Methamphetamine (meth) abuse has become increasingly common across the U.S. Meth can be smoked, snorted, injected, or consumed orally, all of which can harm an individual’s mind and body, resulting in dependence and addiction. All forms of meth, including illicit crystal meth and prescription methamphetamine (Desoxyn), can produce a wide range of side effects and health issues.
Continuing to abuse this potent stimulant despite the physical, mental, or emotional damage it’s causing is a hallmark sign of addiction. When meth abuse becomes compulsive, an individual is likely to spend a significant amount of time and energy making or locating and using the drug rather than taking care of themselves, their home, and sometimes, even their children.
How Meth Impacts the Brain
When a person uses meth, surges of the neurochemical dopamine flood the brain’s reward and pleasure center. Because of this, meth essentially teaches the brain to continue taking the drug as a means of reproducing this desirable effect. The more these feelings are repeated, the more intense cravings for meth will become. As cravings begin to take over a person’s motivation, the person’s drug abuse is likely to accelerate.
Using meth, especially in high doses or for extended periods, can cause brain damage, cognitive problems, and mental health issues, some of which could be long-lasting or permanent.
Meth Abuse and Cognitive Problems
Extended meth abuse may make it challenging for an individual to think clearly and productively. Studies have suggested that abuse can adversely impact decision-making and memory, increase distractibility, and impair motor skills and coordination. Chronic methamphetamine abuse can also make it difficult for an individual to hear, process, and use information correctly.
Meth-Related Brain Damage and Neurological Problems
Meth may cause brain damage similar to certain dementias, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have also found that individuals who abuse meth had higher rates of Parkinson’s disease. Abusing meth may also produce structural brain changes that could affect a person’s emotional and cognitive functioning.
Methamphetamine Psychological Problems
People who take meth long-term or in excessive doses could experience mental or psychoemotional problems during or after they abuse the drug. These effects can range from adverse mind states to meth-induced mental health disorders, such as psychosis.
Chronic meth abuse may provoke psychotic episodes that are similar to schizophrenia. Symptoms of meth psychosis include paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations.
Some individuals may encounter psychotic symptoms for months or years after discontinuing the drug. Stress may provoke a sudden episode of meth psychosis in those who have previously experienced these psychotic symptoms.
Meth Short-Term Physical Effects
When an individual takes meth initially, the drug’s stimulant properties can produce surges of energy and accelerate the body’s processes. An individual’s breathing rate, blood pressure, heart, and temperature may increase significantly at this time. Because methamphetamine is so potent, these effects may occur even in small doses.
From the moment an individual uses meth, they expose themselves to a wide range of side effects, many of which are highly unpleasant and may result in long-term health problems.
Acute physical symptoms and side effects of meth abuse may include the following:
- Bad breath
- Loss of appetite
- Dry mouth
- Jaw clenching
- Teeth grinding
- Profuse sweating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sleep disturbances
Long-Term Effects: Tolerance, Dependence, and Withdrawal
Meth abuse can cause significant physical harm even in the short term, but as abuse persists over time, this damage can become increasingly severe. As a person continues to use meth for a prolonged period and more frequently, they may develop tolerance. When an individual has become tolerant to meth, the dose they’re accustomed to taking will no longer produce the effects or pleasant feelings they are seeking.
For this reason, many individuals may begin to increase their dose, therefore increasing the risk of dependence. When a person becomes dependent on meth, their brain and body will begin to become unable to function normally when the drug is not in their system. Should a person abruptly stop using meth “cold turkey,” they will begin to experience withdrawal symptoms.
When an individual abusing meth on a chronic basis discontinues taking the drug or significantly decreases their dose, they will suffer withdrawal effects, including depression, anxiety, and intense cravings. These symptoms may be severe enough to drive a person to use meth again and continue to do so as a way of preventing the onset of these feelings.
One of the more significant physical dangers of meth abuse is an overdose. Although a person can overdose the first time they use meth, people who have taken it for prolonged periods increase their likelihood of experiencing one. A meth overdose can occur when the drug reaches toxic levels that the body can’t process adequately. Symptoms of a meth overdose may include the following:
- Trouble breathing
- Stomach cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid breathing
A severe meth overdose can be deadly and cause a heart attack, hyperthermia, organ damage, seizures, or stroke. For these reasons, a meth overdose is considered to be a medical emergency, and 911 should be called immediately.
Meth Mouth and Dental Problems
People who abuse meth chronically often develop severe dental issues referred to as “meth mouth.” This condition is characterized by major tooth decay and gum disease. This often leads to broken, cracked, rotting, or missing teeth. A person’s teeth may also be heavily stained or blackened. Because of this, a person may have persistent and severe bad breath.
Teeth grinding and clenching related to meth abuse can contribute to this condition, as can dry mouth, nutritional deficiencies, and the neglected dental hygiene that often accompanies abuse.
Meth Mites and Meth Sores
Meth abuse can induce formication or tactile hallucinations, such as that they have insects crawling on or burrowing beneath their skin. When this occurs, it is often referred to as having “crank bugs” or “meth mites.”
People who experience meth mites or crank bugs tend to pick at their skin excessively. This reaction can cause sores to form almost anywhere on the body. These sores often won’t heal properly due to a compromised immune system and poor blood flow related to meth abuse. The individual may also have chronic acne, resulting in further skin damage and scars.
Meth-Related Heart Damage and Cardiovascular Problems
As a stimulant, meth abuse puts great strain on the heart and cardiovascular system. This often leads to rapid or irregular heartbeat or high blood pressure. However, more severe cardiac problems may emerge. People who abuse meth have a higher risk of stroke and the heart damage caused by meth abuse that can become life-threatening.
Additional cardiac dangers related to meth include heart failure and a heart infection called endocarditis. Endocarditis occurs when bacteria enter an individual’s bloodstream after meth is injected.
Meth and Organ Damage
Meth’s effects put tremendous strain on the body and several vital organs. Chronic meth abuse could lead to severe organ damage, some of which may prove lethal. Organ damage that results from meth abuse can include that which affects the kidneys, liver, and lungs.
Getting Treatment for Meth Addiction
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