How Does Meth Affect The Brain?

Methamphetamine affects the brain in many negative ways, both in the short term and long term. Using meth has also been linked to certain mental health disorders as well such as bipolar disorder.

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Dr. Manish Mishra, MBBS

Medically Reviewed By: Manish Mishra, MBBS


Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant drug that is often abused recreationally but which had medical purposes originally in treating attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.

It is still prescribed for certain disorders today, though rarely, because it is recognized as being highly addictive. The illicit version found on the street can be smoked, snorted, or injected.

In addition to being extremely prone to being addiction, meth also comes with a plethora of negative mental and physical side effects.

While meth has shown to be effective in treating certain behavioral health disorders and sleep disorders, it also has many negative effects on the brain when abused.

Short-Term Effects Of Meth Use On The Brain

Meth use can also give someone a fast heart rate, high blood pressure, high body temperature, and reduced blood flow due to constricted blood vessels.

Meth works by changing the way the body processes certain chemicals, namely the neurotransmitter called dopamine.

Dopamine is central to the reward center of the brain, and it gets released in large quantities during a methamphetamine high.

Here are the immediate effects meth has on the brain.

High Levels Of Dopamine And Norepinephrine

Dopamine is responsible for allowing a person to feel pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation, while norepinephrine is responsible for allowing a person to feel alert and focused.

In unison, they create the euphoria, high energy, and alertness that meth is known for.

Euphoric Feelings

With high levels of dopamine released during a meth high, a person can feel like they are on top of the world. Dopamine is responsible for feelings of pleasure and an overall sense of feeling good.

Feelings Of Invulnerability

People who use meth regularly report feelings of invulnerability and invincibility, like they can do anything and not get hurt.

This is dangerous, because it can lead to risky and violent behavior that the person might not normally engage in.

Long-Term Effects Of Meth Abuse On The Brain

While the short-term effects of meth on the brain might seem appealing, it is important to remember the ways in which the central nervous system is being damaged in the long-term.

Decreased White Matter

White matter serves as a bridge between all the areas of the brain, allowing them to communicate and interact.

This affects a person’s thinking, learning, talking, and movement. Heavy drug use can cause white matter to wear down and deteriorate.

Decreases Levels Of Serotonin And Dopamine Transporters

Long-term use of meth can damage dopamine receptors in the brain and the body’s supply of dopamine and serotonin can become depleted.

When this happens, it can become very difficult for a person to experience pleasure and happiness, and depression often follows.

Brain Damage

Abusing crystal meth causes structural changes in the brain and can result in memory loss and make it difficult for the person to process information.

Some health care providers believe that meth use can cause dementia similar to Altzeimer’s disease.

Meth-Induced Psychosis And Schizophrenia

Meth-induced psychosis can occur with long-term meth abuse and is characterized by a person having hallucinations and delusions.

When this occurs, a person either believes things that aren’t real or they see or hear things that aren’t real.

While meth does not result in schizophrenia, meth use can greatly exacerbate symptoms of this mental health condition.

Find out more about how meth affects psychosis and schizophrenia.

Parkinson’s Disease

Meth abuse can play a role in the development of Parkinson’s disease, because dopamine plays a large role in the development of the disease.

With Parkinson’s, less dopamine is produced, and the resulting chemical imbalance causes symptoms like tremors and poor balance.

The Link Between Meth Addiction And Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder characterized by extreme and at times sudden changes in a person’s mood and associated behaviors.

Someone with bipolar disorder might feel extremely happy one moment, and the next slip into a deep depression.

Bipolar disorder isn’t caused by meth abuse, but it can worsen the symptoms and make mood swings more difficult to manage.

This is because long-term meth use can change the chemicals and structure of a person’s brain over time.

Are The Effects Of Meth On The Brain Permanent?

Unfortunately, certain long-term effects of meth, such as brain damage and decreased white matter, will not be reversible. Parkinson’s also has no cure and will gradually get worse with time.

Someone who is recovering from methamphetamine addiction, however, does not need to worry that they will be depressed for the rest of their lives.

It is possible to raise serotonin and dopamine levels in natural ways, such as through physical activity and exercise.

It is important to remember that long-term meth abuse can cause permanent damage to other areas of the body in addition to the brain. These areas include the kidneys, lungs, heart, and cardiovascular system.

Addiction Treatment Programs For Methamphetamine Use

If someone you care about has an addiction to meth or any other substances, it is important to get them the help they need as soon as possible.

A meth addiction has the potential to escalate quickly and can take over a person’s life.

A typical meth treatment program will start with medical detox that allows the person to get stable and sober at a rate that is comfortable and safe for them.

They will be able to withdraw with relatively few symptoms and have less of a chance of relapsing.

After detox is complete, the person will go through an inpatient or outpatient treatment program and have access to extensive therapy and support.

Aftercare is also available to help the person continue on their new path of sobriety after their program is complete.

Find Drug Treatment Services At Bedrock Recovery Center

At Bedrock Recovery Center, part of our mission is to provide emotional and physical stabilization from substance use disorders in an environment that is both safe and effective.

Whether you are seeking drug addiction treatment for yourself or a loved one, you are not alone and we are here to help. Contact the Bedrock helpline today to learn more about our effective treatment programs.

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse
  2. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus
  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

© 2024 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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