have the strategies and coping mechanisms “stick.” Recovery experts say that the longer a meth addict remains in treatment, the greater the chances to successfully stay off the drug.

Relapse Doesn’t Occur Without Warning Signs

Whether it’s meth or alcohol, cocaine or opioids, relapse doesn’t just occur out of the blue. There are always warning signs, little or big things that, taken together, may precipitate a slip that becomes a major relapse. The warning signs are referred to as relapse drift. Watch out for these – and do something about them before they add up to relapse:

  • Skipping meetings – After you’ve gone for a few weeks or months and stayed clean of meth, you may think you don’t need to go to 12-step meetings any longer. This is a huge mistake and one of the first indications that should tell you – and those who love you – that you may be on the path toward relapse. Rationalizing that you don’t need outside help anymore or that you’ve mastered the disease of addiction is self-delusion. First, those in recovery always need the support and encouragement of their network – 12-step sponsor and fellow members as well as family. Second, your recovery is only strong if you keep working the steps. You can’t just quit. You risk setting yourself up for failure.
  • Hanging out with old friends who use – This external trigger is bound to get the former meth user into trouble. It’s tough to ditch old friends, even if they still happen to use. But that’s exactly what someone in recovery from meth addiction has to do. If you find yourself calling up your old pals or making your way to where they hang out, stop yourself. Think about what this may do to your recovery. Are you willing to risk a major setback? It’s not worth it.
  • Justifying just one time – Sometimes a meth addict in recovery believes that just one time will be okay. Surely a single encounter with meth can’t be that bad, goes the thinking. Again, this is totally wrong. How long did it take your brain to heal from the cravings and urges? Are you really willing to go through all that again – for the simple excuse that you want to get high once more? Remember how it was when you couldn’t get through the day without using meth multiple times? Just once won’t cut it. If you go down this road, you’ll be back to your old habit quicker than water disappears down the drain.Recovery rooms are filled with examples of how this behavior went wrong. Six years clean, ten years clean, and so on – just one time back into meth and they lost it all. Having to start over is tough. Is it worth it?
  • Using alcohol or other drugs – You may think that you can drink without getting into trouble, or smoke a joint to alleviate your stress, or even that popping a few painkillers will be okay. After all, you’re not using meth any longer. This is just substituting one drug of choice for another. What often happens is that the meth addict in recovery starts down this road and before long gravitates toward more frequent use of the substitute drug, followed by a return to meth use.

Treatment and Meth

Why mention treatment again if a person has already gone through it? The reason is that treatment has a dual purpose: to help the individual who wants to overcome meth addiction as well as help a relapsed meth addict back on the road to recovery. In case you think that there’s too much emphasis on what can go wrong, think again. Many recovering meth addicts who relapse stand to lose a lot. It’s not uncommon for chronic meth users to become homeless, lose their families, go into bankruptcy, and wind up incarcerated. Depressed, filled with self-hatred, yet unable to quit using meth, many become suicidal. Even if they don’t act on the impulse to take their lives, the thoughts are devastating. Instead of getting treatment, the chronic meth user resorts to using more meth. It takes a lot of money to feed the insatiable need for meth. After whatever savings are gone, meth addicts turn to stealing from family and friends, then often graduate to theft from strangers’ homes and places of business, even to armed robbery. Yet the bottomless need for meth never ceases. Ultimately, many meth addicts wind up before a judge in drug court. The choice is simple: rehab or jail. Some think they can skate through drug rehab for meth addiction, going through the motions. But the urine testing that’s part of most meth treatment programs doesn’t lie. If you use, you lose. You might get another chance from the judge – if you’re lucky – but more than likely, if you’ve already been to drug court and your follow-up appearance reveals tests that show positive for meth, you’ll be spending some time in jail. This may be just the wake-up call that some meth addicts need before they finally admit to themselves that they need to make major changes to their lives. But you don’t need to let it go this far.

New Life, New Challenges

Once you’re in recovery from meth addiction, life poses a series of new challenges. It was fine during treatment, when you always had help available if you encountered depression or anxiety. You learned a lot of ways to cope with this emotion or that, how to avoid people, places, and things that caused you to want to use. But nothing prepared you for actually living free of meth long-term. It can be a scary time. You worry that you won’t be able to overcome the temptation to use. You devise new routes to drive to and from work, so you’ll be able to avoid going near where your meth-using pals congregate. Maybe you’re married to or living with a partner who currently uses. That’s a really tough situation. If your using partner won’t get treatment, the future isn’t particularly hopeful for either of you. Drastic measures may be required. While you can’t force someone into treatment, you can’t allow your own life to go down because of another’s meth addiction either. You may need to separate for a while, to take time for you to heal further, and perhaps for your partner to want to overcome meth addiction so that the two of you can resume your relationship on a healthier basis. Many meth users in recovery say they’re plagued by uncertainty and anxiety. They feel no sense of self-confidence and have low feelings of self-worth. Nowhere is this more apparent than when the individual tries to find a new job. Maybe it’s the first job after many months or years of joblessness as a result of meth addiction. Maybe it’s trying to find a job after being fired for meth addiction. Interviews for a job are difficult for everyone, and even more so for a recovering meth addict. Anything that requires you putting yourself in front of people can cause anxiety. You’re afraid that they “know” all about your past meth use and that they’re judging you because of it. First impressions are important, but you can prepare yourself to deal with the interview situation. Go over your strengths, talents, and background in the area you’re interviewing for. Rehearse in front of a mirror, shaking hands, making pleasant small talk, smiling while you speak. Take a few deep breaths before you go into the interview. Believe that you will do the best you can, and then go for it. If you take a low-level job just to be able to live, you may wish to enroll in school or take some training to allow you to enter a new field. Perhaps computer training will help. Maybe learning a new language will help elevate your skill-set to make you a more attractive candidate for a different position. One thing that learning new skills does for you is give you self-confidence. With increased self-confidence you will be able to handle interviews easier. The more you learn the more you will find that your horizons are broadened. You won’t be stuck in a dead-end job forever. Life will begin to offer opportunities. This is progress and necessary for successful long-term recovery.

Recovery is a Journey – Not a Destination

Does anyone have a clear vision of the future? Of course they don’t. Yet it’s still amazing that those in recovery from addiction – from meth or any other substance or addictive behavior – think that there will come a day when they’ll be “cured.” They’ll have arrived at recovery and won’t have to think about it anymore. That’s wrong – and for so many reasons. First of all, it’s an unreal expectation to believe that there’s a cure for addiction. Maybe someday there will be a vaccine that will prevent certain types of addiction, or help those who are addicted quit for good. There is a vaccine for smoking cessation that’s showing a great deal of promise and is in Phase III FDA clinical trials. But there’s no such miracle drug on the horizon anytime soon for meth addiction. Abstinence, medical treatment, and long-term counseling with a number of different treatment modalities and participation in 12-step groups are the only current ways to combat meth addiction. You simply have to keep at recovery in order to maintain recovery. The results are worth it. Can you reclaim life after the ravages of meth addiction? You can if you genuinely want to, if you commit yourself to doing whatever it takes to get clean and stay clean and sober. If you start feeling like you can’t handle it, talk with your 12-step sponsor, go to more meetings, get additional counseling. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help. It’s always there for you. When you are stronger and more secure in your recovery, you may want to help a newcomer who’s struggling with the same fears and uncertainties you once had. There’s nothing better than giving to others so that they can begin to have hope for their own future in recovery. In fact, this helps strengthen your own recovery.

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