Learn / Behavioral Therapies for Meth Addiction Recovery

Behavioral Therapies for Meth Addiction Recovery

Hannah Friedman
 May 29th, 2022|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

Because meth addiction is so highly stigmatized, it can be intimidating to admit you have a problem. And it’s perfectly valid to fear that you’ll be judged for doing so. Fortunately, there are expert providers who can help. By connecting with a rehab that treats meth addiction, you can begin healing in a safe and supportive environment.

You can approach this journey in a variety of ways. Behavioral therapy has been proven to work especially well for meth recovery, and research is being done on alternative forms of treatment. Remember that you have options, and that learning to make healthy choices is an important part of the process.

Treatment Options for Methamphetamine Addiction

Meth addiction can be very isolating, and if you’re struggling, it can sometimes feel like you’re the only one. However, research shows that methamphetamine use is extremely common.1 According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), meth is “one of the most commonly misused stimulant drugs in the world.” Because of this, many rehab programs are well-versed in treating this condition.

Unfortunately, no medications currently stop or minimize the use of methamphetamine,2 although scientists continue to research the issue. At present, behavioral therapies are the most effective known treatments for methamphetamine misuse.3 These options are especially helpful in the context of inpatient rehab or intensive outpatient programs.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

It’s unrealistic to try and build a life entirely free of challenges or triggers that might tempt you to relapse. CBT practitioners recognize this, and help you develop the skills to manage your most difficult emotions. Specifically, patients learn how to replace negative thought patterns with positive or neutral ones. By accepting your feelings, and responding to them calmly and rationally, you can make healthy choices and work toward a more sustainable lifestyle.

Contingency Management (CM)

Contingency management rewards positive behavioral changes with incentives, such as rewards or vouchers. For example, if you might get a voucher every time you test negative for methamphetamine use. You can then exchange those vouchers for prizes, like movie tickets, retail items, or snacks. This technique reinforces healthy behavior, helping patients build sustainable habits.

This treatment is especially helpful because of the way methamphetamine use affects neurochemistry.4 According to family physician and personal health expert Dr. Robert Zorba Paster, “Long-term meth use causes changes in the brain visible on MRI scans. This potent stimulant, like other addictive drugs, hijacks the reward system of the brain.” By retraining your brain to respond to healthier rewards, you can reinforce more sustainable patterns of behavior.

Motivational Interviewing (MI)

Unlike other approaches, motivational interviewing is not technically a type of therapy. Instead, it’s a conversational style that can be implemented by a variety of providers, including talk therapists and doctors. This approach invites you to address the reasons you might feel ambivalent towards change. The goal is to empower patients, motivating them to replace negative responses with positive ones. Although this technique can be effective on its own, it’s most often used in concert with other therapies like CBT or CM.

Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention (MBRP)

During MBRP, patients use mindfulness techniques to stay in the present moment, accepting uncomfortable feelings as they are. By simply acknowledging your triggers, you can learn to work through them without resorting to substance use. Mindfulness can help you interrupt spiraling negative thought patterns that may lead to relapse.5

The Matrix Model

This treatment method is specifically designed to treat stimulant addiction. Both inpatient and outpatient rehab facilities utilize the Matrix model, although it’s more widely used in outpatient care. Several studies have shown that the Matrix model significantly decreases patients’ stimulant use.6

The Matrix Model integrates family education,7 behavioral 1:1 therapy and group sessions with the 12-Step model. Patients receive positive reinforcement for non-drug-related hobbies, learn recovery skills, and attend education sessions with family members. These are distinct from family therapy; instead of delving into interpersonal dynamics, providers teach participants. Social support groups are also a core component of the Matrix Model.

Support Groups

Crystal Meth Anonymous (C.M.A.) is a 12-Step program in which participants follow 12 principles designed to help people achieve and maintain sobriety, “one day at a time.” Members attend meetings and connect with peer sponsors, sharing mutual support with people who have similar personal histories of addiction. Although C.M.A. is a faith-based program, they accept people of all beliefs and religions. Their only condition for membership is a “desire to change.”

Not all support groups are 12-Step programs. If faith-based recovery isn’t a good fit, you can connect with a group that takes a more scientific approach. For example, Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART Recovery) empowers each member to define what healing means to them, specifically. In this group, you’ll connect with people who are committed to healing on their own terms.

Many residential rehabs host peer-led support group meetings, in addition to structured group therapy sessions. And after you complete residential treatment, you can easily find similar meetings either online or in your area.

Alternative Treatments

Experts continue to research potential treatments for meth addiction. While more data is still needed regarding the effectiveness of these approaches, some rehab facilities may already offer them to eligible patients. If you’re interested in trying an alternative treatment, you can talk to rehabs about the following options:

  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a treatment that uses magnetic pulses that stimulate the brain, with the intention of changing brain activity associated with cravings.
  • Neurofeedback is a biofeedback technique8 that measures the activity of the central nervous system. In this non-invasive treatment, patients gather information about their own physiological responses, so they can develop coping skills that directly affect brain function.
  • Exercise alleviates feelings of depression during early recovery from methamphetamine misuse9 —and the more you exercise, the better. One study found that among people in recovery from meth addiction, people “who attended the greatest number of exercise sessions derived the greatest benefit.”


Scientists are in the process of developing vaccines that would prevent methamphetamine from reaching the brain.10 However, it may be some time before these medications become available. Nevertheless, learning more about meth’s impact on your brain chemistry can help you find the most effective treatment for your specific symptoms.

Neurological Effects of Meth

During meth addiction recovery, you’ll work on healing physically as well as emotionally. Because of the way methamphetamine affects brain function, its long-term use often causes neurological symptoms. As you start planning for recovery, you might want to look for a program that provides medical care, or one that treats co-occurring disorders.

Harmful Impacts on the Brain

Methamphetamine use can change the way the brain processes dopamine, the neurotransmitter that creates feelings of pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation. Methamphetamine use actually blocks the reuptake of dopamine11 while simultaneously boosting its release. In other words, your brain produces more of this chemical, but processes it less efficiently.

Long-term meth use12 can ultimately damage nerve terminals in the brain. In severe cases, this can interfere with your ability to feel pleasure from anything other than methamphetamine. Some neuroimaging studies have also correlated changes in the dopamine system with reduced motor speed and impaired verbal learning.

Over time, meth can even change the physical structure of your brain.13 One study found that the hippocampus, a part of the brain associated with memory, was smaller in people who use methamphetamine. Another showed that methamphetamine addiction can alter the frontal lobe;2 these changes may interfere with emotional insight.

Mental Health Conditions

Long-term methamphetamine abuse12 can cause a variety of mental health issues, including anxiety, confusion, insomnia, and mood instability. Some people also experience paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions, which can persist for months or years after starting recovery.

Depression and anxiety are both strongly correlated with methamphetamine addiction.2 More research is needed to determine whether these conditions cause methamphetamine use, or vice versa. In some cases, feelings of depression and anxiety might first make you vulnerable to addiction, and then worsen as a result of drug abuse. Alternatively, your symptoms may develop after you start using meth, as side effects of the turbulent cycle of consumption, tolerance, and withdrawal.

Because of this, you may want to look for a rehab center that also treats depression and/or anxiety. Discuss your symptoms with a medical professional to determine the best course of action for you. Luckily, there are many ways to treat both conditions, the most common of which are medication and psychotherapy.

Planning for Aftercare and Long-Term Recovery

Because meth can cause long-term health issues,12 and because the recovery journey extends well beyond rehab, patients should plan for aftercare following residential treatment. Fortunately, with the right treatment, some of these symptoms can improve over time. For example, one study found that self-reported depression and anxiety symptoms were reduced after patients stopped using methamphetamines.

Many of the negative neurobiological effects that result from methamphetamine use disorder can also be reversed, at least partially. Some people show signs of neuronal recovery in certain areas of the brain following at least 14 months of sobriety. It’s important to note that these changes did not appear earlier. To give your brain and body time to reverse the effects of meth addiction, make sure you make a plan to guard against relapse.

Taking Back Control of Your Life

Recovery isn’t easy. But it’s important to remember that this is your chance to build a beautiful life.

As your mind and body heal, you’ll get to try entirely new things and rediscover what brings you joy. That might mean picking up a hobby, building a strong network, or just connecting with the right therapist. You get to decide what comes next.

In a center that meets your needs, you can do more than improve your physical and mental health. The right treatment program for you will also empower you to make better, more sustainable choices. When you’re ready to take that step, talking to admissions staff at a few treatment programs that appeal to you can be a great place to start.

Discover rehab centers across the U.S. with information on pricing, insurance, therapies, and more in our directory of meth addiction treatment centers.

Reviewed by Rajnandini Rathod

  1. Abuse, N. I. on D. (–). Overview. National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/overview []
  2. May, A. C., Aupperle, R. L., & Stewart, J. L. (2020). Dark times: The role of negative reinforcement in methamphetamine addiction. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 11. https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyt.2020.00114 [] [] []
  3. Abuse, N. I. on D. (–). What treatments are effective for people who misuse methamphetamine? National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-treatments-are-effective-people-who-misuse-methamphetamine []
  4. Christenson, K. (2021, February 22). Zorba paster: Promising research on meth treatment is a reminder of addiction crisis. Wisconsin Public Radio. https://www.wpr.org/zorba-paster-promising-research-meth-treatment-reminder-addiction-crisis []
  5. Bowen, S., Chawla, N., Collins, S. E., Witkiewitz, K., Hsu, S., Grow, J., Clifasefi, S., Garner, M., Douglass, A., Larimer, M. E., & Marlatt, A. (2009). Mindfulness-based relapse prevention for substance use disorders: A pilot efficacy trial. Substance Abuse, 30(4), 295–305. https://doi.org/10.1080/08897070903250084 []
  6. Abuse, N. I. on D. (–). The matrix model(Stimulants). National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/evidence-based-approaches-to-drug-addiction-treatment/behavioral-therapies/matrix []
  7. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Counselor’s Family Education Manual: Matrix Intensive Outpatient Treatment for People With Stimulant Use Disorders. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 13-4153. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2006. https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/d7/priv/sma13-4153.pdf []
  8. Neurofeedback and biofeedback for mood and anxiety disorders: A review of the clinical evidence and guidelines – an update. (2014). Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK253820/ []
  9. Haglund, M., Ang, A., Mooney, L., Gonzales, R., Chudzynski, J., Cooper, C. B., Dolezal, B. A., Gitlin, M., & Rawson, R. A. (2015). Predictors of depression outcomes among abstinent methamphetamine-dependent individuals exposed to an exercise intervention. The American Journal on Addictions, 24(3), 246–251. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajad.12175 []
  10. Gentry, W. B., Rüedi-Bettschen, D., & Owens, S. M. (2009). Development of active and passive human vaccines to treat methamphetamine addiction. Human Vaccines, 5(4), 206–213. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2741685/ []
  11. Abuse, N. I. on D. (–). What are the immediate (Short-term) effects of methamphetamine misuse? National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-are-immediate-short-term-effects-methamphetamine-misuse []
  12. Abuse, N. I. on D. (–). What are the long-term effects of methamphetamine misuse? National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-are-long-term-effects-methamphetamine-misuse [] [] []
  13. Thompson, P. M., Hayashi, K. M., Simon, S. L., Geaga, J. A., Hong, M. S., Sui, Y., Lee, J. Y., Toga, A. W., Ling, W., & London, E. D. (2004). Structural abnormalities in the brains of human subjects who use methamphetamine. The Journal of Neuroscience: The Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 24(26), 6028–6036. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0713-04.2004 []

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