Side Effects of Meth Abuse
Methamphetamine, more commonly known as meth, is an illicit stimulant sold as both a powder and a rock form. Meth is incredibly addictive and begins to work its dark magic on users almost instantaneously.
Meth became a popular drug of choice in the early 2000s. Meth labs run out of kitchens in unsuspecting houses and broken down trailers resting in dusty deserts began to be discovered all over the country. Clubgoers, homeless persons, and curious teenagers alike took to the drug for the euphoric rush and energy it provided. However, these drugs can easily turn from dangerous to deadly without the help of meth rehab treatment.
In this article, we will take a deep dive into how meth affects users as well as the short-term and long-term effects of meth abuse.
What is Methamphetamine?
Methamphetamine is a synthetic stimulant made up of a variety of chemicals. The basis of these drugs is commonly an amphetamine, mainly in the form of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine. These primary ingredients can be found in common cold, cough, and allergy medicines. This base is mixed with other chemicals, ranging from battery acid, to drain cleaner, to antifreeze. These chemicals are used to isolate the ephedrine or pseudoephedrine and cook it into a powder or rock ready to be bagged and sold.
These chemicals create a toxic environment in the meth lab. For each pound of meth cooked, five pounds of toxic waste is produced. This waste is often not disposed of correctly, making for a dangerous environment surrounding the lab, with chemicals permeating the items around it. Cooking methamphetamine also poses a threat of explosion as the chemicals used can be highly flammable.
Meth is often likened to cocaine due to its ability to increase energy and stamina in the user. However, meth is completely synthetic, meaning it’s manmade, and its effects last much longer than cocaine. The white, odorless powder is typically snorted, smoked, eaten, or heated into a form where it can be injected directly into the user’s veins. The rock version of meth, referred to as crystal meth, can be both smoked and injected.
Meth and the Body
Meth targets the neurotransmitters in the brain by vastly increasing the amount of dopamine that is produced. This increased amount of dopamine can cause feelings of euphoria, increased energy, elevated mood, and loss of appetite. These side effects typically last between 6 and 12 hours after the drug is taken.
Unlike the normal function of dopamine in the brain, the large quantities of dopamine are not recycled and reused. So, once the flood of dopamine has disappeared, there is a depletion of the chemical. This causes the user to crash, which is normally accompanied by depression, fatigue, and inability to feel pleasure.
Over time, these neurotransmitters become corrupted and the brain is unable to produce dopamine as it normally would. The reward receptors become extremely damaged, leaving the user unable to experience pleasure as they once had before. This condition, called anhedonia, encourages meth users to seek more of the drug so that they can avoid the depressive moods and irritability that settle in once addicts come down from their high.
The damage to the dopamine receptors makes meth a highly addictive drug. To avoid the come down off of meth, some users will go on a “run”, meaning they will continue to use the drug for days on end without eating or sleeping.
Short-Term Effects of Meth Abuse
Meth users begin using the drug for a multitude of reasons. Many users desire the increase of energy and feelings of euphoria to get through a long night of partying. Others are after the instantaneous high and extreme feelings of pleasure. Some even take the drug to decrease appetite so that they can lose weight.
Short-term effects of meth include:
- Increased energy
- Decreased appetite
- Increased physical activity
- Increased wakefulness
- Rapid heartbeat
- Tremors or convulsions
- Increased confidence
- Severe mood swings
- Erratic behavior
- Fast breathing
If it sounds like a human having an elevated amount of energy and avoiding eating or sleeping for days on end sounds dangerous… you would be right. For every seemingly positive short-term side effect comes another more dangerous side effect.
Due to the intensity of the high meth produces, the user becomes addicted to meth quickly. Some users are led to the drug from another gateway drug or are frequent users of cocaine looking for a cheaper way to get their fix. However they got there, many meth users find it difficult to walk away once they’ve used the drug.
The synthetic chemical nature of meth also poses a threat of lethal overdose if the meth is cut with other dangerous substances or is taken in large quantities.
Long-Term Effects of Meth Abuse
There is no shortage of long-term side effects of meth abuse. Firstly, the prolonged use of methamphetamine quickly causes addiction. An addiction to meth is characterized by the user’s insatiable craving for the drug, the need for larger amounts of meth to achieve pleasure, and dangerous drug-seeking behavior.
Addicts choose their drug habit above all else. Things that used to bring them pleasure, like friends or hobbies, now trail far behind their need for their next hit of meth. Oftentimes, meth users become unable to feel pleasure from most other things besides the drug, further fueling their addiction.
Other long-term side effects of meth abuse include:
- Severe weight loss
- Intense itching
- Skin sores
- Tooth decay
- Gum Disease
- Violent and aggressive behavior
- Memory loss
- Changes in brain structure and function
Long-Term Effects and the Brain
Have you ever been walking down a busy downtown street and seen a person who appears to be talking to themselves or responding to something that isn’t happening? Some of these individuals may be using meth.
Methamphetamine has the ability to cause hallucinations or the perception of something that isn’t actually there. Some meth users will have both visual and auditory hallucinations, meaning that they will see or hear things that don’t exist outside of their own heads. These hallucinations can incite erratic and violent behavior as the meth user may believe they are responding to a threat. A common hallucination of meth users is the belief that insects are crawling on them, leading the individual to incessantly scratch and pick at themselves, leaving sores etched into their skin.
Hallucinations often occur in conjunction with delusions. A delusion is a belief or impression that is not swayed by contrary evidence or rational argument. For example, you may be sitting on the bus and a woman turns around and yells at you to stop staring at her. However, you weren’t staring at her at all, so you attempt to convince her otherwise. She begins to become irate and refuses to accept your rationale. This woman is exhibiting a delusion. Meth users commonly have delusions of being watched, followed, tortured, or victimized. They are unable to fully distinguish their thoughts from reality.
Long-term meth abuse damages brain function, leading to these neurological disorders. Studies show that the dopamine receptors affected by meth use may also be associated with impaired motor skills and learning. Long-term users also suffer from structural damage to the brain in areas that affect cognition and emotion, which can explain why meth users experience psychosis.
Another explanation of these behaviors is the increase of microglia in the brain of meth users. Microglia are cells that help clear cellular debris and dead neurons from the central nervous system. While microglia is an immune response intended to keep the brain healthy, too many of these cells can, in turn, harm healthy neurons.
Fortunately, some of this cognitive damage can be at least somewhat improved. Studies show that once users refrained from using the drug for two or more years, their brains exhibited less microglia activity, better allowing healthy neurons to survive. Other studies show that after about a year of abstinence from meth, former users were able to improve their motor and verbal memory function.
However, this is not to say that a long-time meth user is able to regain healthy function in all parts of their brain. In the same studies, structural damage to some areas of the brain was not healed even after years of quitting the drug.
Meth abuse also comes with a risk of stroke, which can cause irreversible brain damage or even death. Meth can even cause a stroke.
A stroke is caused by diminished blood supply to the brain. Extreme alterations of blood flow, heart rhythm, or blood pressure typically occur as a result of methamphetamine use.
Precipitously high blood pressure, vasculitis, and direct toxicity to the blood vessels caused by methamphetamine use can cause blood vessels to tear or leak, resulting in dangerous hemorrhagic strokes.
Studies show that hemorrhagic strokes are more often associated with methamphetamine use. However, methamphetamine can induce ischemic strokes in otherwise healthy young individuals as well. abnormal and irregular heart rhythm or an abrupt closing off (spasm) of blood vessels can result in sudden interruption of blood flow, causing a stroke.
Long-Term Effects and the Body
Meth abuse frequently causes dramatic weight loss in users, causing them to look emaciated and sickly. Things like nutrition often fall to the wayside for meth users, causing them to lose hair and appear unclean. The addict lifestyle also ages users very quickly, with unhealthy skin and premature wrinkles clouding a once recognizable face.
One particularly well-known attribute of meth abusers is rotten teeth. Meth users experience tooth decay and gum disease as early as one year into their addiction. This synthetic, chemical-filled drug prevents the salivary glands from protecting tooth enamel by drying out the mouth. Additionally, addicts typically ignore good hygiene practices in favor of chasing their next high, so tooth brushing and dental visits become a thing of the past. Meth also increases feelings of anxiety, which can cause some users to grind or clench their teeth.
Unfortunately, this tooth damage is ultimately irreversible. Severe damage to the teeth can result in extractions or costly cosmetic dental work. If meth users are able to break their addiction before teeth are completely rotten, some individuals are able to restore some health with fillings, root canals, and crowns.
The bloodied scabs known to adorn the faces of meth abusers are usually caused by picking and scratching of the skin. Many users have delusions or hallucinations of bugs crawling under their skin, which results in ceaseless efforts to claw at their imagined foe.
How to Avoid the Side Effects of Meth Abuse
The only way to avoid short-term and long-term side effects of meth use is to stop using the drug completely. Because meth is highly addictive, this is not an easy feat. Recovery from a meth addiction is best completed under the supervision of medical professionals that can monitor withdrawals and guide the user through the healing process.
Meth addicts seeking to end their addiction will find the most success in hands-on inpatient treatment programs. This type of program allows users to find solstice in a drug-free, supportive environment 24/7 as they navigate the road to recovery. An inpatient program will offer a variety of treatments, such as medical detox support and talk therapy while providing a safe space for former users to rediscover their physical and emotional health.
For assistance recovering from a meth addiction, please contact our team today!