Long-Term Effects of Methamphetamine Abuse
Methamphetamine users typically experience pleasurable effects during use, while the drug is causing damage to nearly every area of the body. The positive side effects of using meth cause an individual to continue using the drug, despite any risk of harm to the body, especially when those risks are not immediately obvious. Although some of the negative effects of meth use may be reversed after a long period of remaining abstinent, some of the damage caused by methamphetamine can be permanent. This makes it important for those who abuse meth to obtain help as quickly as possible to help overcome their dependence on the drug and to reduce their chances of suffering from potentially permanent negative consequences.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that there are more than 1 million people in the United States who have used methamphetamine in the past year1. Nearly half a million people in the country use meth on a regular basis. This is because meth produces a feeling of euphoria that is about four times greater than that of cocaine, with meth costing a user about one-fourth the cost and up to 20 times the longevity of the high as compared with cocaine, according to a Frontline report from PBS2. Although users feel increased energy, confidence, and focus in the short-term, long-term use causes damage to the body that may be permanent.
Long-Term Effects of Using Meth
Methamphetamine causes damage to the body, not only because of increased dopamine levels over time but also due to the many harmful chemicals used in the process of making the drug. Toxic chemicals such as battery acid, drain cleaner, and antifreeze can burn or otherwise damage cells all over the body. Continued use may cause extensive destruction of cells that can lead to health problems in meth users.
Addiction and Overdose Risks of Meth
Methamphetamine use causes an intense increase of dopamine into the brain, resulting in feelings of euphoria and pleasure. This feeling is so enjoyable that individuals may wish to experience the effects again, leading to continued use. Eventually, natural dopamine production is affected, making it difficult for meth users to feel any pleasure at all without the drug. Over time, tolerance increases, making users need more of the drug to try to get the pleasurable feelings. With increased use, there is an increased risk of overdose. Symptoms of meth overdose as provided by the National Library of Medicine include:
- Heart attack
- Trouble breathing
- Increased body temperature
- Organ failure
Effects on the Brain of Continued Meth Use
When meth is used for an extended period of time, it causes changes in brain structure and function regarding pleasure, memory, learning, the ability to concentrate, and other functions. Neurotoxic effects can occur when the body begins to attack healthy brain cells. Meth use may drastically reduce the user’s ability to think clearly, process information, and may slow motor skills. This can result in potential accidents, such as motor vehicle crashes or drowning. These changes may be reversed when meth use is stopped, but it can take years for even partial recovery to occur. In many cases, a former meth user’s memory, motor functions, and ability to process abstract thoughts can be permanently affected.
Hallucinations and Delusions from Meth Use
Methamphetamine use may cause hallucinations and delusions. Hallucinations may be visual or auditory and may even lead the individual to inadvertent harm if the hallucinations are acted upon. Delusions frequently occur, with the most common being the sensation that insects are crawling just beneath the skin’s surface, resulting in the user trying to dig the bugs out with their fingernails or other sharp objects in extreme cases.
Mental Effects from Using Meth on a Regular Basis
Dopamine is one of the neurotransmitters in the brain that affects mood and mental health. Extremely high dopamine levels over time may lead to symptoms that mimic other mental health conditions, or may make symptoms of a current of underlying problem worse. Some of the mental effects of abusing long-term meth include:
- Inability to feel pleasure
- Aggression and violent behavior
- Mood swings
- Anxiety or depression
- Homicidal or suicidal thoughts
- Symptoms of psychosis
Those who use meth are five times more likely to develop symptoms related to psychosis while they are using the drug than when they are abstinent, according to research information from Australian National University and reported by PsychCentral. NIDA supports that these psychotic symptoms can last for many years after quitting, even if they only occur intermittently.
Long-Term Physical Effects of Methamphetamine Abuse
Methamphetamine damages cells and body tissues, often resulting in long-term health risks. While weight loss may seem like a desirable side effect for some, it may be accompanied by malnutrition and lead to additional health problems. Although meth users may enjoy increased energy and focus, insomnia may results that can continue even if the user quits. The ingredients in meth weaken the body’s immune system and its ability to heal itself. Severe tooth decay and bone degradation in the jaw and cheeks may occur, that are permanent without reconstructive surgery. Skin sores from picking imaginary bugs from under the skin may become infected, and can leave permanent scarring. Blood vessels are weakened, including in the heart and the brain, often resulting in increased blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, or cardiovascular collapse. Organs such as the lungs, kidneys, and liver may also become damaged, potentially resulting in organ failure. Using meth, especially intravenously, can increase a user’s risk of developing sexually transmitted diseases, HIV, and certain types of hepatitis.
Why It’s Important to Getting Help to Getting Over Meth
When the body becomes dependent on meth to be able to feel good, users may not be able to feel any pleasure at all without the drug, making it difficult for users to stay clean. Additionally, changes in the brain make it hard for users to resist turning to meth just to function. Inpatient treatment can help an individual to stay clear of the drug so that the body can begin the healing process. The former user will learn new ways to cope without turning to drug use. Although some adverse consequences from using meth may be permanent, others can be reversed, even if it takes a little bit of time.