Methamphetamine is a hell of a drug. Powerful and potent, this man-made psychostimulant causes such a rush of dopamine that it’s not at all unusual for a person to get hooked after only a single use. Not only is it one of the most addictive on the planet, but its progression is fast–and deadly. Overdose-related deaths broke a record in 2021 with nearly 108,000 deaths. That’s why when we heard about a promising new treatment for meth addiction, we had to look into it. 

Current treatment options for meth addiction

Despite how widespread an issue meth use has become in the United States (14.5 million Americans have used meth at least once, and meth overdose deaths tripled between 2015 and 2019), the existing treatments are pretty rudimentary. 

There’s no medication specified to help reduce cravings, reverse withdrawals, or otherwise deter people from continuing to use meth. Up until now, the only option for people with meth addiction is behavioral therapies like CBT or contingency management interventions. An incentive-based therapy approach called MIEDAR has also been found to be effective for recovering meth and cocaine users. 

We’re not knocking detox and therapy. Both of those services are amazing, life-saving, and highly necessary. They’re vital for short and long-term recovery, and we’re glad they are mainstream practices in the addiction treatment space. But considering that meth is one of the deadliest substances out there, it’s surprising that there aren’t more proactive ways of dealing with it. 

The surprising new treatment for meth addiction

While there are several FDA-approved medications used to treat opioid or alcohol addiction, there’s yet to be one for meth use disorder. It looks like that could change, however, as a 2021 study conducted by the NIDA Clinical Trials Network discovered a promising solution. 

The most unexpected aspect of this potential new medication for meth addiction is that it’s not one drug but a combination of two. And even more surprising, it’s two drugs that have been under our very noses: naltrexone and bupropion

The study combined the injectable version of naltrexone and the oral versions of bupropion. An injection of extended-release naltrexone given every three weeks and a daily extended-release bupropion pill was highly effective in the double-blind clinical trial. While the combination is no cure for meth addiction, participants reported fewer cravings than their peers in the control group who received placebos and showed greater overall improvement according to the provided questionnaire.  

Why is this combination so effective?

On their own, both substances appeared to be mostly ineffective for treating meth addiction individually.  Researchers say the 11% success rate of the study is similar to that of tests of now FDA-approved medications for treating mental illness. Better yet, it didn’t result in any significant side effects. The director of the National Institute on Drug Addiction is optimistic that physicians will begin prescribing this to their patients. 

Exactly why the combination of naltrexone and bupropion efficacy, however, isn’t yet clear. Here is what we do know:

Naltrexone is practically a household name in the addiction recovery community. It’s used in medication-assisted therapy (MAT) for the treatment of opioid and alcohol dependence and helps to block the high-inducing effects of drugs–the primary culprit of addiction–though it doesn’t prevent the drugs from exerting their effects on the brain and body, nor the consequential impairment. Naltrexone is also handy as a deterrent for opioid use. It promptly causes unpleasant withdrawal effects when an opioid is introduced into the body. 

In the case of being used to treat meth addiction, the researchers believe it could’ve had similar effects and eased meth cravings. Bupropion is an antidepressant that’s sometimes used to help people stop smoking and alleviates withdrawal symptoms like irritability, increased appetite, loss of concentration, and even cravings, and is believed to reduce anxiety associated with withdrawal. 

Meth Addiction Recovery

Meth use has left a wake of destruction in America. One published study about meth aptly titled Methamphetamine Toxicity and Messenger of Death talks about the alarming efficiency of this stimulant that results in neurodegenerative changes, and how frighteningly adept meth is at killing brain cells). Finding the best treatment for meth will require understanding how these pathways work and ideally stopping the damage before it becomes too severe. 

If you or a loved one is struggling to stop using meth, it’s highly recommended that you seek formal addiction treatment before the meth’s progression gets too far. Find a drug rehab near you today. You can search by state and city to compare different centers and find the best fit for you.