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What are the Long-term
Effects of Meth?

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and fact-checked by an addiction expert.
Clinically Reviewed By: Karen Williams, LPC
All of the information on this page has been reviewed and fact-checked by an addiction expert.
What are the long-term effects of meth? In this resource, we dive into every system of the body and how meth can affect it long-term. Meth or methamphetamine is a powerful central nervous system (CNS) stimulant used for medicinal and recreational purposes. It is used medicinally as a second-line treatment for obesity and ADHD. An estimated 0.9% (1.5 million) of people 12 and up in the United States used methamphetamine for recreational purposes at least once in 2020.1
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Contents

The Truth About Long-term Use of Meth

Meth is consumed in a variety of ways, such as smoking, injecting, snorting, and oral ingestion. The drug very quickly gets into your bloodstream if you smoke or inject it.

People who use these two methods of consumption are more likely to form an addiction. Oral ingestion or snorting does not produce a sudden psychological “rush” as produced by smoking or injecting.

All methods produce a high characterized by hyperactivity in the brain. The high produced by meth lasts four to sixteen hours, while the “rush” only lasts a few minutes.

The “rush” is characterized by an increase in the user’s heartbeat, blood pressure, pulse, and metabolism.

Meth produces a false sense of energy and the user tends to move their body faster and further. This can cause the user to experience a physical or mental breakdown after the effects subside.

The drug changes the user’s brain chemistry when they experience a high.

However, the changes are not reversed when the high ends. These changes can cause serious effects like insomnia, hallucinations, confusion, anxiety, paranoia, convulsions, and even death.

Meth Causes Damage to the Mouth

Long-term use of meth can cause severe tooth decay and gum disease, which can lead to tooth breakage or falling. An examination of 571 users2 of methamphetamine showed that 31% had six or more missing teeth, 58% had tooth decay, and 96% had cavities.

Methamphetamine also causes tooth blackening, staining, rotting, breakage, and falling. The drug produces a combination of physiological and psychological changes that result in a dry mouth and poor oral hygiene, leading to extensive tooth decay. Studies show that tooth decay is more extensive in individuals who abuse meth more frequently.

Meth Damages the Heart

Meth can place profound stress on an individual’s cardiovascular system 3, causing tachycardia, arrhythmia, cardiomyopathy, hypertension, and cardiac ischemia. Consuming meth in the form of crystals can lead to complete cardiovascular collapse and even death. Crystal meth can also cause ventricular fibrillation which often leads to sudden cardiac death.

Methamphetamine use can also cause the inflammation of blood vessels and heart valves (endocarditis). Moreover, the risk of hemorrhagic stroke is five times higher in meth users, compared to the average population. This is because methamphetamine can cause blood vessel spasms and harmful changes in blood pressure.

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Meth Causes Damage to the Respiratory System

The effects of methamphetamine on the respiratory system can be severe, in the case of both long-term and short-term users. The risk of lung damage4 is greater in users who smoke meth, compared to users who inject or orally ingest it. Methamphetamine can cause pulmonary vasoconstriction, pneumonia, acute respiratory failure, and alveoli damage. Smoking too much meth can cause fluid build-up in the air sacs inside the lungs, inhibiting the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen. This not only impairs the supply of oxygen to your organs but also causes difficulty in breathing or shortness of breath. The drug may also act as a catalyst for emphysema, a respiratory condition characterized by damage to the inner walls of the air sacs in the lungs which may cause them to rupture. Meth use has also been associated with progressive massive fibrosis and interstitial pulmonary fibrosis.

Meth Causes Damage to the Brain

Long-term meth exposure can lead to acute neurotransmitter changes that alter cellular transporters and receptors within the brain. The drug also produces changes in the brain’s reward system i.e. ventral tegmental area, frontal lobe, and nucleus accumbens. Abusing methamphetamine in large amounts can also call death in brain areas associated with self-control i.e. caudate nucleus, frontal lobe, and hippocampus. This can lead to severe psychiatric symptoms, such as episodes of violent or aggressive behavior. Neurons in these regions are not redundant and their function cannot be performed by other neurons. Therefore, damage to these areas can potentially cause long-lasting changes in the brain’s chemistry.

Meth Causes Damage to the Kidney and Liver

The nephrotoxicity produced by methamphetamine can be severe enough to cause renal failure. Methamphetamine has been associated with acute renal failure which is linked to renal tubular necrosis (reduction in blood flow to kidneys), acute interstitial nephritis (damage to tubules inside kidney), angiitis (inflammation in blood vessels), and rhabdomyolysis (breakdown of muscle fibers). Methamphetamine-induced brain damage can also damage the liver. The mechanism by which methamphetamine contributes to hepatocellular toxicity is unknown.

Injecting Meth Can Lead to Infectious Disease

Injecting methamphetamine can cause a range of fungal and viral infections. Sharing needles or syringes can spread viruses and lead to HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, and hepatitis B. Meth users are more vulnerable to cryptococcosis, a deadly fungal disease that affects the lungs and the brain.
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Meth Use Can Cause Psychosis

The neurotoxicity produced by methamphetamine can trigger psychosis which can increase the chances of meth abuse.

The psychotic symptoms experienced by meth users include agitation, quickness, paranoia, hallucinations, and repetitive motor activity.

The individual will talk very quickly, have conversations that are difficult for others to understand, and hold unusual or odd beliefs.

Meth Overall Long-term Effects on Your Life

Meth abuse can adversely impact all areas of an individual’s life. It leaves its mark everywhere, from physical and mental health to career to relationships. The effects of methamphetamine addiction outreach the person experiencing it.

  • The physical well-being of an individual is destroyed by methamphetamine use. The individual experiences sleeping difficulties, heart problems, and changes in appetite. Long-term effects of meth on the user’s physical health include heart problems, difficulty in breathing, brain damage and psychosis, and kidney problems.
  • Meth users are not able to perform well at work due to a lack of mental clarity, memory problems, and inability to focus.
  • Meth addiction can produce tremendous financial hardship and significantly damage a person’s economic quality of life.
  • An individual is not able to stay connected with friends and loved ones as addiction starts to dominate different areas of their life. This damages the social and emotional well-being of individuals, forcing them to isolate themselves.

Meth Causes Aggressive or Violent Behavior

Methamphetamine can make people do unimaginable things. The sudden rush of energy and mental hyperactivity produced by the drug leads to episodes of aggressive or violent behavior.

Meth abuse can uncover or aggravate pre-existing anger issues. Studies show that the chemical properties of the drug can cause increased aggression and impair an individual’s decision-making ability.

How to Get Help for Meth Addiction

Methamphetamine abuse or addiction can damage all areas of a person’s life, including personal, professional, and financial. Recovering from meth addiction requires a comprehensive plan of care.

Cornerstone Healing Center has an effective methamphetamine treatment program  that can help you defeat methamphetamine addiction. Our approach is based on science and spirituality, involving a range of therapies for the physical, mental, emotional, and social recovery of our clients.

Sources

[1] What is the scope of methamphetamine use in the United States?

[2] Meth Mouth: How Methamphetamine Use Affects Dental Health

[3] Meth and heart disease: A deadly crisis we don’t fully fathom, report says

[4] Methamphetamine-Induced Lung Injury

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Published On: 09/26/2022

Author: Susana Spiegel

Author: Susana Spiegel

Susana is a recovery, mental health, and addiction education enthusiast with other 7 years of experience in addiction recovery herself. Susana holds a Bachelor of Arts from GCU. She is anti-addiction stigma and believes that accurate and factual information is essential to beginning the recovery process.

Clinical Reviewer: Karen Williams, LPC

Clinical Reviewer: Karen Williams, LPC

Karen is a Licensed Professional Counselor with over 15 years experience. She not only specializes in addiction, but is in recovery as well. Karen is our clinical director.

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