Long-Term Effects of Methamphetamine Abuse

Meth paraphernalia

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The long-time effects of methamphetamine use can be more severe than those of some other illicit drugs and some of those effects can be irreversible. One of the negative consequences of meth use is developing an addiction to the drug. People who become addicted to methamphetamine will continue compulsive drug seeking and drug use in spite of negative consequences. This is due to changes in the brain that alter the individual's reward system.

Tolerance and Withdrawal

As with other drug addictions, people who use meth develop a tolerance to the drug, requiring higher dosages to get the same effect, and they experience withdrawal symptoms if they try to quit.

National Institute on Drug Abuse research has shown that the brains of people who use meth long-term are changed to the point that they may find it difficult to experience any pleasure other than that provided by the drug. This provokes even further drug use.

Meth Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Intense craving

Other Psychiatric Symptoms

Chronic methamphetamine use can also cause poeple to experience other symptoms, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Insomnia
  • Mood disturbances
  • Violent behavior

Psychotic Features

Meth use can also produce a variety of psychotic features that can include paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations, and delusions. Some people who engage in chronic methamphetamine use report the sensation of insects creeping under the skin.

Unfortunately, some of these psychotic symptoms can persist for months or years after the person quits using meth. The reoccurrence of these symptoms can be triggered by stress long after the person has stopped using the drug.

Emotion and Memory

NIDA-sponsored neuroimaging studies have found that meth use alters the dopamine system associated with reduced motor speed and impaired verbal learning.

Studies have found that people who use meth show severe damage in the region of the brain associated with emotion and memory.

Methamphetamine abuse can also negatively affect non-neural brain cells called microglia, which support the brain by removing damaged neurons and defending the brain against infectious agents. But, too much microglial activity can damage healthy neurons in the brain.

Imaging studies have detected double the levels of microglial cells in the brains of people who formerly used methamphetamine, compared with people who never used meth.

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.

Some Reversible, Some Not

Some studies have found that some of the brain damage caused by chronic methamphetamine use is partially reversible. Motor and verbal memory have shown to improve after extended abstinence from methamphetamine (14 months, but not six months).

However, other brain functions damaged by meth use did not recover even after 14 months, one study found.

Methamphetamine use increases the risk of stroke and can lead to a higher incidence of Parkinson's disease, conditions that are irreversible.

There are other physical effects that people who use methamphetamine can experience including weight loss, skin sores, and severe tooth decay and tooth loss, a condition known as meth mouth.

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Article Sources
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  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. What are the long-term effects of methamphetamine misuse?. Updated October 2019.

  2. Ballard ME, Weafer J, Gallo DA, de Wit H. Effects of Acute Methamphetamine on Emotional Memory Formation in Humans: Encoding vs Consolidation. Eugenin EA, ed. PLoS ONE. 2015;10(2):e0117062. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0117062

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