What Are the Long-term Issues with Methamphetamine Use?

Methamphetamine is a synthetic stimulant drug, used by people who want to experience a surge in feelings of power, attentiveness, or both.

Group of men using meth

These users sniff or smoke meth to get the sensations they want, and since meth wears off so quickly, they may take repeated hits in a short period of time in order to keep the sensations moving. Every dose of meth has the potential to cause harm, especially if doses are taken in rapid succession, one after the other. These are just a few of the dangers associated with meth.

Mental Health Physical Health

Methamphetamine works on receptors deep inside the brain. The drug delivers intense changes in perception due to chemical alterations it triggers inside the brain. Sometimes, those changes wear right off, but according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), some long-time meth users experience a form of brain damage. When that happens, their changed experiences stick with them for days, weeks, months, or even years. Those changes can involve:

  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Anxiety
  • Violent behavior
  • Confusion

In addition to psychosis, meth has been associated with the development of learning disabilities. NIDA explains that meth causes the brain to produce huge amounts of the chemical dopamine. The brain uses this chemical to mark experiences of happiness and joy, but dopamine is also associated with the ability to learn something new. When the dopamine system is not working as it should, people might find it hard to pay attention, internalize experiences, and make sense of the unfamiliar.

This is the sort of disability that could ruin a person’s ability to hold down a job, balance a home budget, help a child with homework, or otherwise handle a life filled with education, learning, and math.

An analysis in TIME suggests that damage that is extensive enough to impair daily functioning only comes due to heavy use of methamphetamine. The researchers here suggest, in fact, that a person would need to take a great deal of meth in order to make severe dopamine damage happen. But it is reasonable to think that people who have a longstanding meth habit would obtain this amount of damage after months or years of heavy drug use. Over time, they very well could do damage that impacts their ability to handle everyday life.

Dopamine and Meth

Dopamine is also involved in helping people to fend off depression. With a regular diet of dopamine, life seems rewarding and even pleasant. Without it, life can seem dull and dreary. If the brain has no way to mark events that are pleasant or even positive, nothing a person does in an average day might seem worthwhile. That could lead to depression.

Measuring the Impact

The longer people use meth, the more damage can be done. Meth is a drug that is considered cumulative, meaning that more of it leads to more damage. The best option is to use none of the drug at all, but those who have a history of use should do all they can to keep future use from taking hold. A treatment program can provide a great deal of help. The sooner people enroll, the better.

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