Experts once thought cases of meth addiction were hopeless — a high percentage would always relapse — but today they know that recovery is possible, although it may take years of medication and behavior therapy.
Because methamphetamine changes the brain’s wiring by destroying its dopamine receptors, users need almost a year to allow those receptors to regrow. Until then, addicts cannot experience pleasure without the drug, and most slip into a deep depression that may cause them to relapse. This depression can be treated with psychopharmacology, and now many treatment programs include prescriptions for anti-depressants.
In addition, meth addicts must relearn certain behaviors. Because meth has trained them to associate all pleasure with the drug, they need to learn to modify their thinking and expectations. Counseling helps them cope with their cravings, examine the personal issues that lead to the abuse, and help them avoid situations that may cause a relapse. Many treatment experts insist that out-patient treatment is essential to recovery, with some programs starting to work with addicts even while they are still using the drug. In addition, some experts believe that because the disease is so debilitating and the recovery process so protracted, meth addicts also need help and reinforcement from the criminal justice system; many newly-formed drug courts keep track of users in recovery and install penalties for not participating in treatment programs.