Methamphetamines, better known as meth or crystal meth, don’t receive attention on a national level like the opiate epidemic, but that doesn’t mean meth use isn’t a significant problem in many areas of the country. Around 1.6 million Americans use meth regularly, with use most prevalent in the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and Southern states.
Some of the health risks of meth are well-known, like challenges to the teeth, gums, and skin, but that’s not all the damage meth can do. The relationship between meth and the brain is serious and dangerous. Long-term methamphetamine use can affect the brain in numerous, different ways, changing the ability to think, process information, and make good decisions— in a potentially permanent way.
The Effects of Meth on the Body
Meth is a popular drug made from household products like drain cleaner, lye, and acetone. This caustic batch of chemicals provides a high users find to be enjoyable, but isn’t safe to use in any capacity.
Meth functions as a synthetic form of amphetamines, providing energy and alertness. Unlike other drugs, like marijuana, that yield a calming effect, meth wires its users for action. Meth users regular forego sleep and may stay up for days on end while chasing a high. Meanwhile, the high provided by meth can be comparatively short, resulting in an ongoing need for additional doses.
Some of the physical challenges caused by ongoing meth use include:
- Energy and decreased fatigue
- Euphoria and excitability
- Increased breathing rate
- Rapid heartbeat
- Skin damage from picking or prodding
- Tooth decay and gum disease
- Damage to nasal passage for those who snort meth
- Disorientation and trouble thinking
In addition to these short-term effects, meth can also cause damage to the heart, immune system, and kidneys.
What Does Meth Do to Your Brain?
Some of the more common forms of damage caused by meth, like the appropriately named “meth mouth,” can be seen on the outside, but brain damage is less visible. However, just because it’s not clearly evident doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
The dangerous combination of ingredients used to make meth can affect the brain in a negative way on both a short-term and long-term basis. The greater the dosages and the duration of use, the more likely it is that a user will suffer significant and potentially irreversible damage.
The short-term effects of using meth are somewhat minor and include symptoms like:
- Increased energy and a disinterest in sleeping or relaxing
- Euphoria from increased dopamine production
- Headaches or anxiety as meth is metabolized in the body and effects wear off
These effects may seem inconsequential. However, meth is very addictive and it’s very easy for short-term use to spiral into a full-blown addiction. And, unfortunately, the long-term side effects of meth on the brain can be very serious.
Meth use is correlated with some significant long-term consequences on brain structure and function, including the brain’s dopamine system. This structure within the brain correlates not only with mood but motor speed and verbal learning. This can have a serious effect on emotion and memory, making it harder for those with a meth addiction to display feelings appropriately and recall learned information. Meth can stimulate extracellular dopamine levels by interfering with normal dopamine uptake and enhancing reverse transport of dopamine via standard dopamine transporters.
Meth can also affect microglia, a form of non-neural brain cell. These cells play an important role in identifying and removing damaged neural cells and protecting the brain against some forms of infectious agents. Meth can amplify the activity of these microglia cells in a way that can damage healthy neurons, complicating normal brain function. Imagining studies have noted microglial activity at two times the normal levels in those with a history of meth use versus abstinent adults.
Other potential long-term impacts include:
- Addiction and dependence
- Psychosis symptoms and regular hallucinations
- Decline in cognitive abilities, including information processing
- Death of glial cells
- Increased risk of developing Parkinson’s Disease
Is it Possible to Recover from Meth Addiction?
Addiction is a disease, but that doesn’t mean it’s a death sentence. It’s absolutely possible to walk away from meth addiction and live a life without the devastating effects of drug abuse. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s possible to restore the body to its previous form. Long-term damage may be too severe to treat after cessation of use; quitting meth can alleviate some symptoms but may not result in a significant improvement overall.
This can be particularly true for those who have experienced meth-related brain damage. Some forms of brain damage can be reversed, in full or in part, over time. The changes to dopamine receptors can be restored to near-normal functioning with a year or more of sobriety. However, there are no guarantees, and long-term use may change the brain’s structures to the point that a complete return of normal functioning isn’t possible. For example, the risk of developing Parkinson’s Disease does not appear to decline, regardless of a cessation of use.
It’s important to note that stopping one’s use of meth is always recommended regardless of the damage already done. While going back in time to right past wrongs isn’t an option, ceasing use, even after years of chronic use, is the best opportunity available to prevent future complications. Any problems in cognitive function related to meth use may not fully resolve, but at least they won’t continue to worsen.
For those who want to quit using meth, professional treatment is the best avenue. Medical intervention can ensure a safe detox and the implementation of healthy habits.
The importance of Seeking Help
Getting help for any substance use disorder is very important, but the urgency is elevated for substances like meth that have a lasting, negative effect on health. The nature of meth makes it more dangerous than many other forms of drugs, and prolonged use can cause problems that, if left unchecked for long periods of time, maybe permanent.
Admitting a need for assistance can be a terrifying step, but it’s vitally important for regaining both a normal life and a healthy approach to living. Ceasing meth can improve quality of life and physical wellness by starting the healing process. With professional oversight, those living with a substance use disorder can learn more about making smart choices during rehabilitation and throughout recovery.
If you or someone you love is living with an addiction to methamphetamines, please don’t wait another day to embrace a healthier brain and future. Contact FHE Health today to learn more about how meth treatment can help.