Methamphetamine Addiction Treatment Modalities

Methamphetamine, commonly called "meth", is a highly addictive drug that was originally developed as a medical treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obesity, but is now primarily used as an illicit recreational drug. The "rush" of dopamine and serotonin in the brain's pleasure centers of meth users causes addiction, sometimes after just one use. Methamphetamine addiction can be very difficult to treat, and professional management is usually required to increase chances for a successful rehabilitation.


The first step toward successful treatment is for the addicted individual to admit that he or she needs help. This may require an intervention by family and/or friends while the addict is sober. Addiction can be an isolating experience and withdrawal can be difficult not only for the person who is addicted, but also for the family.


If an inpatient program is chosen, professional personnel will help the client get through the challenges of detoxification, which may include physical as well as emotional symptoms. Currently, the most successful treatment programs are those that employ behavioral therapies, especially cognitive-behavioral and contingency-management therapy.


Cognitive-behavioral treatment (CBT) is a form of psychological treatment which has been found to be successful with several disorders, including drug abuse. There is ample scientific evidence that CBT actually produces changes in thinking and behavior. CBT is based on several fundamental principles:

  • The basis of psychological problems is at least in part due to erroneous or harmful thinking

  • Learned patterns of unconstructive thinking can lead to psychological problems

  • People with psychological problems can learn more effective ways of coping, thereby achieving some relief of their symptoms and enabling them to be more effective in their lives


CBT often involves an effort to change patterns of thought and behavior. This enables the client to recognize distorted thinking that is causing problems and take another look at things realistically. It also helps people understand the actions and motivations of others and to develop problem-solving skills to help them deal with difficult situations.

Contingency-management therapy is another modality that has shown positive results in the treatment of meth addiction, either as a stand-alone therapy or in conjunction with some other type. It is based on the principle of operant conditioning and offers incentives, i.e., positive reinforcement, via tangible rewards for desirable behavior. Studies have demonstrated that this type of intervention is highly effective in promoting and maintaining abstinence from drugs. It works on the belief that social, environmental, and biological factors exert a strong influence on the abuse of drugs. Substance use gives the user rewards on different levels. Contingency-management offers rewards that may grow with client compliance with the program. This compliance may involve attendance at treatment sessions, maintaining program standards, and avoiding undesirable behavior. Ideally, the rewards of the C-M program will be seen by the user as equal or superior to the perceived rewards of drug use.


Because reinforcement is so important in a C-M program, the choice of reinforcer is paramount. It must be something specifically valuable to the individual, whether it be monetary reward or a specific item. Therapist and client should work together to identify a reward that is meaningful and realistic. The ultimate goal is to maintain desire for sobriety after the rewards are removed. Relapse prevention strategies to reduce risk of relapse should coincide with removal of the rewards.


Methamphetamine addiction, while dangerous, is treatable. The best programs involve the above-mentioned therapies, while involving family members so they may learn the importance of emotional support in the treatment of the addiction, as well as how to help the patient avoid triggers that may result in relapse.