Physical Effects of Methamphetamine Abuse and Addiction

Physical Effects of Methamphetamine Abuse and Addiction

Methamphetamine, also known by street terms such as meth, crank, speed, crystal and ice, is a drug that stimulates your central nervous system by dramatically increasing the presence of an important brain chemical called dopamine. Although the drug is produced in limited quantities by pharmaceutical companies for legitimate medical purposes, many people who abuse methamphetamine or develop an addiction use products made illegally in homemade “meth labs.” Meth abuse and addiction can trigger a wide range of catastrophic changes in normal health, including brain damage, severe tooth and skin damage, and significantly increased risks for contraction of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.

Brain Damage

Inside your brain, dopamine plays a critical role in your ability to experience pleasure; generally speaking, when your dopamine levels rise, pleasurable feelings in your body also rise. When you use methamphetamines (or cocaine), your brain produces more dopamine than normal and also reabsorbs its existing dopamine supplies much more slowly. While cocaine increases your dopamine levels roughly 3 to 4 times above normal, methamphetamines produce a much more drastic increase and elevate your dopamine levels roughly 12 to 13 times above normal. The euphoric feeling produced by this intense increase plays a major role in the onset of meth abuse and full-blown meth addiction.

Over time, habitual or chronic use of methamphetamines damages the dopamine pathways inside your brain. In turn, this damage can severely limit or virtually eliminate your normal ability to have pleasurable experiences of any kind. In addition, chronic meth use can damage your motor skills, your ability to make rational judgments, and your ability to learn or retain verbal information, as well as your memory and your normal ability to express emotions. In some cases, meth-related emotional changes lead to a significant increase in dangerous and/or violent behavior. According to researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, dopamine pathways inside the brain eventually heal when meth use stops; however, meth-related changes in mental and motor function can remain for a lifetime.

In addition to its effects on normal brain and motor function, chronic methamphetamine use can lead to mental alterations that include visual hallucinations, sound-related hallucinations, delusions and other symptoms of psychosis, as well as confusion, anxiety, or more general mood-related disturbances.

Tooth and Skin Damage

Chronic methamphetamine use alters the function of your salivary glands and seriously reduces production of the saliva that normally protects your mouth. In combination with the acidic nature of the drug itself, this decreased saliva production exposes your teeth to significantly increased levels of acid erosion. Habitual meth users also commonly develop an unconscious habit of clenching their jaws and grinding their teeth. In addition, meth abusers and addicts typically have generally poor oral hygiene and consume significant amounts of sweetened, carbonated drinks. Together, these factors produce a condition known as “meth mouth,” which is characterized by symptoms of severe tooth decay such as tooth staining, blackening, rotting, and crumbling. In many cases, the effects of meth mouth are so severe that abusers and addicts must have their damaged teeth removed.

In addition to their other effects, methamphetamines seriously constrict the interior of your blood vessels; in turn, this narrowing triggers a reduction in the normal blood flow throughout your body. Meth addicts and chronic meth abusers develop accelerated changes in their blood vessels that can include vessel weakening or actual vessel destruction. Without its normal blood vessel supply, human skin becomes much more susceptible to injury and also has a harder time making repairs after injury occurs. Potential consequences of these changes include the onset of uncontrolled acne and skin sores that don’t heal, as well as a general loss of normal skin elasticity and vitality. In addition, some meth addicts develop a condition called formication, which occurs when methamphetamine-related hallucinations lead to a delusional sensation of “bugs” crawling under the skin. People suffering from formication commonly pick their skin obsessively and cause further damage.

HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis Risks

In addition to boosting dopamine levels, methamphetamines boost your levels of a naturally occurring chemical called adrenaline. Together, dopamine and adrenaline play a major role in creating the normal human sex drive, and when present in increased amounts, they can trigger a reduction in sexual inhibition and a rise in sexually impulsive behavior. In meth abusers and addicts, who frequently use injectable forms of the drug and share dirty needles, impulsive sexual activity can easily lead to the unknowing or unintended spread of both HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. In addition, the effects of meth trigger extended periods of sexually aggressive behavior in some addicts and abusers; in turn, this type of behavior can lead to sex-related injuries that raise the risks for disease transmission even higher.

Other Health-Related Effects

Methamphetamines suppress your normal appetite; for this reason, some people start abusing meth as part of an effort to control or lose weight. In the long run, however, meth use can lead to malnutrition and severe weight loss. Additional potential health-related effects of meth abuse or addiction include liver damage and a reduced ability to fight off common or life-threatening infections. Short- or long-term use of methamphetamines can trigger serious, life-threatening, or fatal problems that include seizures or convulsions, dangerous increases in body temperature, and dangerous increases in normal heart rate.

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