How Meth Affects the Brain

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1. Brain Chemistry Plays an Important Role in How Meth Works
2. Long-Term Effects on Brain Function Associated With Meth Addiction
3. Meth and Long-Term Brain Damage
4. Finding a Way Back From Meth Addiction

Meth addiction is a disease of the brain. It is characterized by relapse and by the inability to refrain from using drugs even when the use has negative consequences. These two parts of the definition of drug addiction go hand in hand. Because of the effect that drugs have on the human brain, it is very difficult for an addict to stop using drugs that have become so damaging to them. Without outside help from friends, family and professional recovery experts, the chances of recovering from drug addiction are very bleak.

To better understand how methamphetamine addiction is such an incredible cross to bear, let’s look at the how the drug affects the brain, and how the brain functions when it is under the influence of meth.
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meth on the BrainBrain Chemistry Plays an Important Role in How Meth Works

The human brain counts on a neurotransmitter called dopamine to recognize, among other things, pleasure. Without dopamine, we wouldn’t be able to enjoy even the simplest, most fun parts of our lives. When our children smile at us, dopamine is what causes that warm and fuzzy feeling inside. When we win a game of checkers or enjoy the excited feeling of skiing down a mountain, dopamine communicates the pleasure we experience.

Methamphetamine, when ingested into the human body, takes on a chemical composition that is very similar to dopamine. The drug can literally fool the neurons in the brain into believing that the drug is dopamine. The drug will also stimulate production of greater amounts of dopamine, as well as block the re-uptake mechanism that normally reabsorbs excess dopamine from the synapse. The presence of an increased amount of natural dopamine partnered with the unnatural dopamine (meth), and the inability of the body to reabsorb dopamine, all combine to create the euphoric feelings associated with the use of meth. See Also: how long does meth stay in the body.

The effects of meth on the brain do not stop there, however. Not only can meth affect any neuron in the brain that contains dopamine, it can adversely affect neurons that contain norepinephrine and serotonin. Norepinephrine is the neurotransmitter that is responsible for our “fight or flight” instinct. The release of this neurotransmitter controls our heart rate and blood pressure, and helps us deal with stressful situations. Meth does not necessarily mimic norepinephrine in the same way that it does dopamine, but it does inhibit the re-uptake of the excess neurotransmitter. The neurons will continue to release norepinephrine into the brain synapse, and soon the body systems controlled by norepinephrine are drastically affected. Symptoms of too much norepinephrine in the brain may include:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Increased heart rate
  • Erratic heartbeat

Another neurotransmitter that is affected by meth use is serotonin. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that allows us to sleep, and it balances the emotions. It also controls our movements. When an individual exposes their body to meth, the effects on serotonin levels are often obvious. The person may become irrational or easily excited. They will experience an increase in energy, coupled with an inability to sit still. The effects of meth use are often long lived and those who use it may be unable to rest or sleep for extended periods of time.

Unlike other stimulants, such as cocaine which metabolizes very quickly, the effects of a single dose of meth may take many hours or days to fully metabolize, creating a dangerous environment for the drug user when it comes to making sound decisions.
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Crystal Meth Abuse RehabLong-Term Effects on Brain Function Associated With Meth Addiction

Meth use not only cause immediate changes in the way the brain functions, it can also lead to permanent changes in the brain and how the brain works. Studies have shown that chronic meth use impairs both the memory and emotional centers of the brain. For instance, someone who uses meth for long periods of time may discover over time that they can no longer enjoy activities like they did prior to the drug use. They may have inappropriate reactions to life events. For example, they may suffer from the inability to be happy when their grandchild is born or an inability to be sad when they lose a close friend or family member. They may have periods during their lives where they can’t remember important things, such as schooling or jobs they’ve held.

The events of our lives unfold to create the people we eventually become. Those who suffer from meth addiction face the very real possibility of not growing into their full potential. Blank spaces in their past and incomplete human interactions and emotions eventually conspire to create a mock existence.
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Meth and Long-Term Brain Damage

When someone stops taking meth or other harmful drugs, the body should metabolize the drugs in the system and the effects of the drugs – including the euphoria – should cease. This is a reasonable assumption to make; however, when it comes to meth, it is not true. The effects of meth can last for a very long time after use of the drug has ceased.

One study found that individuals who had not taken meth for as many as 11 months still showed considerable brain damage in the cognitive and motor skills areas of development. The study used a radioactive tracer injected into the body at low, safe dosages to take photographs of the dopamine receptors in the brain. The subjects who had taken meth months prior to the study still showed a significant difference in their dopamine receptors.

Because dopamine is responsible, in part, for our ability to move, the medical tests were followed by physical tests to determine motor skills. As a group, those individuals who had used meth performed less well than those who had never taken the drug.

Another focus of this particular study looked at metabolism. In many cases, people who have suffered from addiction disorders have a decrease in metabolism. In the case of meth use, however, the opposite proved true. A look at metabolic rates showed that there was a 14 percent increase in brain metabolism in users over non-users. The researches have stated that this is indicative of an inflammation of the brain that continues to exist long after drug use has stopped. Ultimately, it proves that meth is dangerous and the brain damage that results from even short-term use is unavoidable.

Signs and Symptoms

Some of the most common outward signs of the effects of meth on the brain have to do with behavior. They might include:

  • Intense paranoia
  • Obsessive behaviors or “tweaking”; for example, constantly cleaning one’s home or another obsessive behavior
  • Delusional parasitosis, or the belief that one is covered with bugs or one’s home is infested with bugs
  • Violent tendencies

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Executive Rehab at Alta Mira

Finding a Way Back From Meth Addiction

The severity of the damage to the brain is contingent upon how long an individual is trapped in the using phase of addiction. Finding and getting help is the best way to decrease the long-term effects of use. At Alta Mira, we strive to formulate a plan for each individual because we understand that no two people who suffer from addiction face the same issues and problems associated with their disease. Trained staff members can assess the possible underlying causes of addiction and develop a plan that gives you the very best chances for success. We can assess how crystal meth use has affected your brain and get you the treatment you need to leave addiction behind forever. Call today.
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