Methamphetamine is a serious street drug that is being abused with more and more frequency each year. This is a powerful drug that is generally snorted, injected, or smoked and causes immediate neurological and physical effects. Users report feelings of increased energy and alertness, often referred to as a “rush.” Meth, however, is not a safe drug. It is highly addictive, dangerous, and the short-term and long-term side effects of its use are serious and widely varied. It was reported in 2009 by the National Institute on Drug Abuse that as many as 1.2 million Americans had tried meth at least one time during the year prior.
The use of meth provides users with increased levels of energy, sometimes to the point where the user will not sleep for a number of days at a time. Sleep is a time of repair and regeneration for our bodies and there are certain hormones and chemicals, such as serotonin and dopamine, that are only released when we sleep. Going long periods of time without sleep reduces the body’s ability to protect itself against viruses and bacteria, as well as dulling reactions and mental clarity.
Physical effects of meth use can include increased heart rate and blood pressure; if this is to an extreme, heart attack or stroke is possible. It can also cause increased respiration, feelings of anxiety, paranoia, confusion, and irritability. Many users of methamphetamine report difficulties with appetite and digestion while under the influence of the drug.
The brain becomes physically dependent on the drug after a long period of regular use. The use of drugs like meth cause the release of certain chemicals in the brain which occur naturally, but in smaller amounts. Over time, with meth use the brain stops releasing these chemicals as they are being artificially supplemented by the drug. If the user stops using the drug suddenly, the brain does not immediately begin producing the chemical again, which can cause mental and physical effects.
Long-term meth users often display maladaptive mental behaviors as a result of the drug use. They may suffer from auditory or visual hallucinations. Paranoia is very common, and in some cases violent behavior is also reported.
Brain imaging scans on users’ brains have shown permanent changes in the structure and behavior of the brain. This includes reduced levels of dopamine production, which never return to normal levels even after months of abstinence. Deterioration of the area of the brain responsible for learning and motor control are also seen in the brain scans. It is also thought that areas of the brain that are associated with memory can be damaged, causing permanent memory loss.
There are a wide variety of physical effects reported with long-term abuse of drugs like methamphetamine.
Appetite, as noted above, is often severely impacted with long-term use of meth, as is often memory. This means that those who abuse meth long term tend to be thin, sometimes to the point of being frail. Skin can begin to lose its elasticity and sag. Hair tends to lose its luster and sheen, becoming limp, dull, and flat. This can lead to an overall haggard appearance.
One of the most commonly reported physical effects associated with the use of meth is teeth problems. The use of meth reduces the strength of teeth and can wear down the enamel. This can lead to very serious tooth decay and associated gum problems. Teeth lose strength and are more likely to crack and break. While the exact causes of this are unknown, there is a correlation between increased risk of tooth breakage and fractures with increased grinding of teeth. Users of meth often report intense grinding of the teeth while high on the drug.
Certain cognitive issues can result from long-term meth use which can make a person difficult to communicate with. They may develop slurred speech, or even a stutter. Most often, users report increasing difficulties with word retrieval, perhaps as a result of impaired memory and language functioning in the brain. This can lead to a lot of trailing thoughts and an inability to conduct coherent conversation.
Some users report a regular involuntary shaking of the hands and arms, or even full body twitches or tremors as a result of long-term use.
There are a great many psychological effects that are reported with long-term use of methamphetamine. What follows are the most commonly reported:
Long-term use of meth is associated with increased mental instability. Users often become withdrawn, and can even suffer from hallucinations or delusions. Reports of increased anxiety, regular bouts of mental confusion, and lack of mental clarity are also common. Users may find themselves more prone to sudden bouts of irritability, and even aggressive or violent behavior.
Many long-term meth users become very paranoid and this can lead to violent or aggressive behavior. This is especially the case during intense highs or periods of withdrawal. Users can have mood changes that are sudden and can be extreme and dangerous. Visual and auditory delusions or hallucinations are also common elements that will elicit aggressive or violent behavioral tendencies.
Methamphetamine use is a serious and growing problem. Not only is this drug highly addictive, as well as being highly illegal, it can cause a wide variety of physical and psychological problems. From cardiovascular problems to severe tooth problems, meth use is associated with a huge number of negative risks that make it one of the more dangerous street drugs used today.
Being a highly addictive drug, it is incredibly difficult for a user to kick their habit. Withdrawal from the drug can be severe. The physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms can be so bad that the user goes back to the drug so as to relieve themselves of the withdrawal symptoms. This causes a spiral of addiction that is hard to beat. While some of the effects of meth use are irreversible, many of the effects can be reversed with abstinence over time. Though the addiction is hard to treat, there are a variety of resources offering help for meth addiction and those out there who wish to tackle their addiction.