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How Meth Use Affects The Body

By Neha Kashyap
Learn how methamphetamine can cause long-term damage to major organs like your brain and heart.

About a million people ages 12 or older in the U.S. could be living with methamphetamine use disorder, or meth addiction, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. And about 1.9 million people might have used meth - also known as crystal, speed, or ice - in the past year. 

Ongoing meth use can damage your body and mind in several ways. Halifax-based physician Naveen Gupta, MBBS, BSc, tells WebMD Connect to Care that it’s like “a ticking time bomb that can go unnoticed from both the abuser and the health care professionals.”

Here are some of the ways meth use can cause long-term damage.

What Does Meth Do to Your Body?

Brain: Methamphetamine is a stimulant that rapidly increases dopamine, the brain chemical  that stimulates feelings of pleasure and motivation. Dopamine also affects thinking-related skills, like problem solving and memory. 

In the short term, meth causes an intense high. But the crash that follows can leave you feeling irritable and depressed. Over time, meth use can kill your brain’s dopamine cells. You feel unable to find pleasure or have symptoms of psychosis and paranoia. 

A commitment to treatment can help rebuild parts of the brain that take in dopamine. Those who quit meth show signs of impaired thinking-related skills at first. But with at least a year of staying drug-free, some harmful changes to your brain might reverse, the National Institute on Drug Abuse says.

Heart: Heart disease is the second leading cause of death for meth users.“Meth users are showing evidence of cardiac diseases at a greater intensity and at younger-than-typical ages,” Gupta says. 

Meth can raise your blood pressure, constrict blood vessels, speed up heart rate, and cause your heart’s muscles to collapse, she says. Meth users can also have high cholesterol, which can further increase the likelihood of heart disease.

Immune system: Meth use can weaken your body’s defenses against germs. It may even increase the likelihood of infection from pathogens like the coronavirus, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse says in an ariticle published in 2020 in the Annals of Internal MedicineMeth can also worsen conditions like HIV and hepatitis B and C. Injecting meth can make you more likely to catch these diseases, too. 

Kidneys: Ongoing meth use can also lead to kidney damage. This might be a result of the body’s difficulty in breaking down toxins in meth.

Teeth: Meth use can cause rapid tooth decay and gum disease in a condition commonly known as “meth mouth.” Symptoms include a clenched jaw, trouble eating, headaches and jaw pain. Treatment can include cosmetic surgery in extreme cases.

Skin: Meth use can cause extreme itching, which can lead to sores if you pick at your skin.

Get Help Now

If you or a loved one is struggling with meth addiction, it’s important to get help as soon as possible to lower your chances for long-term damage. WebMD Connect to Care Advisors are standing by to help. 

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