Long-Term Effects of Meth (Methamphetamine) Use

Meth paraphernalia

Larry W. Smith Collection / Getty Images News

The long-time effects of methamphetamine use can be more severe than those of some other illicit drugs and some of the 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 due to changes in the brain that alter the person's reward system.

This article discusses the long-term effects of meth use, including its impact on mental and physical health.

Tolerance and Withdrawal

As with other drug addictions, people who routinely use meth eventually develop a tolerance to the drug, requiring higher dosages to get the same effect, and they experience withdrawal symptoms when the drug leaves their system.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) 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 change may provoke even further drug use.

Meth Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Anxiety: Research suggests that approximately 30% of people going through meth withdrawal experience symptoms of an anxiety disorder.
  • Depression: People often experience a period of depressed mood as they are withdrawing from methamphetamines. This often lessens after a few weeks but may continue for a longer period for some people.
  • Fatigue: While meth often causes people to feel energized and hyperactive, withdrawal from the substance can cause severe sleepiness and fatigue.
  • Intense cravings: As with many other addictive substances, people frequently experience strong drug cravings as they go through withdrawal.

Psychiatric Symptoms

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

  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Insomnia
  • Mood disturbances
  • Psychotic symptoms that include paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions
  • Violent behavior

NIDA notes that these symptoms can sometimes continue for months or even years after a person stops using methamphetamine. For example, meth use can produce a variety of psychotic features that can include paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations, and delusions. 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.

Effect on 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 misuse 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.

Some studies have found that some of the brain damage caused by chronic methamphetamine use is partially reversible. Motor and verbal memory have been shown to improve after extended abstinence from methamphetamine. However, other brain functions damaged by meth use did not recover even after 14 months, one study found.

Effect on Physical Health

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."

In the short-term, meth use can cause physical changes including bad breath, dry mouth, decreased appetite, headaches, sleeplessness, tremors, and excess sweating. With continued use, the drug can take a great toll on a person's body and health, including:

  • Premature aging: Meth use can contribute to a number of skin problems, including decreased skin elasticity that can cause people to look much older than they actually are. Acne, skin picking, and obsessive scratching can also contribute to long-term skin damage that affects a person's appearance.
  • Dental problems: Long-term methamphetamine use also causes severe dental problems that can arise from poor nutrition, poor hygiene, dry mouth, and tooth grinding, which can lead to cavities, tooth decay, and missing teeth.
  • Heart damage: Meth use also contributes to cardiac problems including increased heart rate and blood pressure. Research suggests that the use of the drug increases the risk for heart attack and sudden cardiac death.
  • Risk of chronic disease: Methamphetamine use increases the risk of stroke and can lead to a higher incidence of Parkinson's disease, conditions that are irreversible.

Recap

Meth use can have long-term effects on your brain and body. In addition to increasing your risk for addiction, you may experience psychiatric symptoms as well as brain damage, heart damage, dental issues, and skin problems. Getting help and finding treatment can help you begin repairing some of the damage caused by meth use.

A Word From Verywell

Meth use can have serious effects on your physical and mental health in both the short-term and long term. While some of these negative effects may be permanent, some can be halted or reversed. Quitting the drug is the first step toward repairing the damage, so you should start by talking to your doctor about safe ways to quit meth.

It is often best to go through the detox and withdrawal process under the supervision of a healthcare professional. Long-term treatment often involves psychotherapy and can be effective in recovery and avoiding relapse.

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.

Was this page helpful?
8 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.
  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. What are the long-term effects of methamphetamine misuse?. Updated October 2019.

  2. Hellem TL. A review of methamphetamine dependence and withdrawal treatment: A focus on anxiety outcomesJ Subst Abuse Treat. 2016;71:16-22. doi:10.1016/j.jsat.2016.08.011

  3. Khani Y, Barati H, Mollajan A, et al. Investigating the trend and severity of withdrawal symptoms in methamphetamine users amongst homeless addictsInter J High Risk Behav Addic. 2018;7(1);e66880. doi:10.5812/ijhrba.66880

  4. Zorick T, Nestor L, Miotto K, et al. Withdrawal symptoms in abstinent methamphetamine-dependent subjectsAddiction. 2010;105(10):1809-1818. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.03066.x

  5. 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

  6. Hennings C, Miller J. Illicit drugs: What dermatologists need to knowJournal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2013;69(1):135-142. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2012.12.968

  7. Shetty V, Harrell L, Murphy DA, et al. Dental disease patterns in methamphetamine users: Findings in a large urban sampleJ Am Dent Assoc. 2015;146(12):875-885. doi:10.1016/j.adaj.2015.09.012

  8. American Heart Association News. Meth use producing younger, harder-to-treat heart failure patients. Published November 6, 2018.

Additional Reading