The Effects Of Meth On The Brain And Body

Methamphetamine abuse can lead to long-term physical and psychological problems, including addiction, brain damage, mental illness, overdose, and serious infection.

The Effects Of Meth On The Brain And Body

Methamphetamine abuse is becoming increasingly more common across the United States.

Meth can be injected, smoked, snorted (insufflation), or swallowed, all of which can harm a person’s mind and body and lead to addiction.

People who abuse meth on a chronic basis and/or over long periods of time may develop serious mental and physical health problems, some of which may be permanent or deadly.

All forms of meth, including the illegal versions (crystal meth, glass, and ice) and prescription methamphetamine (Desoxyn) can cause a range of side effects and health problems.

Illegal forms of meth are far more potent than their prescription counterpart, but despite this, Desoxyn can be abused in a way that leads to physical and mental harm and addiction as well.

Continuing to abuse this powerful stimulant drug despite the physical or mental damage it’s causing can be a major sign of meth addiction. When meth abuse becomes compulsive, a person will likely spend more energy finding and using the drug than taking care of themselves.

Enrolling in a comprehensive methamphetamine drug rehab program can help to break this destructive cycle, so that a person can regain sobriety and better mental and physical health.

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How Meth Affects The Brain

When a person takes meth, surges of the neurotransmitter dopamine flood the reward circuit or pathway in the brain. This pathway regulates a person’s sense of reward and pleasure.

Because of this, meth essentially teaches an individual’s brain to repeat taking the drug as a means of re-creating this pleasurable effect.

The more a person feels this way, the more intense the cravings for meth. As cravings become more frequent, a person’s abuse can accelerate.

Taking meth, especially in high doses and/or for extended periods of time can lead to brain damage, cognitive problems, and mental health problems, some of which could be lasting.

Fortunately, research has shown that continued abstinence from meth may allow some affected parts of the brain to heal. It also suggests that certain damage is partially reversible.

Methamphetamine Abuse And Cognitive Problems

Prolonged methamphetamine abuse may make it more difficult for a person to think in a clear and productive way. Research suggests that abuse can impair decision-making skills, increase distractibility, and reduce motor speed.

Chronic methamphetamine abuse could cause memory loss. It may also make it difficult for a person to hear, process, and use information.

Methamphetamine Brain Damage And Neurological Problems

Methamphetamine may cause brain damage that resembles certain dementias, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Research has also found that people who abused methamphetamine had higher rates of Parkinson’s disease.

Abusing methamphetamine may also cause structural changes in the brain that could affect a person’s emotional and cognitive functioning. Meth abuse may also harm structures in the brain that are responsible for decision making.

Long-term meth abuse could damage the brain’s nerve terminals. Though rare, crystal meth may also cause changes in the brain’s white matter.

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Methamphetamine Psychological Problems

People who take meth chronically or in high doses could experience mental or psychological problems during or after they use the drug. These side effects can range from negative states of mind to meth-induced mental illnesses.

Methamphetamine Abuse And Anxiety

One of the most frequent psychiatric symptoms experienced by people who abuse meth is anxiety. Anxiety may result from high doses of meth or long-term use. A person may have anxiety from meth intoxication or anxiety from meth withdrawal.

Methamphetamine Abuse And Depression

When a person’s natural levels of dopamine are exhausted from meth abuse, they may develop an inability to experience pleasure from their life, a state referred to as anhedonia. When a person can’t get pleasure naturally, they may develop depression.

As methamphetamine changes a person’s brain chemistry, a pseudodepressive state that shares many symptoms with major depression may occur. Symptoms could include anhedonia, fatigue, a lack of motivation, and low mood.

Further, people who are dependent on meth and regularly take high doses of the drug may experience depression from methamphetamine withdrawal.

Methamphetamine Psychosis

Chronic meth abuse may cause psychotic episodes that resemble schizophrenia.

Symptoms of meth-induced psychosis include delusions, paranoia, and hallucinations. While hallucinating, a person may hear or see things that don’t exist.

Some people may have psychotic symptoms for months or years after they quit taking the drug. Stress may trigger a sudden episode of methamphetamine psychosis in people who have previously experienced these psychotic symptoms.

Tweaking And Mental Health Problems Caused By Meth

Using large amounts of meth, especially over an extended period of time, may also cause:

  • confusion
  • frustration
  • irritability
  • mood disturbances
  • nervousness
  • paranoia

Some long-term side effects of meth can be very dangerous to both the person taking the drug and those around them. This includes homicidal thoughts, suicidal thoughts, or violent behavior.

People often take meth in runs or binges, or back-to-back doses of meth over the course of several hours or even days. Meth runs can lead to a person not sleeping for upwards of two weeks. At this time, a person may begin to tweak out on meth.

Tweaking is characterized by irritation, paranoia, and unpredictable behavior. A person may also become violent and unstable, states that can jeopardize the safety of other people as well.

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Methamphetamine Short-Term Physical Effects

When a person first takes meth, the drug’s stimulant properties can create surges of energy and make the body speed up. An individual’s breathing, blood pressure, heart, and temperature rates may climb at this time. Because meth is so potent, these effects may happen even at small doses.

From the minute a person takes meth they are exposing their body to a range of side effects, many of which are uncomfortable, and some of which can lead to long-term health problems.

The short-term physical symptoms and side effects of meth abuse include:

  • bad breath
  • decreased appetite
  • diarrhea
  • dilated pupils
  • dry mouth
  • headache
  • jaw clenching
  • excessive sweating
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea and vomiting
  • sleeplessness or insomnia
  • teeth grinding
  • tremors

Methamphetamine Long-Term Physical Effects, Risks, And Dangers

Taking any drug over an extended period of time can greatly damage a person’s body, and meth is no exception.

People who abuse meth in any form or any way can experience a range of long-term health problems and serious medical complications, a risk that increases with chronic use.


How Meth Affects The Body

Meth abuse can cause serious physical harm even in the short term, but as abuse continues, this damage can become more severe.

As a person begins to use meth more frequently they may develop a tolerance. When a person is tolerant to meth, the dose they’re used to taking may not create the effect or pleasurable feelings they seek.

Because of this, many people will increase their dose, an action that could push them closer to addiction. The more a person uses meth, the greater the likelihood that they’ll become dependent.

When a person is dependent on meth their body will likely struggle to function in a normal way when they don’t take the drug. Should a person suddenly stop taking meth, or quit cold turkey, they may go into meth withdrawal.

Methamphetamine Withdrawal

When a person who abuses meth on a chronic basis stops taking the drug or significantly decreases their dose they may develop the following signs and symptoms of methamphetamine withdrawal:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • fatigue
  • intense cravings

Many people turn back to meth and continue to take the drug as a way of avoiding these feelings.

Methamphetamine Overdose

One of the greatest physical dangers of meth abuse is overdose. While a person can overdose the first time they take the drug, people who have used meth for long periods of time also face this risk.

A meth overdose occurs when the drug reaches toxic levels that the body can’t eliminate fast enough. Signs and symptoms of a meth overdose include:

  • abdominal cramps
  • confusion
  • convulsions
  • hallucinations
  • hyperthermia (dangerously high body temperature)
  • nausea and vomiting
  • panic
  • rapid breathing
  • restlessness
  • tremor

A severe methamphetamine overdose can be fatal and cause a heart attack, hyperthermia, organ problems, seizures, or stroke. For these reasons, a methamphetamine overdose can be a medical emergency.

Meth Mouth And Dental Problems

People who abuse meth on a chronic basis often develop severe dental problems referred to as “meth mouth.”

Meth mouth can cause major tooth decay and gum disease. This often results in broken, cracked, crumbling, rotting, or missing teeth. A person’s teeth may also be blackened or heavily stained. Because of this, a person may have severe and chronic bad breath.

Teeth clenching and grinding caused by meth abuse can contribute to these states, as can the nutritional deficiencies, dry mouth, and poor dental hygiene that often accompany abuse.

Methamphetamine And Premature Aging

Abusing meth frequently causes people to age beyond their years. A person may look haggard as their skin becomes leathery and takes on a grey cast. As an individual’s skin loses its elasticity, they may have more wrinkles than a person typically should at their age.

Meth has also been linked to the development of certain diseases that are associated with aging, including coronary artery atherosclerosis, pulmonary fibrosis, and liver steatosis (fatty liver disease). Recent research has found that meth can cause cellular aging and inflammation, factors that may contribute to these problems.

Meth Mites And Crank Bugs

Meth can cause tactile hallucinations, which is when a person feels something that doesn’t exist.

Long-term meth abuse may make a person feel as if they have insects crawling on or burrowing beneath their skin. Referred to as “crank bugs” or “meth mites,” the scientific term for this is formication.

Meth Sores

People who have meth mites or crank bugs may obsessively pick at their skin. This can cause sores throughout their body.

Quite often, these sores won’t heal due to the weakened immune system and poor blood flow caused by meth abuse. A person may also have chronic acne and pale skin.

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Injecting Meth: Physical Dangers And Side Effects

When a person injects or shoots meth intravenously (IV) they may have meth track marks or scars or from repeatedly injecting the drug in the same site. People who IV inject meth can also contract HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C.

The dangers of shooting meth also include serious infections, some of which can be fatal without treatment. These include:

  • abscesses
  • cellulitis
  • endocarditis
  • sepsis

Injecting meth into the muscle (an intramuscular injection) or beneath the skin (a subcutaneous injection or skin popping) can also expose a person to the risk of severe infection.

Methamphetamine And Pregnancy

In addition to the risks they face, pregnant women who use meth may be exposing their unborn child to harm and the risk of birth defects.

Dangers of using meth while pregnant include placental abruption and premature birth. Further, babies born to mothers who abused meth while pregnant may have:

  • brain abnormalities
  • cardiac defects
  • cleft palate
  • lethargy
  • small birth and growth size

Some children may continue to have problems as they grow, including neurobehavioral problems such as attention impairments, problems with self-control, and issues with executive function.

Methamphetamine Heart Damage And Cardiovascular Problems

As a stimulant, meth abuse places great strain on the heart and cardiovascular system. In the least, this could cause a rapid or irregular heartbeat or high blood pressure (hypertension), however, more serious cardiac dangers of meth exist.

People who abuse meth can have a higher risk of stroke. Even more, the heart damage from meth abuse can be deadly.

Additional cardiac dangers from meth include heart failure and an infection of the heart called endocarditis. Endocarditis occurs when bacteria enter a person’s bloodstream after meth is injected.

Methamphetamine Organ Damage

Meth’s stimulating effects are very taxing on the body and many vital organs. Long-term abuse of meth could lead to serious organ damage, some of which may be deadly.

Organ damage caused by meth abuse can include kidney damage, liver damage, and lung disease.

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Finding Addiction Treatment For Meth

An addiction treatment program for meth focuses on treating the underlying issues that lead to meth addiction. The most comprehensive programs also treat physical and mental damage caused by chronic meth abuse.

Certain people may need a detox program for meth. Meth abuse frequently causes dehydration and malnourishment, states that may be treated during detox. Once a person progresses to rehab, these and other health problems caused by meth may be addressed.

The best drug rehab programs for methamphetamine offer dual diagnosis addiction treatment.

Dual diagnosis drug rehab programs treat mental health problems caused or aggravated by meth abuse, such as anxiety or depression. They may also treat mental health problems that aren’t related to meth abuse.

By receiving integrated care for both addiction and their mental illness, a person has a higher chance of obtaining long-term sobriety and better physical and mental health.

While outpatient treatment may work for some people, an inpatient drug rehab program for meth is often recommended for individuals who are severely addicted and/or who have a dual diagnosis.

Contact Addiction Campuses today for more info on the risks of meth abuse and how to get help.

American Heart Association - https://www.heart.org/en/news/2018/11/06/meth-use-producing-younger-harder-to-treat-heart-failure-patients

Center for Substance Abuse Research - http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/meth.asp

Center for Substance Abuse Research - http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/yaba.asp

MDedge Family Medicine - https://www.mdedge.com/familymedicine/article/66068/sores-arms

The Medical Journal of Australia - https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2011/195/3/major-depression-among-methamphetamine-users-entering-drug-treatment-programs

Mouth Healthy - https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/m/meth-mouth

National Institute on Drug Abuse - https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-methamphetamine

National Institute on Drug Abuse - https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/methamphetamine

PBS - https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/meth/body/

ScienceDaily - https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150211153838.htm

Science Direct - https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S086743611600002X

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - https://store.samhsa.gov/system/files/pep18-03.pdf

US National Library of Medicine - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3159418/

US National Library of Medicine - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3148451/

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