How Does Meth Addiction Affect the Brain?
Even in small doses, methamphetamine can have a profound effect on the body. It can increase physical activity and wakefulness and decrease appetite. It causes the heart to beat more rapidly, increases blood pressure and can cause irregular heartbeat. An overdose of meth can cause hyperthermia, raising the body’s temperature and causing convulsions and even death.
Like many addictive drugs, methamphetamine releases very high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine affects motivation, reward and most especially pleasure. Dopamine also affects compulsion and preservation. The combination can quickly lead to addiction. Meth and crystal meth reward their users with intense feelings of pleasure. This euphoria “rewards” the user and motivates him to use the drug again. With chronic abuse, tolerance develops. Abusers must take increased amounts of meth or must take it more frequently to achieve the same level of euphoria. Abusers experience intense cravings for the drug when use is stopped, making it practically impossible to break an addiction to meth or crystal meth without professional help.
Chronic abuse of methamphetamine results in over-stimulation of dopamine which “eats away” at the brain’s nerve terminals. Brain imaging studies conducted in 2001 showed that meth causes significant functional and structural changes in the brain, down to the molecular level. Meth use reduces fine motor control and speed and impairs verbal learning.
The areas of the brain the control emotion and memory are negatively impacted by meth abuse. These changes in the brain are believed to be behind the confusion, mood disturbances, aggressive and violent behavior, and severe psychotic episodes common to meth addicts. Paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations and delusions may last for months or years after meth use is stopped. As with LSD, stress can trigger spontaneous psychotic flashbacks years after methamphetamine use is stopped.
Many of the effects of chronic methamphetamine abuse can be reversed. The longer meth use continues, the greater the damage and the less likely full recovery becomes. Use of meth and crystal meth increases stroke risk and can irreversibly damage the brain. Intervention as soon as possible at a drug rehabilitation treatment center that specializes in methamphetamine addiction is the meth addict’s best opportunity for recovery.