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Breaking Down Meth Use Side Effects


Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant that has remained one of the most abused illicit substances in the modern world. Methamphetamine, commonly referred to as meth, is a synthetic drug that produces strong stimulant effects and long-lasting euphoria in the user.  However, meth use also produces a number of devastating side effects that can change the way the user thinks, behaves, and makes decisions.  

Additionally, meth long term effects also negatively impact the body and the brain, resulting in permanent damage in some cases.  Some of the side effects from meth use are a direct result of the drug itself, and how it interacts with the body and brain.  Over time, these interactions begin to change the chemistry of the brain, and the physical structure of the body as it copes with a constant influx of meth.  

Other side effects from meth use are a result of the illicit manufacturing process for meth, which often includes caustic and dangerous chemicals such as red phosphorus, lithium, fertilizer, and ether.  Although the meth addict may simply be chasing an extension of the euphoric feeling that meth produces upon first use, the sides effects caused by the drug are numerous and incredibly dangerous to the health of the user.

Psychological Side Effects

The use of meth often results in a number of psychological side effects in the user.  Sometimes, these side effects are dangerous and can be unpredictable.  Because drugs affect every person different, these side effects may only appear in certain individuals, while others may experience none of them. However, the side effects from meth use that result in changes to mental states have been well documented and are seen in in one form or another in the majority of meth users.

One of the most common side effects from meth use is an increased state of nervousness.  This frequently manifests as excessively anxious behavior, often without any external cause.  Nervousness and anxiousness are common side effects from meth use due to the potent stimulant properties of the drug.  

When meth enters the system, it causes an extremely heightened state of alertness and energy within the body of the user.  This excess energy is both physiological and psychological in nature.  When someone uses meth, they frequently enter into a state of enhanced nervousness regarding normal situations.  These feelings of nervousness or anxiousness can last for the entirety of the high while under the influence of meth.  

For many meth addicts, once meth has been broken down and excreted from the body they will begin to feel addiction withdrawal symptoms within a short period of time.  As part of these meth comedown symptoms, meth users also describe an even greater sense of anxiousness, often attributed to the need to take more of the drug.

In addition to heightened states of nervousness and anxiousness, meth use also frequently results in a state of paranoia in the user. Paranoia is a common side effect from meth use that can occur from the first time a person consumes the drug. As the illicit drug addiction progresses and use continues long-term, this paranoia can increase to dangerous levels.  

The paranoia caused by meth use can sometimes result in violent outbursts and erratic behavior. Meth users suffering from paranoia may believe that people are talking about them, that they are being followed or watched, or that groups of people are aligned against them.  The dissociative side effects from meth use can be debilitating, and often cause frequent meth users to withdrawal from normal interactions in society.

When meth enters the bloodstream, it binds strongly to the dopamine receptors in the brain.  This results in a buildup of dopamine in the brain of the user, leading to the euphoric feeling that most commonly characterizes a meth high.  However, meth also has a destructive effect on the dopamine receptors in the brain.  

Over time, continued meth use results in the diminished capacity, and eventually destruction, of dopamine receptors.  The psychological effect that this has on the user is immense and far reaching. Dopamine is the chemical responsible for our ability to feel pleasure and gratification.  When these dopamine receptors are damaged or destroyed by meth use, addicts fail to feel normal emotions towards everyday activities.  

This has a number of side effects.  One of the primary side effects is that over a short period of time, meth replaces the normal sources of dopamine stimulation in the user.  An addict must take more meth to feel pleasure.  A second side effect is that following the detox process, these abnormally functioning or nonexistent dopamine receptors cause the recovering meth addict to feel less pleasure in nearly all activities.  

While the dopamine receptors of the brain have been shown to regrow after a period of time, this process can take months or even years.  The result of this side effect of meth use is a long and difficult recovery process, where everyday activities that would normally be pleasurable produce no sense of pleasure.  Navigating this diminished capacity for feeling pleasure is one of the most difficult aspects of the recovery process for many recovering addicts.

Physical Side Effects

The physical side effects resulting from meth use are numerous.  In many cases, these are short-term side effects of meth use.  However, in some cases, the effects can be permanent and lead to health complications long after an addict has undergone recovery.  In a general sense, the use of meth ravages the body and affects nearly all of the body’s systems in different ways.  

The stimulant properties of meth have a general effect of producing a surge of long-lasting energy.  However, the drug also produces a variety of physiological side effects in the body of the user that result in degradation of the body.  The subsequent damage caused by both short and long-term meth use can be difficult for the body to repair.

One of the most recognizable physical side effects from meth use is a significant loss of body weight. The use of meth suppresses appetite and feelings of hunger, allowing meth users to avoid eating.  At the same time, the body consumes more energy under the effects of the drug.  While this was once a targeted effect of prescriptions for meth while it was still commonly prescribed as a weight loss drug in the 1940’s and 1950’s, the appetite suppression caused by the drug is now considered a side effect to the euphoria and high that many meth users are seeking.  

The short-term side effect of meth use is dramatic weight loss.  Many people who are just beginning to use meth will lose a large amount of weight in a short period of time, sometimes weeks and months.  Over the longer term, meth addicts become emaciated as their body consumes any excess fat and muscle.  Long-term meth users can become dangerously thin, which combined with dehydration can quickly become a life-threatening situation.

Another side-effect of meth use is constriction of the blood vessels.  The constriction of the blood vessels of the body decreases the flow of oxygen to tissue, resulting in damage that is very visible and indicates a habitual meth user at a glance.  The most visible example of this is the mouth, with many meth users suffering from extreme dental decay.  

Also known as “meth mouth,” the constriction of the blood vessels in the mouth results in an inadequate production of saliva.  Saliva in a healthy mouth serves a protective function against the harsh acids that exist in the mouth that aid in digestion.  When saliva production is inadequate, these acids will quickly erode the enamel of the teeth and cause damage to the gums and bones of the jaw.  On top of this, the most common form of using meth is through smoking the drug, which releases the caustic chemicals used to manufacture meth into the mouth.  The release of these chemicals into the mouth further increases and intensifies the damage done to the teeth, gums, and jaw, causing extensive decay that is characteristic of a long-term meth user.  Meth users will often have yellowish or black teeth, missing teeth, receding gums, and a disfigured face as the bones of the jaw are eroded.

In addition to the damage done to the mouth, the constriction of the blood vessels of the body caused by meth also results in a number of skin conditions.  The first is that the appearance of the skin loses its luster and becomes less vibrant as it dries out.  Over time, the lack of adequate blood flow to the skin slows down the healing processes, allowing sores to open on the surface of the skin.  

The appearance of the sores is exacerbated by scratching at the skin, which is common in many meth addicts because they feel that something is crawling on them.  This process of scratching and opening sores on the body is known as formication, a side effect common in meth users.  Lastly, many meth users experience a surge in acne and other skin issues, as a side effect of the drug is heightened production of oils in the skin, which combined with the decreased ability of the skin to repair itself results in chronic acne.

A common physical side effect of meth use is the presence of tremors and shaking.  At a fundamental level, the presence of tremors in meth users is a result of the interaction between the drug and the central nervous system.  

The stimulant properties of meth result in excessive energy that often causes increased shaking of the limbs or muscles, and leads to twitching, shaking, and tremors in the limbs and hands.  Tremors and shaking are most often a short-term side effect from meth use.  However, these tremors can be a long-term side effect as well, and may persist after meth use has been stopped.  It is notable as well that long-term meth users have been shown to be more susceptible towards developing Parkinson’s disease later in life.

The last physical side effect of meth use is perhaps the most destructive and long-lasting.  Meth use causes degenerative damage to the brain.  Depending on the part of the brain damaged, there are different effects on the user.  Damage to the occipital lobe, which controls our ability to interpret visual information, often results in intense hallucinations.  

Damage to the frontal lobe affects the ability of a meth user to make decisions, while also resulting in increased violent activity and emotional outbursts.  Damage to the midbrain, which is responsible for motor function, can result in decreased motor function, while also resulting in long-lasting physical ramifications in the user.  While damage to each of these parts of the brain is detrimental in their own right, damage to the frontal lobe is perhaps the most recognizable in meth users.  

Many meth users with damage to the frontal lobe will commit violent criminal acts which lead to their incarceration.  Still others will lose jobs and relationships due to the emotional and violent outbursts that sometimes result from frontal lobe damage.  

Lastly, damage to the frontal lobe results in diminished decision-making capacity, which combined with the effect that meth use has on the dopamine receptors in the brain, often causes recovering meth addicts to make the poor decision of returning to the drug without fully realizing the long-term consequences of their decision.   

The damage caused to the brain in meth users is inexorably tied to the psychological side-effects from meth use as well. Damage to certain parts of the brain directly result in some of the most common psychological signs of long-term meth use. These meth addiction signs, such as violent actions or extreme emotions, poor decision-making, and a decreased ability to feel pleasure, are all related to the physical side effects that meth has on the structure of the brain.   

For some long-term users, the damage caused to the brain through their drug habit has far reaching effects well past when they stop using meth. Some former addicts never experience a full recovery from these devastating side effects, making the effects on the brain of the meth user some of the most destructive and persistent.


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