Methamphetamine has gained notoriety for the horrific side effects users undergo after years of abuse. Methamphetamine, or “Meth” as its more commonly called in the streets, can have many negative effects on its users with addiction at the basis of these ailments.
According to a report done by RAND Corporation in 2009, the societal cost of meth use was $23.4 billion in 2005 alone, with an increase in usage in recent years. Side effects vary among abusers’ based on distinct factors such as gender, age, size and heath as well as the type of methamphetamine used and the amount consumed. Studies have also shown that the method of ingestion can also result in certain health issues. Users can take the substance by shooting it up, smoking, or snorting.
As with most drugs, the impact of meth addiction can be far reaching and may give rise to numerous mental and physical health conditions, as well as wreaking havoc on cognitive skills and physical appearance.
How Methamphetamine Affects the Brain
Methamphetamine is a central nervous system stimulant that mimics the actions of neurotransmitters responsible for movement and mood. When ingested it influences the release of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that’s involved with feelings of pleasure, pain, reward, motivation, and other motor functions. Serotonin, on the other hand, is a mood stabilizer. By releasing these chemicals, meth puts the user in a state of pleasure or steady high that may last for hours. It keeps the user on edge and alert even after the initial rush has subsided. However, once the effect has worn off completely, the brain is left depleted of dopamine, generally in a state of depression. Because of the intensive highs and unbearable lows, coupled with extreme withdrawal symptoms methamphetamine can be very addictive. Many users experience both psychological and physical withdrawal symptoms after only a few uses, making it hard for them to quit. Research suggests that by as early as the third use, the decision to ingest the drug moves to hindbrain, the region tasked with involuntary functions such as blood flow.
Common Meth Withdrawal Symptoms
- Extreme fatigue
- Increased appetite
- Severe depression
- Meth cravings
- Mood swings
- Inability to concentrate
- Body aches
The DEA has meth labeled as a Schedule II drug, meaning it has a high dependency rate and is only legally available through a non-refillable prescription for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other mental conditions. Due to its addictiveness, most physicians shy away from prescribing the drug. Even doctors who do prescribe meth are careful to recommend low dosages.
Over time, meth can destroy brain cells containing serotonin and dopamine, resulting in symptoms similar to those of Parkinson’s disease. Most users become tolerable to the drug’s euphoric effects after repeated usage which generally results in them taking higher doses more frequently in hopes of receiving the same effect. With its effects on the brain coupled with chronic withdrawal symptoms, methamphetamine can easily trigger physical dependency and addiction.
Addiction is a serious brain disease characterized by the need to compulsively seek and take drugs despite health or social issues that may arise. Brain imaging studies of meth addicts revealed chemical and molecular changes to the brain after years of abuse. Chronic users often experience severe functional and structural changes in regions of the brain responsible for memory and emotions, leading to a host of cognitive problems. Some changes occur immediately, while others happen over time. Although these changes can be reverted with proper treatment, many may persist long after the drug usage has stopped.
Short-term Effects of Meth on the Brain
- Increased attention
- Euphoria and rush
- Mood disturbances
Long-term methamphetamine abuse can result in the following mental conditions:
- Repetitive motor activity
- Suicidal or homicide thoughts
- Changes in brain structure and function
- Learning impairment
- Inability to think rationally
- Memory loss
Faces of Meth
Methamphetamine can make users feel more desirable and confident, but in actuality the drug can ruin one’s appearance. Hundreds of before and after images, named “Faces of Meth,” circulate the internet and show the dramatic visual changes that meth addicts can experience.
Methamphetamine can cause blood vessels throughout the body to constrict, restricting the flow of blood to certain parts of the body, including the face. With continued usage blood vessels become weak and more prone to damage. This can cause the skin to hang loosely, thinning of the epidermis, and severe acne breakout that may linger. Many chronic meth addicts’ faces are covered in sores and scratches. This is generally the result of drug-induced psychosis characterized by the feeling that bugs are crawling on the skin which can cause violent skin-scratching or picking. Adding to this, methamphetamine, like other central nervous system stimulant is an appetite suppressor and can lead to malnutrition since most users avoid eating all together. Their faces eventually become thinner and hollowed-out because the body begins to feed on facial fat and muscle tissue, leading to that gaunt frightful appearance.
“Meth Mouth” is one of the more common side effects among chronic meth users. It is caused by several factors including rapid tooth decay, poor oral hygiene, dry mouth, and a reduction in saliva production. Methamphetamine causes damage to teeth and gums by shrinking blood vessels and reducing the natural flow of blood to parts of the mouth. Over time this causes blood vessels to die and oral tissues to decay. Tooth decay is usually caused by the increased presence of acid in the mouth due to a reduction in saliva that neutralizes these acids. The cavities formed by the presence of excess acid in the mouth are often exacerbated by the behavior of the meth addict, including tooth grinding, sugar cravings, and neglecting proper oral hygiene practices.
Symptoms of Meth Mouth
- Dry mouth
- Cracked teeth
- Tooth decay
- Gum disease
- Deferred pain
- Aggressive or violent behavior
Other Health Effects of Methamphetamine
Chronic methamphetamine users are prone to other negative health effects on the body.
Physical Effect of Methamphetamine on the Body
- Increased physical activity
- Decreased appetite
- Increased respiration
- Increased heart rate
- Extreme weight loss
- Jaw clenching
- Severe dental problems
- Skin sores caused by scratching
- Dry mouth, bad breath
- Infectious diseases like HIV
- Irregular heartbeat
- Increased blood pressure
- Dilated pupils
- Lung disease
- Kidney failure
- Liver failure
- Vomiting, diarrhea
- Increase body temperature
- Premature birth in the case of pregnant woman
- Heart disease
Societal Effects of Meth
Like heroin, cocaine, and marijuana, methamphetamine addictions affect everyone in the family, and in many cases, the greater community. As with health, issues resulting from the illegal distribution and consumption of meth are far reaching. Law enforcement officials have recognized an increase in identity theft, domestic abuse, child abuse, and forgeries in cities where meth labs are popular. A recent study done by the Department of Justice have also shown that children are often present at these methamphetamine lab sites, many of which are private residences.
The environmental dangers for children living at these sites are far reaching. They risk inhaling toxic chemicals used in the production of the drug, being around unclean needles and unknowingly ingesting the drug themselves. Further, research has shown that underage kids residing at these meth lab sites are more likely to become involve in sexual activities at an early age.
There is also an eminent danger of being around parents and other family members who are illegally selling or consuming meth. Many users fall into a deep sleep that can last for days when withdrawing from a meth high. For individuals with kids this can result in child neglect. Without supervision, the children are more likely to interact with the drug and are left hungry with the possibility of abuse. Sadly, many children have lost their lives from being in these environments.
Reducing the Side Effects of Meth
The best way to reduce and avoid the side effects of methamphetamine is to treat addiction early, but, when it comes to treating addiction, there is no one-size-fits-all rule solution. Each addict has their own unique circumstances and experiences and should be treated based on their individual needs and preferences.
Methamphetamine Addiction Treatment Programs
- One on One Individual Therapy Sessions
This allows addicts to work with a trained therapist privately in order to address any personal issues that may have been at the root of their addiction. The aim of the therapist is to help the addict identify their triggers and learn how to better cope with them.
- Residential Inpatient Care
Inpatient treatment requires the addict to enroll in a specialized medical treatment facility for a specific period of time, general between one and three months. During this time, the addict is evaluated and attends group counselling and therapeutic sessions on site. Psychiatric as well as medical care is oftentimes required.
- Outpatient Service
This treatment option allows addicts to remain in the company of their friends and family and uphold financial obligations while receiving the help they need. For chronic addicts this treatment option may not be recommended.
- Group Counseling
This enables individuals struggling with addiction to attend therapeutic sessions along with other addicts. These sessions are geared towards developing their social skills and improving their communication skills.
As revealed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 1.2 million Americans were reported to have used drugs in 2012. With so many people using the substance there are undoubtedly many in need of treatment. Meth addiction can wreak havoc on the lives of abusers and their families.
If you think you might need help with meth addiction, start by identifying the problem then seeking the help that you need.
Factors Indicating Unsafe Drug Use
- Meth withdrawal symptoms
- Personality disorders
- Bulimia, anorexia nervosa, orthorexia, and other eating disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Panic and anxiety disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Overcoming addiction is important to leaving a healthy and fulfilling life. If you or a loved one is trying to overcome methamphetamine addiction, start by contacting Blvd Treatment Centers at 888-537-6671 for professional assistance.
- NIDA for Teens. (2016). Methamphetamine (Meth).
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2013). What are the immediate (short-term) effects of methamphetamine abuse?
- The New York Times: Societal Cost of Meth Use is Gauged In New Study
- National Institute on Drug Abuse: What is the scope of methamphetamine abuse in the United States?
- University of Maryland Center for Sundance Abuse Research (CESAR): Methamphetamine
- National Institute on Drug Abuse: What are the long-term effects of methamphetamine abuse?