Addiction Drug Use Meth What Does Meth Do to the Brain? And how recovery can restore brain function By Buddy T Buddy T Facebook Twitter Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. Learn about our editorial process Updated on May 11, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Steven Gans, MD Medically reviewed by Steven Gans, MD Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database. Methamphetamine ("meth") can cause progressive and sometimes profound damage to the brain. The question is whether the damage is reversible once a person stops using meth. Unfortunately, the answer is rarely simple. While it's possible that some damage will start to reverse when a person stops using meth, other types of damage are harder to turn back. What we do know is that any restoration of brain function is only possible after a sustained period of complete abstinence. Read on to learn more about the dangers that meth use poses to the brain. How Long Does Meth Stay in Your System? Types of Brain Damage Heavy or long-term methamphetamine use damages the brain both functionally and structurally.A person's brain becomes accustomed to the drug during the course of addiction. Altered biochemical activity may take time to normalize once the drug is stopped. In most cases, it will; some dysfunction in the brain's neurons can eventually right itself. Reversal of changes to brain structure is not always possible. Ultimately, meth causes damage to brain cells. The ability to reverse the damage largely depends on where the injury occurred. If damage occurs in an area where other brain cells can compensate, improvement in a person's symptoms is likely. If damage occurs where cells are more specialized and have fewer redundancies, the repair can be difficult—if not impossible. There are three ways that long-term meth use can damage the brain:Causing acute neurotransmitter changesCausing brain cell deathRewiring the brain's reward system Acute Neurotransmitter Changes Long-term meth exposure directly alters the brain's cellular transporters and receptors (the systems responsible for delivering messages throughout the brain). These transporters and receptors are involved in regulating a person's moods, which is why chronic impairment can lead to symptoms of irritability, apathy, rage, depression, insomnia, and anxiety. Rewiring the Brain's Reward System Methamphetamine addiction also damages the brain's so-called pleasure (or reward) center. These regions of the brain include the ventral tegmental area, nucleus accumbens, and frontal lobe. Changes in these brain regions are usually permanent. Changes to the brain's reward center are largely responsible for the drug cravings a person can experience when they quit. Brain Cell Death Heavy meth use is known to cause cell death in parts of the brain associated with self-control, including the frontal lobe, caudate nucleus, and hippocampus. Damage in these areas can cause a variety of psychiatric symptoms. Unfortunately, these types of cells are not redundant. Their function cannot be compensated for by other brain cells. Any damage to them can potentially lead to long-lasting changes. Reversal of Brain Changes Scientific studies have aimed to evaluate the effect of long-term abstinence on brain activity in former methamphetamine users. A 2010 review of studies conducted by the department of psychology and the Center for Substance Abuse Research at Temple University looked at the restoration of brain function after cessation of various recreational drugs, including cannabis, MDMA, and methamphetamine. With methamphetamine, former users who had been abstinent for six months scored lower on motor skills, verbal skills, and psychological tasks compared to a matched set of people who had never used. However, after 12 and 17 months, their ability to perform many of the tasks improved—their motor and verbal skills were equal to that of the non-users. The one area where users lagged behind was in performing the psychological tasks. Former users were more likely to exhibit depression, apathy, or aggression than non-users. What to Expect After Quitting The ability to restore normal brain function after quitting meth can vary from person to person. It is largely related to how long they used the drug, how regularly they used it, and how much they used. Within six to 12 months of stopping the drug, someone who once used meth may experience:: Fewer nightmaresImprovement in depression and anxietyImprovement in focus and attentionNormalization of brain receptors and transportersReduction in jitteriness and emotional ragesStabilization of mood swingsDecreased activation of microglial cells The one thing that may not readily improve is drug cravings, which may persist even after years of abstinence. This particular problem is commonly caused by damage to the brain's reward system. To deal with drug cravings, someone who has stopped using will need to commit to an extensive rehabilitation program. Here, they can learn to exercise self-control and potentially build new pathways in the brain. 7 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. 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Int Rev Neurobiol. 2014;118:165–197. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-801284-0.00007-5 Gould TJ. Addiction and cognition. Addict Sci Clin Pract. 2010;5(2):4–14. National Institute on Drug Abuse. What are the long-term effects of methamphetamine misuse?. By Buddy T Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Get Treatment for Addiction Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.