Long-term methamphetamine abuse has many negative consequences, including addiction short and long-term methamphetamine effects. Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease, characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use and accompanied by functional and molecular changes in the brain.
As is the case with many drugs, tolerance to methamphetamine’s pleasurable effects develops when it is taken repeatedly. Abusers often need to take higher doses of the drug, take it more frequently, or change how they take it in an effort to get the desired effect. Chronic methamphetamine abusers may develop difficulty feeling any pleasure other than that provided by the drug, fueling further abuse. Withdrawal from methamphetamine occurs when a chronic abuser stops taking the drug; symptoms of withdrawal include depression, anxiety, fatigue, and an intense craving for the drug.
In addition to being addicted to methamphetamine, people who use methamphetamine long-term may exhibit symptoms that can include significant anxiety, confusion, insomnia, mood disturbances, and violent behavior. They also may display a number of psychotic features, including paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations, and delusions (for example, the sensation of insects creeping under the skin). Psychotic symptoms can sometimes last for months or years after a person has quit using methamphetamine, and stress has been shown to precipitate spontaneous recurrence of methamphetamine psychosis in people who use methamphetamine and have previously experienced psychosis.
These and other problems reflect significant changes in the brain caused by the misuse of methamphetamine. Neuroimaging studies have demonstrated alterations in the activity of the dopamine system that are associated with reduced motor speed and impaired verbal learning. Studies in chronic methamphetamine users have also revealed severe structural and functional changes in areas of the brain associated with emotion and memory, which may account for many of the emotional and cognitive problems observed in these individuals.
Research in primate models has found that methamphetamine alters brain structures involved in decision-making and impairs the ability to suppress habitual behaviors that have become useless or counterproductive. The two effects were correlated, suggesting that the structural change underlies the decline in mental flexibility. These changes in brain structure and function could explain why methamphetamine addiction is so hard to treat and has a significant chance of relapse early in treatment.
Long-Term Methamphetamine Effects
Methamphetamine misuse also has been shown to have negative effects on non-neural brain cells called microglia. These cells support brain health by defending the brain against infectious agents and removing damaged neurons. Too much activity of the microglial cells, however, can assault healthy neurons. A study using brain imaging found more than double the levels of microglial cells in people who previously misused methamphetamine compared to people with no history of methamphetamine misuse, which could explain some of the neurotoxic effects of methamphetamine.
Some of the neurobiological effects of chronic methamphetamine misuse appear to be, at least, partially reversible. In the study just mentioned, abstinence from methamphetamine resulted in less excess microglial activation over time, and users who had remained methamphetamine-free for 2 years exhibited microglial activation levels similar to the study’s control subjects. A similar study found that while biochemical markers for nerve damage and viability persist in the brain through 6 months of abstinence from methamphetamine, those markers return to normal after a year or more without taking the drug.
Another neuroimaging study showed neuronal recovery in some brain regions following prolonged abstinence (14 but not 6 months). This recovery was associated with improved performance on motor and verbal memory tests. Function in other brain regions did not recover even after 14 months of abstinence, indicating that some methamphetamine-induced changes are very long-lasting. Methamphetamine use can also increase one’s risk of stroke, which can cause irreversible damage to the brain. A recent study even showed a higher incidence of Parkinson’s disease among past users of methamphetamine.
In addition to the neurological and behavioral consequences of methamphetamine misuse, long-term users also suffer physical effects, including weight loss, severe tooth decay and tooth loss (“meth mouth”), and skin sores. The dental problems may be caused by a combination of poor nutrition and dental hygiene as well as dry mouth and teeth grinding caused by the drug. Skin sores are the result of picking and scratching the skin to get rid of insects imagined being crawling under it.
Long-term methamphetamine effects may include:
- Psychosis, including:
- Repetitive motor activity
- Changes in brain structure and function
- Deficits in thinking and motor skills
- Increased distractibility
- Memory loss
- Aggressive or violent behavior
- Mood disturbances
- Severe dental problems
- Weight loss
Immediate (short-term) methamphetamine effects of misuse
As a powerful stimulant, methamphetamine, even in small doses, can increase wakefulness and physical activity and decrease appetite. Methamphetamine can also cause a variety of cardiovascular problems, including rapid heart rate, irregular heartbeat, and increased blood pressure. Hyperthermia (elevated body temperature) and convulsions may occur with methamphetamine overdose, and if not treated immediately, can result in death.
The exact mechanisms whereby drugs like methamphetamine produce euphoria (the pleasurable high) are still poorly understood. But along with euphoria, methamphetamine use releases very high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the reward circuit, which “teaches” the brain to repeat the pleasurable activity of taking the drug. Dopamine is involved in motivation and motor function and its release in the reward circuit is a defining feature of addictive drugs. The elevated release of dopamine produced by methamphetamine is also thought to contribute to the drug’s deleterious effects on nerve terminals in the brain.
Short-term methamphetamine effects may include:
- Increased attention and decreased fatigue
- Increased activity and wakefulness
- Decreased appetite
- Euphoria and rush
- Increased respiration
- Rapid/irregular heartbeat
Reclaim Your Life From Methamphetamine Effects
Methamphetamine addiction is a chronic disease that can cause major health, social, and economic problems that should not be taken lightly. We Level Up California can provide you, or someone you love, the tools to recover from this condition with a professional and safe detox to ease the methamphetamine effects of abuse. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. We can inform you about this condition by giving you relevant information. Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.
 NIDA. 2021, April 13. What are the long-term effects of methamphetamine misuse?. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-are-long-term-effects-methamphetamine-misuse on 2021, December 29
 NIDA. 2021, April 13. What are the immediate (short-term) effects of methamphetamine misuse?. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-are-immediate-short-term-effects-methamphetamine-misuse on 2021, December 29