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Meth Cravings and Relapse Prevention

Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant drug that activates the central nervous system (CNS) and affects the brain through several monoamine neurotransmitters, including dopamine.1 When people use methamphetamine, they often experience an immediate rush, followed by intense euphoria.1 Meth is commonly referred to by street terms such as meth, crystal meth, crank, ice, or glass.1

When a person misuses meth over time, they may be at increased risk of developing a stimulant use disorder, or meth addiction.1 A possible diagnostic feature of stimulant use disorders may include strong cravings or urges to use meth again.1, 2 Because of how addictive drugs interact with our brain’s reward circuitry, people can also experience meth cravings even after long-term abstinence.3

Understanding cravings is important because relapse is common in people with stimulant use disorders, including meth addiction.6 This article will help you better understand what meth cravings are, how and when they occur, and how to prevent meth relapse.

What Are Meth Cravings?

Meth cravings are “strong desires or urges to use the stimulant,” and are thought to be a learned response associated with long-term misuse of meth. Cravings are commonly linked with specific memories that can be triggered by several cues—including various people, places, objects, and even moods—which can ultimately drive a person to want to use meth again.2, 6

Over time, stimulant use is associated with changes in the brain’s reward system related to dopamine. The temporary surge in dopamine activity associated with methamphetamine is thought to reinforce its use in the future. If a person who quit meth experiences certain cues linked to past meth use, the accumulated changes to the reward circuitry in our brains can result in cravings being triggered, which may make a person feel like using meth again.3

Meth cravings vary among people, as do the cues that activate cravings. For some, environmental cues such as objects like money, a neighborhood, or seeing certain people may induce cravings for meth.3 Meth cravings can also vary in terms of strength, frequency, and duration.4

Why Do Meth Cravings Occur?

Meth cravings occur due to certain triggers that may cue meth use.3 Cravings can occur in people who recently quit using meth and are in withdrawal, or in people who haven’t used meth in several years.3

Due to the rapid dopamine surges associated with meth misuse, the brain can associate feelings of pleasure with external and internal cues. Over time, these feelings become connected to meth use and can encourage a person to use it again.3 Cues can get so intertwined with substance use that they can trigger intense arousal and desire to use meth long after a person quits.6

What Triggers Meth Cravings?

Cravings for meth can be triggered by:7

  • Thoughts.
  • Emotions.
  • Physical discomfort.
  • Physical sensations like sights and scents.
  • Interactions with certain people and places related to using meth.
  • Situations that are reminiscent of when a person misused meth in the past.
  • Drug paraphernalia related to meth use.

How Long Do Meth Cravings Last?

The length and duration of meth cravings typically depend on psychological, biological, and social factors. A person can experience meth cravings while still using the drug, during meth withdrawal, and even after withdrawal and addiction treatment.3

Cravings may be particularly strong for people who recently quit meth and are early in their recovery journey.6 People who smoke or inject stimulants like meth may struggle more because of the rapid delivery associated with those routes of administration.6

How to Stop Meth Cravings and Prevent Relapse

Meth relapse is when a person returns to using meth after a period of abstinence and is often a normal part of the recovery process.3, 9

Relapse prevention techniques may help a person recovering from meth addiction to manage cravings. Being aware of and identifying the early signs of relapse may prevent someone from meth relapse.6, 8

Understanding one’s cues to use meth or other drugs is one way to prevent relapse.8 This understanding can help a person be more aware of situations, people, and places to avoid so that they don’t feel triggered to use meth again. Many treatment interventions for substance use disorders (SUDs) encourage people to avoid their known triggers or anything related to previous meth use to help avoid cravings.6

Additional ways to help manage and address meth cravings include:6

  • Avoiding situations or events that are reminders of meth use.
  • Visualization techniques to help “turn off” thoughts about stimulant use.
  • Calling a trusted person like a sponsor or friend that doesn’t use meth.
  • Participating in activities that promote healthy behaviors like exercising or meditation.
  • Imagining how you would respond to high-risk situations through imagery.
  • Identifying sensory experiences that may act as cues and trigger meth cravings.
  • Writing a gratitude list of what has improved in your life since starting recovery.

Treatment for Meth Addiction

Getting individualized treatment for meth addiction can be an important factor in creating a strong foundation for recovery and relapse prevention.8, 10 In particular, behavioral therapy can help a person learn valuable coping skills to manage triggers and cravings. Modalities used to treat stimulant use disorders are:6

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
  • Contingency management (CM).
  • Motivational Interviewing.
  • Community reinforcement.

Receiving treatment for meth addiction can occur in both inpatient and outpatient settings depending on a person’s needs. Inpatient treatment may be a good fit for people with relatively severe addictions and needs like co-occurring disorders or medical complications in which they live at the treatment facility.5

Outpatient treatment allows people to live at home while visiting a facility on a regular basis to receive services like therapy, counseling, medication, or attending support groups.5

If you are struggling with meth addiction or cravings and are worried about relapse, it’s important to reach out for support. A trusted friend, your doctor, your support group, or your treatment team can help you get the assistance you need.

You can also reach out to American Addiction Centers (AAC) to learn about our addiction treatment facilities and programs located across the U.S. Our caring admissions team is available 24/7 via our confidential helpline at to answer questions, hear your story, and help you check insurance coverage.

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