Methamphetamine, also referred to as meth or crystal meth, is a powerful stimulant that directly affects the central nervous system. Originally used in nasal decongestants in the early 20th century, methamphetamine is medically intended to treat individuals suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, affecting chemicals in the brain that influence brain overactivity. It is also used to treat obesity patients as an aid in weight loss.

Methamphetamine is a highly potent and frequently abused drug. Though intended for medical use, it is more recreationally known for its long-standing highs, creating a state of euphoria in users for up to 12 hours. However, methamphetamine can pose a number of physical and psychological health risks. Long-term abuse can cause a major decline in IQ, induce a state of psychosis and irreversible damage to nerve cells.

On the street, recreational methamphetamine has a number of names. Some of the most common include:

  • Speed
  • Ice
  • Crank
  • Getgo
  • Mexican crack
  • Tweak
  • Tick tick
  • Chalk
  • Beannies
  • Fast
  • Crypto
how does meth affect the brain

The brain is comprised of neurotransmitters, or brain chemicals that send messages from the brain to the body. Methamphetamine affects a number of these transmitters, but the most affected is dopamine, or the pleasure neurotransmitter. When triggered, dopamine sends pleasure signals to various parts of the body and brain and is then stored for later use.

When a person uses methamphetamine, an excess of dopamine is released into the brain causing users to feel an excess of pleasure or a high. Unlike normal brain functionality, the dopamine released is not recycled and stored for later, which in turn overstimulates the brain. Instead, it remains in the body until the high is replaced with the crash of unpleasant feelings. In order to replicate that feeling and avoid the crash, users will want more of the drug at higher doses.

Long-term meth addiction use can cause extensive damage not only to the body, but also to the brain. Some damage may be irreversible. Continued methamphetamine abuse can severely damage dopamine and serotonin neurons, affecting how a person feels, acts and thinks. Severe damage to these neurons could cause a user to experience symptoms of depression, paranoia and hallucinations.

Meth abuse can also affect the blood pressure. Long-term abuse can cause damage to blood vessels in the brain, causing brain bleeds and an increased risk of stroke. Toxins from the drug can impair memory, cause a loss of motor skills and coordination, and severely influence a decline in intelligence.

There are a number of tell-tale signs indicating when someone is abusing a substance. Individuals suffering from methamphetamine addiction have more distinct physical symptoms, specifically involving the skin. Frequent meth abuse over time can destroy blood vessels, affecting the body’s ability to repair itself. In addition, meth abuse constricts blood flow to various parts of the body. As a result, some meth users lose color and elasticity in their skin.

Severe meth addiction can also cause users to experience formication — a tingling sensation resembling insects crawling under the skin. This prickly sensation is followed by “crank bugs” — hallucinations of bugs crawling under the skin — prompting users to incessantly pick at their skin to rid themselves of the “bugs.” Since their skin has lost its ability to repair itself, meth addicts suffer from open wounds, or meth sores, that take longer to heal. Chronic meth abusers are covered with these sores, predominantly on their faces and arms.

Frequent methamphetamine abuse also affects the teeth, causing users to develop meth mouth symptoms. Meth dries out the salivary glands needed to break down acids from food and bacteria. As a result, these acids begin to eat away at tooth enamel and cause teeth to decay and fall out. Much of this damage is irreversible, but greatly depend on the user and the severity of the addiction. Whereas some addicts may develop rotten teeth, others may only suffer from mild cavities and inflamed gums.

Methamphetamine abuse symptoms vary from one person to the next. Although some symptoms are more severe from chronic abuse, other common symptoms include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased body temperature
  • Seizures
  • Weight loss
  • Depression
  • Disorientation
  • Panic
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Psychosis

If you or someone you know are struggling with methamphetamine addiction, there are ample resources available to help you including The Recovery Village. Teamed with our trained medical professionals, you can learn how to live a healthier life outside of addiction. We at The Recovery Village can help guide you in finding the best treatment to suit your needs. Don’t wait another day. Start your recovery journey today.

If you or a loved one live with methamphetamine addiction or are using methamphetamine recreationally and want to stop, it’s time to seek professional help. The Recovery Village® provides care to those struggling with methamphetamine. Reach out to one of our knowledgeable representatives today to learn how you can start on your path to recovery.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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