Managing meth withdrawal and detox, new analysis


Methamphetamine withdrawal comes with life-threatening symptoms and can be extremely challenging to patients and physicians.

Samantha Wiendels, an M.A. counseling psychology candidate, sought to understand and address common issues closely related to meth withdrawal by analyzing patients and staff at a Canadian detox center. Past research has been limited and, in turn, has caused rehab centers to develop in-house methods and policies based on their patient’s needs, she stated in her research.

“I was interested in methamphetamine withdrawal because I completed an independent study with a colleague the year before at the detoxification unit in London Ontario,” she said. “During this time, the staff had informed us that methamphetamine use had become a crisis in London Ontario.”

Wiendels was also volunteering through phone support at the London District Centre where callers revealed struggling with heavy drug use, substance dependence, withdrawal, and effects related to fentanyl-laced meth.

“It was clear to me that methamphetamine use had become a great concern in my community,” she said. “Furthermore, after speaking with the manager at the detox center in London, he had mentioned that meth withdrawal had presented unique challenges for their staff.”

Wiendels began by interviewing 34 patients and withdrawal management staff in the treatment center to discover common themes related to meth withdrawal treatment. She then constructed five themes that helped her conceive a better approach to managing meth withdrawal and detoxification while maintaining the comfort and safety of those in detox: education, staged integration, utilization of a two-tiered approach, individualized support, and resource and team collaboration.

The first theme suggests that patients and staff members should be educated on symptoms of meth-related withdrawals and the risks of meth use. This allows everyone to establish realistic expectations and obtain a better understanding of a patient’s requirements through the withdrawal process.

Staged integration could aid patients and prevent close encounters during the acute symptom phase. Withdrawal management could be improved by separating patients experiencing psychosis, irrational or other alarming behaviors until they are stabilized.

Utilization of a two-tiered approach focuses on two stages: physical well-being and physical symptoms; and psychological well-being. In doing so, patient safety is ensured when they are more symptomatic, and it also facilitates motivational interviewing and cognitive-behavioral approaches when patients are more rationally responsive.

Individualized support is needed because meth users experience unpredictable symptoms, various stages of withdrawal, and a combination of environmental, physical and psychological factors. More one-on-one counseling and monitoring are also needed to increase overall safety.

“Addiction encompasses trauma, mental health crises, environmental stressors, neurological changes, etc.,” Wiendels said. “Therefore, it’s important to realize that each individual client enters detoxification at a specific stage of change with their own individual triggers and needs.”

Resource and team collaborations are critical for the advancement of meth withdrawal management. The staff integrates their skill sets to regulate the withdrawal process and when required they request police, emergency and crisis services.

“I think it is important to consider that these methods do need to be replicated,” she said. “I only interviewed clients and staff from one detoxification unit. However, I think it is important to not underplay the role of human experience. We can learn a lot from our peers, and sometimes answers can be found by simply listening with an open mind, no preconceived notions, and allowing one’s research results to arise from the data itself.”

For the study, Wiendels discussed the five themes in relation to… (continue reading)