The Long-Term Effects of Meth

Methamphetamine is a form of the drug amphetamine. Meth has effects on the body similar to stimulant drugs, leading to an initial sense of euphoria and energy when used. Although the immediate effects of methamphetamine use can lead to reward and pleasure, the long term effects of using this drug often cause irreversible damage and in the most severe cases, death 2.

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Health Effects

Long term methamphetamine use increases heart rate and body temperature 2. The rapid increase can lead to sudden stroke or heart attack. Over time, the constant increase in heart rate and body temperature can impact blood pressure, causing artery tears, increased blood vessels and blockage in the carotid artery. Cardiac and neurological damage ensue due to meth use. Additionally, the immune system is compromised because the drug breaks down the defenses of the body while decreasing the ability of the body to fight infections. Liver damage is also common in methamphetamine users and can lead to liver disease, hepatitis and cirrhosis 2. Dental disease due to lack of hygiene and the harsh ingredients in the drug is also common in meth users and is termed "meth mouth."

Mental Health Effects

The most damaging mental health effects of methamphetamine use can be irreversible to the brain. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that even after two years of abstinence from the drug the methamphetamine-induced changes of neurochemical disruption are long lasting in many cases and permanent in others 2. The deciding factor is length of use of the drug and the amount of damage done during the time of use. Meth impacts the release of important chemical messengers in the brain called serotonin and dopamine. Use of the drug increases these chemicals by overwhelming amounts, essentially overloading the brain. Once the initial high has worn off however, these brain chemicals are depleted far below normal levels, impacting mood, motivation, thinking and emotional well-being. There is also the long term risk of methamphetamine psychosis, with symptoms that appear to mimic paranoid schizophrenia such as hallucinations, delusions and paranoia 2.

Social Disconnections

Methamphetamine users can be social, however once the more severe effects of long term drug use occur the personality is altered. The NIDA refers to many meth users as displaying bizarre behaviors in their actions toward others, leading to disconnections in relationships with people. As the drug remains primary in the meth user's life the person tends to appear socially disconnected, distracted and unable to relate to people who are not methamphetamine users 2. This can impact existing relationships as well as the potential for starting new relationships. There is also a societal toll because the meth addict tends to have difficulty maintaining employment over use of the drug, which leads to an increased risk of legal misbehavior as the addiction progresses.