What Does Meth Do to Your Brain?

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Meth, or methamphetamine, is a powerful addictive stimulant substance. Meth was developed during the 20th century, and it produces similar effects as a substance known as amphetamine. What makes meth different from amphetamine is the fact that larger amounts enter into the brain when compared to amphetamine, making it more potent. An individual experiencing meth use will develop various side effects.

Short-term side effects associated with meth use include: (1)

  • Increased wakefulness.
  • Increased physical activity.
  • Breathing faster.
  • Elevated heart rate.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Elevated body temperature.

Despite the production of negative side effects, meth is used by approximately 2.5 million individuals. (2) Over time, an individual can develop methamphetamine use disorder. In 2021, approximately 1.6 million individuals were diagnosed with methamphetamine use disorder. (3) Addiction is a complex and chronic disorder that alters the brain. Attending a treatment program is one of the safest ways to detox from a substance. Here at Guardian recovery Network, we offer meth specific and other stimulant specific detoxification services. Our trained staff is dedicated to not only providing evidence-based treatment but also educating individuals on how substance use can impact one’s life. Contact us today to learn more about which one of our programs meets your specific treatment needs.

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How Methamphetamines Affect the Award System

Meth use can lead to unwanted side effects to the brain and body. What does meth do to your brain? In order to understand this, it is important to understand different areas of the brain and how they function. Inside of the brain is a system, known as the limbic system, which is where the brain’s reward system is located. (4) The brain’s reward system links the brain structures that are responsible for the ability to experience pleasure. (5) When an individual experiences pleasure, they are motivated to continue and repeat the behavior that caused it. Methamphetamine can hijack and take over the brain’s reward system.

Methamphetamine, Dopamine, & Serotonin Levels

The brain’s reward system is the area where dopamine is released. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, or chemical, that is released when pleasure is felt. (6) When an individual uses meth, dopamine floods the brain. (7) This increase in dopamine reinforces meth use, and encourages an individual to continue their meth use. Over time, an individual using meth will no longer be able to naturally produce dopamine. This causes the individual to feel as if they need to continue their meth use in order to feel “normal” or like their usual self. The way that dopamine impacts the brain maintains the cycle of addiction

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for learning and memory. (8) Like dopamine, serotonin levels in the brain are increased when meth is used. This causes an individual to have a temporary feeling of wellbeing. (9) Though there is an initial increase in serotonin levels, over time, these levels begin to decrease. This decrease in serotonin can alter an individual’s behavior and mood. (10)

Short-Term Effects of Meth Use on the Brain

In the short-term, meth use can cause a temporary sense of euphoria due to the increase of different neurotransmitters. (11) This can last for about 6 to 12 hours. (12) Meth use can also cause increased alertness and wakefulness.

Increased Alertness & Energy Levels

One of the side effects of meth use is increased alertness and energy levels. This can be a tempting selling point, however these effects are only temporary and can lead to other negative effects such as insomnia. (13)

Euphoria & Pleasure

Meth use can lead to an intense euphoric “rush”. These effects can last anywhere from 3 to 20 minutes. (14) The euphoric feeling associated with meth use is often followed by a crash where the body shuts down. (15)

Restlessness

Meth can cause an individual to become restless. Symptoms associated with restlessness include difficulties concentrating, and an inability to relax or feel at ease. (16) Restlessness can also lead to feelings of anxiety or panic.

Decreased Appetite

When an individual uses meth, their appetite may decrease causing them to eat less and become dehydrated. The decreased appetite associated with meth use can lead to extreme weight loss. (17)

Heart Rate & Blood Pressure Increase

Meth is a stimulant, meaning that it speeds up the central nervous system. This can cause an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. These effects can increase an individual’s chances of experiencing a heart attack, stroke, or an overdose.

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The Long Term Conditions & Effects of Meth Use

Long-term meth use can change how the brain functions and its structure.

Long-term effects associated with meth use include: (18)

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability and aggressive behavior
  • Difficulty falling and staying asleep
  • Hyperactivity
  • Increased energy
  • Increased concentration
  • Increased libido
  • Increased sociability
  • Obsessive and repetitive behavior

Cognitive Impairment

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that brain images of individuals who were chronic meth users, showed an increase in dopamine that changed the brain in a way that impaired motor skills and verbal learning. (19) Meth use can also heavily impact areas of the brain responsible for judgment. (20)

Psychiatric Disorders

Changes in chemicals in the brain, due to meth use, can lead to one developing a psychotic disorder. Using meth repeatedly can lead to the development of meth-induced psychosis. (21)

Psychotic disorders and symptoms associated with long-term meth use include: (22)

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder

How Does Meth Create Addiction in the Brain?

Meth’s ability to cause temporary rushes of euphoria helps contribute to an individual developing addiction. An individual may take multiple doses, within a short period of time, in order to mimic the initial experience. This continued use alters the amount of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. Leading to the user to continuing their meth use or increasing it.

Signs and Symptoms of Meth Addiction and Dependence

Understanding the signs and symptoms of methamphetamine use disorder can help determine if you or someone you know are experiencing it.

Signs and symptoms of methamphetamine use disorder include:

  • Continuing meth use despite experiencing negative physical, behavioral, social, and occupational consequences
  • Experiencing unsuccessful attempts of quitting or cutting back meth use
  • Experiencing financial or legal consequences due to meth use
  • Neglecting personal hygiene
  • Experiencing dental decay or meth mouth
  • Socially isolating oneself from friends and family
  • Experiencing an increase in risky behavior
  • Experiencing tolerance, or the need to ingest greater amounts of meth, than previously before, in order to reach the desired effects
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms if meth use is cut back or suddenly stopped

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If you suspect that you or someone you know are experiencing methamphetamine use disorder, treatment is available. Here at Guardian Recovery, we offer various therapeutic methodologies to help individuals overcome their substance use. These methodologies include cognitive-behavioral therapydialectical behavior therapymotivational interviewing, and eye movement destination and reprocessing therapy. We can connect you with one of our Treatment Advisors who can help guide you through the admissions process. A free, no obligation insurance benefits check can be provided upon your request. Contact us today to start your recovery journey.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

  1. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/methamphetamine
  2. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-scope-methamphetamine-misuse-in-united-states
  3. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-scope-methamphetamine-misuse-in-united-states
  4. https://nida.nih.gov/videos/reward-circuit-how-brain-responds-to-methamphetamine
  5. https://nida.nih.gov/videos/reward-circuit-how-brain-responds-to-methamphetamine
  6. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/dopamine
  7. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/methamphetamine
  8. https://cracksintheice.org.au/pdf/the-effects-of-ice-on-the-brain.pdf
  9. https://cracksintheice.org.au/pdf/the-effects-of-ice-on-the-brain.pdf
  10. https://cracksintheice.org.au/pdf/the-effects-of-ice-on-the-brain.pdf
  11. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-are-immediate-short-term-effects-methamphetamine-misuse
  12. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/23207
  13. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-are-long-term-effects-methamphetamine-misuse
  14. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/23207#effects-on-the-brain
  15. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/how-methamphetamine-misused
  16. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/23207#effects-on-the-body
  17. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/23207#effects-on-the-body
  18. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/23207#effects-on-the-body
  19. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/23207#effects-on-the-brain
  20. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/23207#effects-on-the-brain
  21. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/23207#effects-on-the-body
  22. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/23207#effects-on-the-brain

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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