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Side Effects of Meth: How Methamphetamine Affects Abuser’s Brain and Body?

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Although there are often reports of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seizing hundreds of kilograms of meth, the abuse of the drug continues.
According to a report by the International Business Times, in 2013, 595,000 people said they used meth in the past month. This figure represents a sharp increase compared to the numbers from previous years. On this page, we’ll cover all of the studied effects of meth abuse and addiction.
Meth adversely affects all the major organs of the body, and some damages are irreversible. Meth abuse wrecks the physical and mental health of the user, mars his appearance, impairs his ability to live a meaningful and productive life, and destroys relationships. Even babies born to mothers who abuse meth are not spared; most of them carry the scars in their bodies and minds for years and well into adulthood.

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Table of Contents

The Short-Term Effects of Meth

Meth is a potent central nervous system stimulant and a highly addictive drug. It reaches the brain and signals it to produce large amounts of dopamine, the happy chemical. This produces a rush or a feeling of “high” that meth users crave.Recreational use of methamphetamine is considered an abuse and can be legally prosecuted. 

The short-term effects of meth are:

  • Euphoria or feelings of intense pleasure
  • Increased alertness
  • Increased physical activity
  • Decreased fatigue
  • Increased attention
  • Decreased appetite

The flood of dopamine in the body triggers short-term effects like increased wakefulness and attention and decreased fatigue. Unfortunately, these are exactly the effects that make many people abuse meth as a performance-enhancing drug.
Meth also produces the following short-term effects that, if not treated promptly, can be fatal in the case of an overdose:

  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Irregular heart rhythms
  • Brain hemorrhage
  • Lung collapse due to changes in air pressure
  • Convulsions

The Long-Term Effects of Meth

Chronic meth abuse makes the user tolerant to the drug, so he progressively needs more of it to derive the same effects as before. Tolerance produces physical, emotional, and chemical dependence on meth that eventually turns abuse into addiction.
The long-term physiological effects of meth abuse are:

  • Drastic weight loss
  • Insomnia
  • Damage to the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys
  • Damage to the nasal pathways, a common effect of snorting the drug
  • Sores and abscesses that additionally, increase the risk of infections
  • Dental decay
  • An aged appearance that is the result of poor diet and hygiene, the presence of various medical conditions, and a stressful lifestyle

The long-term neurological, psychological, and behavioral effects of meth abuse include:

  • The addictive disorder that manifests as compulsive drug-seeking behavior
  • Structural and functional changes in the brain
  • Anxiety
  • Psychotic symptoms
  • Mood disturbances
  • Impaired motor abilities
  • Impaired cognitive functionality

human-brain-iconAbstinence can improve motor and verbal learning abilities in most meth users. But sometimes, the psychotic effects of meth abuse tend to persist for months after quitting the drug.

How Does Meth Affect the Brain?

Meth is neurotoxic. It is known to damage brain cells, sometimes irreversibly. Chronic meth abuse damages the brain structures and causes chemical changes. The effects are psychological, cognitive, motor, and behavioral.

What are the effects of meth abuse on the brain?

  • Paranoia, hallucinations, and self-absorption
  • Compulsive motor activities
  • Aggressiveness and violence
  • Decreased attention span
  • Impaired thinking and judgment
  • Reduced inhibition
  • Memory impairment
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Increased risk of Parkinson’s disease
  • Chronic apathy
  • Anhedonia

Meth adversely the following components of the brain:

  • Cells that preserve brain health
  • Neural pathways
  • Nerve terminals
  • Dopamine system associated with perceptions of reward and punishment
  • Areas of the brain associated with memory and emotions

The following are the effects of long-term meth abuse on the brain:

  • Psychotic symptoms similar to schizophrenia and marked by delusions, paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations, and self-absorption
  • Random, repetitive, and compulsive motor activities like twitching or scratching
  • Aggressive or violent and sometimes homicidal behavior stemming from an inability to control impulses
  • Decreased attention span
  • Impaired thinking and judgment
  • Reduced inhibition
  • Memory impairment or loss
  • Increased risk of stroke due to damage to blood vessels
  • Increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease due to reduced dopamine levels
  • Chronic apathy
  • Inability to experience pleasure (anhedonia) that may trigger suicidal thoughts

Some psychological, emotional, and behavioral effects of meth abuse hinder the user’s ability to function effectively as a responsible member of the society, form and sustain healthy relationships, perform at the workplace, and hold on to jobs.

The Effects of Meth on the Body

Meth damages most other major organs of the body like the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys. Some meth-induced changes are irreversible and can trigger life-threatening complications.

What are the effects of meth abuse on the body?

  • Drastic weight loss
  • Insomnia and sleep deprivation
  • Damage to the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys
  • Damage to the nasal pathways
  • Infections, sores, and abscesses
  • Dental decay
  • Stress
  • Malnutrition
  • Aged appearance

What are the dangers of meth use?

Meth Effects on the BodyMeth can negatively affect the health by causing serious and irreversible damage to organs. Meth abuse can also have severe effects on mental health and can destroy mind, appearance, relationships, and ability to live a meaningful life.
Some of the effects on the heart are:

  • Cardiovascular System Damage: Meth stresses the heart by elevating blood pressure and disturbing its normal rhythmic patterns. These can lead to heart attacks.
  • Development of Clots: Meth constricts blood vessels and veins that can lead to the formation of clots.
  • Rupture of Arteries: Meth is toxic to large blood vessels. Continued use can tear arteries and cause fatal bleeding into the heart.
  • Increased Risk of Strokes: There is an increased risk of strokes from blood clots.

Meth damages the liver. Continued use increases the user’s risk of developing hepatitis that can progress to cirrhosis or his chances of succumbing to acute liver failure.
Drug dealers often lace meth with adulterants and bulking agents to increase their profits. Meth can contain toxins like battery acid, lead, drain cleaner, paint thinner, red phosphorus derived from matchsticks, lithium extracted from batteries, and Freon. Most of these elements are highly toxic and damage the kidneys and the lungs.
Meth affects the kidneys in the following ways:

  • Elevated body temperature can cause the kidneys to shut down from dehydration.
  • Consistently elevated blood pressure damages the kidneys and impairs their functionality.
  • Consistently high body temperature and chronic muscle twitching can break down muscle tissue (rhabdomyolysis). This floods the body with toxins that are dangerous for the kidneys. The kidneys may even shut down.
  • Meth can cause urine retention. Backflow of urine can cause kidney failure.
  • Meth constricts blood vessels, and kidneys can shut down due to reduced blood flow.

Some of these damages brought on by meth are irreversible. Kidney failure can result in death if the person does not undergo dialysis promptly. In some cases, kidney transplantation is required, else the person has to undergo dialysis for the rest of his life.
Meth damages the lungs in the following ways:

  • The presence of toxins in meth damages the lungs directly. The damage is greater in users who smoke the drug.
  • Meth vapors increase the number of free radicals in the lungs. This causes oxidative stress that damages the organ.
  • Constricted blood vessels reduce the flow of blood to the lungs. This may cause fluid to accumulate in the lungs. This is a potentially life-threatening condition marked by breathlessness, chest pain, fatigue, and fainting.

Meth Mouth: The Horrifying Signs of Meth Abuse

Meth Mouth Teeth of a Meth User.
Meth abuse wreaks havoc on the mouth and teeth of the user. “Meth mouth” is a term used to describe the characteristic severe dental decay that is common in users. According to the findings of a survey, dental decay among meth users is highest in those who snort the drug.
Meth is acidic and corrosive in nature. Additionally, the toxins in meth can damage the teeth. Users exhibit poor oral hygiene and compulsive behavior like tooth grinding and jaw clenching that erode the teeth. Many meth users also binge on sugary foods and drinks.
In the early stages of use, meth mouth is characterized by:

  • Dry mouth caused by meth drying out the salivary glands
  • Bad breath
  • Cavities caused by the harsh acids of the mouth—now no longer neutralized by saliva—eroding the enamel
  • Red and swollen gums

As drug abuse intensifies, meth users tend to exhibit the following dental problems:

  • Stained and discolored teeth
  • Rotting teeth
  • Missing teeth that are the result of severe decay
  • Gum disease that causes tooth loss

Meth Sores: What Abuse Looks Like

Meth users commonly report a feeling of bugs crawling under the skin. This could be the result of sensory hallucinations that they experience or due to excessive sweating.
Meth users have elevated body temperatures. Excessive sweating removes the protective oils from the skin. This along with dehydration cause a tingling sensation at the nerve endings. This makes meth users believe that bugs are crawling over them, and they pick their skin compulsively.
The following are the features of meth sores:

  • Users scratch their skin with their nails.
  • Users may also use scissors, knives, and other sharp objects when the sensation becomes unbearable.
  • Scratching and digging can lead to open wounds.
  • Meth sores are difficult to heal because the drug destroys blood vessels and tissues.
  • Meth sores increase the risk of infection.

Meth sores is a visible and unmistakable sign of meth abuse. Read more about meth sores here.

The Effects of Injecting Meth

Meth users who inject the drug are at a higher risk of contracting certain other diseases than those who snort, smoke, or swallow the drug. The following are the possible effects of injecting meth:

  • Diseases like hepatitis B and C and AIDS from sharing contaminated needles and other paraphernalia
  • Bacterial infections from sharing contaminated needles
  • Inflammation at the site of injection
  • Allergic reactions to ingredients in meth
  • Skin and soft tissue inflammation caused by toxic bulking agents and/or adulterants in meth

Effects of Meth in Pregnant Women

Meth harms both pregnant women and the fetus. Besides the above-mentioned short- and long-term effects, pregnant women who abuse meth are also at an increased risk of the following:

  • Bleeding
  • Placenta breaking away from the wall of the uterus
  • Miscarriage
  • Premature delivery
  • Babies born with physical defects and mental abnormalities

Meth Babies: Effects of Meth on the Developing Fetus and Children

According to a CBS News report, meth abuse during pregnancy or while breastfeeding affects the physical, psychological, and emotional development of the baby. Meth can cross the placental barrier and get absorbed by the blood and tissues of the developing fetus. Meth can also pass into the system of an infant through breast milk.
Meth babies tend to exhibit the following behavioral problems:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Moodiness
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Attention problems similar to ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

Some of these behavioral problems last till adulthood and make it difficult for the grown-up meth babies to behave and function appropriately in social settings and perform satisfactorily in academic environments.
Additionally, meth babies often display stunted growth, a condition that is typically due to the poor diets and lack of personal hygiene of their mothers. According to findings from research studies, meth babies have higher rates of being born with brain and heart abnormalities and cleft palate than children born to non-meth using mothers.
Besides these effects, meth babies are adversely affected by their mothers’ addictive disorders in several indirect ways. They may experience:

  • Physical neglect and emotional indifference
  • Physical attack by the mother who may be paranoid, delusional, and unable to control her behavior
  • The violence that the mother’s drug-seeking activities may attract
  • Sexual abuse by other drug-seeking adults who they may come into contact with
  • Substance abuse disorders that they may develop as a way to cope with reality
  • Mental disorders resulting from their stressful environments
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Isaak Stotts

About Author

Isaak Stotts, LP

Isaak Stotts is an in-house medical writer in AddictionResource. Isaak learned addiction psychology at Aspen University and got a Master's Degree in Arts in Psychology and Addiction Counseling. After graduation, he became a substance abuse counselor, providing individual, group, and family counseling for those who strive to achieve and maintain sobriety and recovery goals.


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