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Combination Drug Therapy for Meth Addiction

by Landmark Recovery

March 9, 2021
man thinking about combination drug therapy for meth addiction

Combination Drug Therapy for Meth Addiction

Methamphetamine addiction is one of the hardest addictions to recover from as there is no FDA- approved medication to assist withdrawals. However, a recent study shows that combination drug therapy for meth addiction may provide a promising solution for those who battle with meth use disorder.

As the US tries to contain the opioid crisis and the pandemic, fentanyl and methamphetamine use surged during the pandemic in March 2020. Also, methamphetamine overdose deaths quadrupled between 2011 and 2018 among the Hispanic Native American and Alaska Native population.

Methamphetamine remains a serious problem in the US. According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 5.4% of the population (14.7 million people) had tried methamphetamine at some time in their life.

While meth is not as life-threatening as opioids, it still wrecks lives. Methamphetamine is highly addictive and is associated with aggressiveness, sleep deprivation, impaired judgment, and destructive behavior.

There is a variety of medications available for the treatment of opioid withdrawal symptoms. Buprenorphine, for example, helps to ease withdrawal. Naltrexone relieves the severity of cravings, making it easier for a person to resist temptation.

For methamphetamine addiction, though, there is no available medication to ease withdrawal symptoms.

What Is Methamphetamine?

Meth is a powerfully addictive stimulant. It comes as a powder and typically sold in pill or rock form.

Meth can be snorted, smoked, ingested, or injected. When taken, the drug produces a powerful high initially. After the high wears off, the user becomes edgy, anxious and agitated.

Meth addiction has terrible health consequences such as:

  • Broken teeth and “meth mouth”
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Emotional problems
  • Itching
  • Overheating

Perhaps the most shocking and striking effects of meth are physical. The itching causes meth users to pick away at their skin. Sores and scabs are commonplace as a result.

Withdrawing From Methamphetamine 

Withdrawing from a methamphetamine addiction is not physically dangerous, but it’s such a powerful substance that a person can have tremendous psychological withdrawal symptoms.

Methamphetamine is a very powerful stimulant. Withdrawing from stimulants is different to withdrawing from sedative drugs like opioids.

When you stop taking stimulants, you experience a crash. The body of a methamphetamine addict will not be in any danger. Young people especially can repair quickly, as long as they get enough sleep and nutrition.

The initial stages of withdrawal are called stabilization. On entering a treatment program, a person typically crashes for several days, often sleeping for most of this time.

There is no point in attempting any therapy until after stabilization. At this stage, patients are typically agitated, anxious, and non-receptive.

The psychological side of meth withdrawal is far more serious. For a methamphetamine addict, cravings are intense. It’s more appropriate for someone withdrawing from meth to attend treatment as an inpatient. Accessing methamphetamine will be impossible without leaving the treatment center.

Methamphetamine withdrawal creates a range of psychological issues ranging from depression, high anxiety, and agitation. When a person starts treatment, other mental health problems may surface that were hidden by the meth. Disorders like ADHD or bipolar may become apparent once the person is no longer substance use-impaired.

Many users of methamphetamine started using the drug to cope with mental health issues. Resultantly, they end up with the mental illness of addiction to compound any pre-existing mental health disorders.

Medication is frequently prescribed to people withdrawing from methamphetamine with a co-occurring mental health condition.

Once the person has stabilized, they move on to have group therapy, individual therapy, exercise, and nutrition as part of the overarching treatment plan.

Combination Drug Therapy for Meth Addiction

There is no FDA-approved medication specifically intended for methamphetamine withdrawal. There is, however, a promising new discovery.

A study published in the New York Journal of Medicine in January 2021 discovered that combining naltrexone and bupropion could be beneficial for easing the cravings associated with meth withdrawal

Naltrexone is typically prescribed to people recovering from opioid addiction as it helps with cravings. Bupropion – also called Wellbutrin and Zyban – is officially prescribed as an antidepressant and a smoking cessation aid.

The study, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, found that the combination drug treatment yielded positive results (a negative urine test) in 13.5% of the 403 meth-addicted subjects. This result was significantly more positive than the placebo group. This group produced 2.5% positive results.

The good news is that both naltrexone and bupropion are approved by the Federal Drug Administration. This combination drug treatment can be prescribed immediately to assist people who wish to detox from methamphetamine.

While the new drug treatment isn’t a magic bullet, some subjects found that the combination of naltrexone and bupropion eradicated any desire to take meth.

How The Combination Works

Dr Trivedi, the study lead, explained why the combination is effective for treating patients withdrawing from methamphetamine.

It is suggested that the bupropion acts with the dopamine and norepinephrine. This may cushion the harshness of the withdrawal symptoms. Naltrexone, on the other hand, reduces cravings for methamphetamine.

Future Treatment Options

Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse is pleased with the results of the study. Now she says it’s time to work with the FDA to find a way to make treatment option available for meth users wishing to discontinue use.

This discovery couldn’t have come at a better time.

What Comes Next

If you’re struggling with meth addiction, the team at Landmark Recovery specializes in helping people just like you reclaim a life worth living. Our goal is to help a million people over the coming decade to embrace sustained sobriety.

To take the next step, call our admissions team right now at 888-448-0302.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.