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Long-Term Effects From Methamphetamine Use

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Methamphetamine is a powerful central nervous stimulant drug with mind-altering properties. Casual use can quickly lead to addiction and long-term mental and physical health problems, including deadly overdose.

Methamphetamine is widely produced in illicit laboratories. In addition to this, methamphetamine is also prescribed in limited instances for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and certain weight loss treatments. The brand name methamphetamine medication for ADHD is Desoxyn.

On the street, methamphetamine is referred to as meth, crystal meth and glass. Meth may be found in several forms, either as a powder, termed “crystal;” a rock-like version termed “ice;” or as a liquid for injection. Like many stimulants, the rush from meth is relatively short-lived, lasting only about five to 30 minutes. However, the pleasurable feelings from meth may last six or 12 hours.

One study reported that there are roughly 11.7 million methamphetamine users in the United States. For these individuals, access to comprehensive treatment is key to rehabilitation and protection from the many dangers of meth use.

Long-Term Side Effects And Dangers Of Meth Use

The longer a person uses a drug, the greater the opportunity for harm to the body and mind. Further, long-term use increases the odds that a person will become addicted to.

As a person uses meth in more frequent and larger doses, their body doesn’t feel the drug’s euphoric effects as strongly. This is called tolerance. To overcome this, many individuals begin to use more of the drug, in higher quantities. These behaviors can cause a person to quickly form a dependence and become addicted.

Long-term meth use can cause:

  • anxiety
  • brain damage
  • cognitive deficits
  • confusion
  • death (overdose)
  • depression
  • high blood pressure
  • irritability
  • kidney damage
  • impaired verbal learning
  • infections of the heart
  • insomnia
  • liver damage
  • lung disease
  • malnutrition
  • memory loss
  • mood disturbances
  • nerve damage in the brain
  • nervousness
  • poor hygiene
  • repetitive movements like twitching
  • slowed motor speed
  • strokes
  • suppressed immune system
  • withdrawal

Prolonged meth use may make a person aggressive and violent. Individuals may attempt to harm either themselves or others as they struggle with homicidal or suicidal thoughts.

People are far more likely to engage in risky behaviors while high on meth. This may include driving a vehicle while under the influence or engaging in unsafe sexual practices. The latter has been linked to an increased risk of HIV and hepatitis B and C.

The brain damage associated with long-term meth use may become severe. Symptoms may resemble those of Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s Diseases. These individuals may exhibit difficulty with movement, memory or thought.

If a woman is pregnant and uses meth she may encounter complications during her pregnancy or delivery. These dangers include placental abruption or that the child is born prematurely. Methamphetamine use can also cause various birth defects, including brain abnormalities, cleft palate, cardiac (heart) defects, lethargy and small size of the child.

Compulsive Methamphetamine Use May Cause Psychosis

Chronic methamphetamine users may develop psychotic tendencies. Sometimes this psychosis resembles schizophrenia.

Psychotic symptoms include auditory and visual hallucinations, delusions and paranoia. Certain paranoid delusions may last up to 15 hours. One hallucination commonly experienced with meth users are “crank bugs.” This causes the feeling of insects crawling on or just beneath the skin.

The effects of meth can be so great that some individuals continue to experience these psychotic symptoms for months or years after they’ve become abstinent.

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Chronic Methamphetamine Use Changes A Person’s Appearance

Over time, long-term meth use can change a person’s appearance. Many meth users age very quickly, beyond their years.

Meth causes tissue and blood vessel damage, making it difficult for the body to heal itself. As a person’s immune system declines from use, their skin can take on a pale, sickly hue. During binges, meth user refrains from eating for long periods of time. This causes malnourishment and facial muscle loss which creates a haggard, skeletal look.

Visual signs of chronic meth use include severe acne, skin infections, sores, and scarring. Many of these sores develop as a person repeatedly digs and scratches at their skin in an attempt to rid themselves of “crank bugs.” Drug users also suffer severe weight loss.

Long-Term Meth Use Causes “Meth Mouth”

Meth drug users frequently develop severe dental problems, collectively known as “meth mouth.”

Meth itself is acidic, which can damage and weaken the teeth. In addition to this, chronic meth use causes dry mouth, poor personal hygiene and teeth grinding or clenching. During meth high, many drug users experience cravings for carbonated, sugary beverages which erode tooth enamel even more.

As a result, a person may have bleeding gums, cracked teeth, gum disease, and severe tooth decay. This damage causes teeth to become black or stained, crumble, fall out or rot.

According to the American Dental Association, a survey of methamphetamine users showed that:

  • 96% had cavities
  • 58% had untreated tooth decay
  • 31% had six or more missing teeth

Many times this damage is so severe that a person has to have their teeth pulled out.

Each Way Of Using Meth Carries Specific Dangers

Methamphetamine may be taken orally, snorted, smoked or dissolved in alcohol or water and injected. Many of these methods expose long-term drug user to additional risks.

Snorting the drug can destroy delicate tissues within the nose, causing inflammation, infection and structural changes within the nasal region.

Chronic smoking can harm a person’s lips and mouth, but the most serious damage occurs in the lungs. Chronic bronchitis, chronic cough, and acute lung injury may all develop from smoking the drug. Research suggests that smoking causes addiction faster than other means of administration.

Injecting meth is a highly invasive way to use the drug which exposes a person to the risk of infection and transmissible, bloodborne disease. A high number of the intravenous drug (IV) users contract HIV/AIDS or hepatitis B or C. Repeated injections damage the skin, causing sores, scarring, and track marks. Brain or organ damage is also reported to occur in IV meth drug users.

Meth Use Carries A High Rate Of Addiction

Methamphetamine is highly addictive, both physically and psychologically.

Meth crosses the blood-brain barrier more easily than can amphetamine, making it a more attractive substance to recreational drug users. This action makes meth more potent and addictive. Because of this property, the high from meth lasts longer and is felt more intensely. This combination entices people to use meth more often and more frequently, which increases the potential for addiction.

Meth, like many stimulants, is often used in patterns of binging. This means that a person takes one dose of meth shortly after the last to counteract the short rush of the drug. Both this and the drug’s strength make meth far more addictive when used, especially during long-term use.

Side Effects Of Methamphetamine Withdrawal

Prolonged meth use can cause a person to become physically dependent on the drug. When this occurs, a person’s body has become reliant on the drug’s chemical influence. These chemicals take the place of ones the body produces naturally. Without them, the body struggles to perform in a normal way. When this happens a person goes into withdrawal.

Symptoms of methamphetamine withdrawal include:

  • anxiety
  • debilitating depression
  • extreme cravings
  • fatigue
  • insomnia or excessive sleepiness
  • psychosis
  • unpleasant dreams

Certain people may require residential treatment to help them detox safely from methamphetamine.

Symptoms Of A Meth Overdose

Individuals with a methamphetamine use disorder face a death rate 4.67 times higher than those who do not use the drug.

An overdose from meth may happen the first time a person uses the drug, however, long-term users are more susceptible to this risk.

As a person’s use becomes compulsive and their body develops a tolerance, the dose of meth climbs. The larger and more frequent the dose, the higher the odds of overdose. Overdose frequently results in heart attack, stroke, organ damage, and death.

Symptoms of overdose include:

  • agitation
  • coma (in the most severe cases)
  • dangerously high body temperature
  • intense stomach pain
  • irregular or stopped heartbeat
  • paranoia
  • seizures
  • trouble breathing

Emergency medical services should be contacted immediately if there’s any possibility that a person is overdosing.

Treating Methamphetamine Addiction

As methamphetamine can be physically and psychologically addictive, the most successful rehabilitation programs deliver treatments on both these levels. Inpatient drug rehabilitation programs offer the most comprehensive care to meet these needs.

At this time there are no government-approved medications to treat methamphetamine addiction. During detoxification, however, a variety of medications may be used to treat side effects of withdrawal, such as anxiety, depression or insomnia.

Behavioral therapies have shown great success in treating methamphetamine addiction. Peer support groups, mindfulness, and stress management practices, and other treatment methods may be used to enhance these therapies.

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