What Are the Negative Health Effects of Chronic Meth Use?
Methamphetamine, commonly known as “meth” or “ice,” is a potent stimulant drug that has increased in popularity in the United States and worldwide. According to a 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 2.6 million people ages 12 or older reported using methamphetamine in the past 12 months.
Most people use meth for its stimulating effects. Meth triggers feelings of euphoria, arousal, loss of inhibition, increased sociability, and reduced fatigue and appetite. It lowers inhibition and helps people feel more confident.
Meth can also help manage mental health issues like depression or the effects of trauma. And in some cases, it can enhance pleasure and physical sensations during sex.
Despite these positive effects, meth also has severe and potentially long-term health consequences. This article will discuss the adverse side effects of chronic meth use and potential treatment options for overcoming addiction and behavioral health issues.
What is Meth?
Methamphetamine, also known as meth, is a highly addictive stimulant drug chemically similar to amphetamine. It takes the form of a white, odorless, bitter-tasting powder that easily dissolves in water or alcohol. Meth is taken orally, smoked, snorted, or injected and is often used with other substances. Crystal meth is a common methamphetamine that looks like pieces of glass or shiny blue-white rocks.
Meth is made in legal and illegal laboratories, but the most common form used on the streets is produced in clandestine “meth labs” where ingredients are mixed to make large batches of the drug. It is relatively inexpensive and widely available in many parts of the country. Meth can have severe short-term and long-term effects on a person’s health.
Negative Health Effects of Chronic Meth Use
Methamphetamine use can have severe and potentially life-threatening health risks to the central nervous system and other organs. Here are some short- and long-term effects of meth use:
Methamphetamine use can be fatal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there has been a significant increase in fatal overdoses involving meth and other stimulants. 2020 estimates by NIDA reveal 23,837 overdose deaths involving psychostimulants with abuse potential (primarily meth).
Meth use can lead to aggressive and violent behavior and changes in mood and personality. People who use meth may exhibit extreme paranoia, irritability, aggression, and violence. They may also experience delusions or hallucinations that could lead to dangerous situations.
Physical Health Effects
Methamphetamine use can have serious physical health effects, including dental health issues like missing teeth, gum disease, tooth decay (meth mouth), and loss of appetite, which causes dangerous weight loss. Meth can also cause damage to organs, such as the heart, kidneys, and liver. People who inject meth have an increased risk for skin infections and blood-borne illnesses such as HIV, hepatitis C, and B.
Emotional and Relationship Health Issues
Methamphetamine use can also severely affect mental and emotional health, leading to agitation, paranoia, depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Users may experience psychosis that causes visual or auditory hallucinations. Meth use can strain relationships with family members and friends as users may become distant and withdrawn from their support system.
Long-Term Effects of Meth on the Heart
Chronic meth use can have serious long-term effects on the heart’s health. The drug constricts blood vessels and increases adrenaline production, leading to an irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure. This can put users at risk for stroke, heart attacks, heart failure, and even cardiac arrest deaths.
Long-Term Effects of Meth on the Brain
Chronic methamphetamine use can cause permanent damage to the brain, resulting in impaired decision-making, difficulty regulating emotions and behavior, memory loss, and difficulty learning new things. Research has found that meth affects the areas of the brain associated with emotional regulation, decision-making, and memory.
As a result, regular users often find themselves unable to control their emotions or make healthy decisions and have difficulty learning and remembering information. In addition, brain scans of long-term meth users show reduced levels of dopamine receptors in the brain, making it increasingly difficult for them to experience pleasure or motivation naturally. This can lead to an inability to experience joy and increase the risk of depression and suicide.
Methamphetamine Use Disorder
Methamphetamine use can lead to physical and psychological dependence. Meth addiction is a substance use disorder (SUD) characterized by compulsive drug-seeking behavior, impaired control over drug use, and continuing use despite the harmful consequences. People with meth addiction cannot stop using the drug even when they want to and may experience intense cravings.
The development of an addiction to methamphetamine can occur quickly, often within the first few uses. This is because meth increases dopamine levels in the brain, producing intense feelings of pleasure and euphoria experienced from the first use. As with many other drugs, chronic meth use can lead to tolerance, physical dependence, and addiction as the body and brain become accustomed to the drug’s effects.
Users who try to quit on their own may experience severe withdrawal symptoms such as extreme fatigue, cravings, depression, and anxiety. These symptoms can be so severe that they make it difficult to stop using meth without medical assistance. For a drug test, meth can stay in your urine for up to one week for heavy, long term users.
Treatment for Methamphetamine Addiction
Methamphetamine addiction is a serious and potentially life-threatening disorder that requires comprehensive treatment. Treatment options for meth addiction typically include a combination of medication, behavioral therapy, and support groups.
- Medication for meth addiction: Provider can work with patients to reduce discomfort associated with withdrawal and craving as well as underlying mental health issue
- Behavioral therapy: Behavioral therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can help people identify triggers that lead to drug use and develop strategies for avoiding those triggers.
- Support groups: Support groups such as 12-step programs can provide a safe environment for people to talk about their experiences with the drug and share coping strategies.
The key to successful treatment of methamphetamine addiction is finding an individualized plan that meets the person’s specific needs and providing them with the necessary support to help them stay on track. With proper treatment, people can break the cycle of addiction and reclaim their lives.