What Are the Effects of Meth on the Brain?

Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant drug known for its ability to trigger serious addiction. People who use meth undergo a series of short- and long-term changes in their normal brain activity. These changes can alter the behavior of meth users, as well as certain aspects of their basic body function. Fortunately, ongoing abstinence from the drug can partially heal the long-term brain damage it produces.

Euphoria and Depression

Some of the main effects of meth on the brain occur in the regions responsible for controlling your mood. When a user consumes the drug, it steeply boosts the levels of two brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) called dopamine and serotonin. The sharp increase in these chemicals is responsible for the feelings of euphoria that initially encourage repeated methamphetamine intake and promote addiction. However, after each bout of meth use, dopamine levels inside the brain plummet. In turn, plummeting levels of this neurotransmitter set the stage for a significantly “down” or depressed mental state in the user. Some of the other cognitive and psychological issues caused by meth include:

  • Cognitive issues
  • Depression
  • Compulsive behavior
  • Long-term memory loss
  • Intense mood swings ranging from euphoria to depression
  • Anxiety, agitation, nervousness and irritability
  • Secretive behaviors such as hiding substance use
  • Financial, legal, career or relationship problems
  • Isolating from friends and family
  • Preoccupation with obtaining and using meth
  • Erratic, violent or risky behavior
  • Weight loss and abnormal eating patterns
  • Withdrawal symptoms such as vomiting and trembling
  • Poor personal hygiene

Long-Term Psychosis

Psychosis is a profoundly disorienting mental state that can include separate or overlapping hallucinations and delusional thought patterns. A substantial number of meth consumers will develop symptoms of this state, particularly after establishing an ongoing pattern of use. Unfortunately, because of the effect that long-term methamphetamine consumption has on the chemistry of your brain, symptoms of psychosis can linger long after intake of the drug ceases. In a worst-case scenario, psychotic episodes can occur years after you stop taking meth.

Loss of Movement Control

Methamphetamine belongs to a class of drugs called psychomotor stimulants. Essentially, this means that meth effects on the brain extend to your movement control functions as well as your mental and emotional well-being. With repeated use, the drug can trigger something called psychomotor agitation (a term doctors use to describe random body movements that have no specific or intended purpose). Signs of this condition in a meth user include uncontrolled twitching and jerky or repetitive motions that affect the muscles of the body or the face. The list of indicators for methamphetamine-related psychomotor agitation may also include flailing and other forms of more extensive body contortions. Separately, use of the drug can trigger seizures or convulsions.

Stroke Risks

When you consume methamphetamine, the drug produces a spike in your normal blood pressure and simultaneously narrows and inflames your blood vessels. Meth can also damage your blood vessel walls. Inside your brain, these factors may significantly increase your chances of experiencing a stroke.

Brain Cell Damage and Death

Among its other chemical characteristics, meth is a neurotoxin. This means that it can directly damage or kill the main nerve cells (neurons) inside your brain. Main targets for the neurotoxic effects of methamphetamine on the brain are the cells that produce the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. In addition to triggering lasting changes in your normal mood, destruction of your dopamine-producing nerve cells can eventually produce a group of symptoms that strongly resemble the classic effects of Parkinson’s disease. Some of the brain damage caused by meth occurs when a group of cells called microglia, which normally help keep your neurons healthy, start creating an unhealthy chemical environment for your neurons instead.

Other Health Issues

Here are a few other serious health issues that can be caused by meth use:

  • Tachycardia (abnormal heart rate)
  • Heart attacks
  • Poor motor skills
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Decreased appetite/ weight loss
  • Constriction of blood vessels
  • Hyperthermia (elevated body temperature)
  • High blood pressure

Can You Recover From Meth’s Brain Effects?

Fortunately, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports, you can potentially recover from some of the long-term effects of meth brain. If you maintain drug abstinence for at least two years, you have a good chance of partially restoring your brain’s normal chemical environment and regaining at least some of your lost physical and mental/emotional well-being. However, some regions of a methamphetamine-damaged brain may never regain their normal function. Most methamphetamine treatment centers offer both medical and behavioral health treatment. This combination helps manage meth withdrawal symptoms and co-occurring disorders like mental health conditions. It’s essential that people who abuse methamphetamine get medical help and treatment for methamphetamine addiction as soon as possible. This can help prevent further damage. Sources: National Institute on Drug Abuse: Methamphetamine – What Are the Long-Term Effects of Methamphetamine Abuse? University of Maryland – Center for Substance Abuse Research: Methamphetamine The Meth Project: Brain Damage Neurology: Carotid Artery Dissection and Middle Cerebral Artery Stroke Following Methamphetamine Use

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