What Does Meth do to Your Body?Anna Ciulla
Methamphetamine (meth) is a highly addictive Schedule 11 narcotic prized for its potent psychostimulant properties. The synthetic drug—which is illicit in every form other than legitimate, non-refillable prescriptions, is produced using a combination of toxic chemicals and ingredients from common cold medicine. Methamphetamine is cheaply manufactured by street chemists and smuggled internationally by cartels that capitalize on the drug’s hard-core reputation and criminal appeal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2013, approximately half a million Americans reported using methamphetamine within the past month, catapulting the drug’s notoriety to epidemic proportions.
Even when used casually and recreationally, Methamphetamine is an extremely dangerous, and sometimes deadly, drug. When taken chronically, it disrupts every aspect of a user’s psychological and physiological health. The adverse physical effects of the drug, in particular, may result in irreversible damage that is costly and debilitating. Meth users frequently suffer from a drastically altered appearance and a long list of additional physical consequences as a result of their addiction.
THE PATHOLOGY OF METH ADDICTION
Meth is chemically designed to target the central nervous system (CNS) and artificially increase dopamine levels in the brain. This surge in dopamine—a “feel good” chemical—is perceived as highly pleasurable and stimulating by users and begins forming a physiological and psychological addiction. Once a user becomes accustomed to the euphoric high associated with meth, higher doses and more frequent usage are required to achieve the same effects. However, like other legal and illicit drugs, the effects are not sustainable, and the initial high that users are frequently willing to pay top dollar for becomes an illusion—a bottomless pit that can never be filled no matter how hard they try.
SHORT AND LONG-TERM EFFECTS ON THE BODY
In addition to the pleasurable, euphoric feelings that meth triggers, it also increases energy levels, alertness and sociability. Although the short-term effects of meth addiction vary widely, users commonly experience elevated blood pressure and body temperature, accelerated or erratic heartbeat, and a highly stimulated, alert disposition. Users occasionally experience brain hemorrhaging, collapsed lungs, and convulsions—especially during an overdose. Long-term effects of meth include:
- Tooth decay
- Tooth decay
- Sores, oral abscesses and infections
- Damaged nasal passages
- Damaged internal organs
- Severe weight loss
The following provides a more comprehensive, in-depth summary of the negative long-term effects of methamphetamine on the body, broken down by specific organs:
Meth addiction damages the entire musculoskeletal system. Milder reactions to the drug can trigger a hyper-reflexive state characterized by deep tendon reactivity, while serious reactions can trigger muscle twitching, tremors, myoclonus and disturbing, repetitive (and involuntary) movements—a phenomenon known as stereotypic movement. Meth addiction may also create a serious and debilitating condition called rhabdomyolysis—the rapid destruction and deterioration of muscle tissue that sometimes floods the bloodstream with toxic chemicals. If not promptly treated, rhabdomyolysis may result in irreversible kidney damage and permanent failure. Even if it doesn’t, it results in severe muscle pain.
TEETH AND ORAL HEALTH
Methamphetamine is legendary for its corrosive effect on oral health. We’ve all seen pictures of “meth mouth”—a condition characterized by teeth discoloration, decay, and a generally sickly, diseased appearance. Meth’s potency is so great, in fact, that it is capable of turning a perfectly beautiful, healthy smile into a rotten, germ-infested grimace. Meth dries up essential oral fluids and depletes saliva, leaving the body incapable of defending against bacterial invaders. It also leads to cracked teeth, severe gum loss (periodontitis) and bleeding abscesses, none of which are easily treatable.
HEART AND CARDIOVASCULAR SYSTEM
Meth’s potent psychostimulant effects can cause heart rate acceleration and palpitations, especially with chronic, long-term use. Meth also triggers erratic heartbeats—a symptom known as arrhythmia—which causes disorientation, lightheadedness and, in some cases, cardiac arrest. It also has a damaging effect on blood pressure and arteries, which results in restricted blood flow to vital organs. In many instances, by the time a meth addict becomes aware of the cardiovascular damage, it is already too late to reverse the cumulative effects.
RESPIRATORY SYSTEM AND SKIN
Chronic meth use causes rapid breathing and occasionally lightheadedness or black outs. Depending upon whether it is smoked or orally ingested, it can also cause internal bleeding of the alveoli (lung tree, etc.), pulmonary hypertension, and coughing up blood. When snorted, meth can also cause violent coughing episodes and severe respiratory trauma that can eventually lead to lung disease. The stimulant effects of methamphetamine are equally insidious on skin—the bodies single largest organ. Many users compulsively pick at their skin and suffer from premature wrinkling, cracking, open sores, and a sickly, diseased complexion.
REMAINING PYSIOLOGICAL SYSTEMS
Many users actively use meth as an appetite suppressant or alternative diet pill. Unfortunately, severe weight loss and nutritional deficiencies frequently result from this otherwise healthy objective. Since meth accelerates the body’s metabolic rate, many meth users gradually descend into an unhealthy, emaciated condition characterized by rapid weight loss and resulting eating disorders. Meth is commonly injected intravenously—a fact responsible for spawning blood-borne illness including hepatitis B, C, and occasionally HIV. It can also lead to cirrhosis of the liver, jaundice, internal and external bleeding, and extensive central nervous system (CNS) damage.
The bowels and entire gastrointestinal tract may be severely damaged with continued meth use and can lead to fatal abdominal infections, septic shock and insufficient blood flow to the entire abdominal region. Additionally, meth addiction lowers immunity, increases the likelihood of bacterial and/or viral infections, and creates ongoing illness and a general sense of malaise. As empirical evidence increasingly indicates—absolutely nothing good comes from physical dependency to methamphetamine.
Methamphetamine addiction is an extremely serious condition that requires immediate, supervised medical attention in order to achieve optimal treatment outcomes. Meth does not discriminate in its destruction and is more accessible than ever, both on the street and through other illicit channels. If you or someone you love is suffering from meth addiction, call a substance abuse professional today and seek the help you need before it is too late. Meth addiction is analogous to playing with a loaded gun and delaying treatment is never advisable. Neither is self-guided treatment or at-home detox, either of which increases the likelihood of potentially fatal consequences.
For more methamphetamine addiction and recovery, check out these related articles:
- “How Untreated Drug or Alcohol Addiction Affects Other Health Issues”
- “Signs Your Loved One is On Drugs”
- “Synthetic Drugs Addiction and Treatment”
- “How to Know if You Need Rehab Treatment”
British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology (BJCP). Pharmacological approaches to methamphetamine dependence: a focused review. June, 2010.
Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry. Stoke and methamphetamine use in young adults: a review. Aug, 2017.
Behavioral Neurology. Recent Advances in Methamphetamine Neurotoxicity Mechanisms and Its Molecular Pathophysiology. Jan, 2015.
Harm Reduction Journal. Injury associated with methamphetamine use: A review of the literature. March, 2006.