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What Is Meth Face?

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“Meth face” is a term used to describe the effects of chronic methamphetamine (meth) use on a person’s facial appearance. Meth can cause a range of short- and long-term physical changes, including weight loss, acne, skin sores, dental deterioration, and hair loss. It can also cause premature aging, in which a person appears older than they actually are. Unfortunately, meth users often encounter other adverse physical effects, which can be severe, long-lasting, or permanent.

Meth addiction is a chronic, incurable brain disorder that can devastate the lives of those who suffer. However, it is also a treatable condition, and individuals who receive intensive clinical care have an excellent chance of experiencing a full recovery. If you or a loved one struggle with meth use, contact Guardian Recovery to begin your journey today.

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Causes & Effects of Meth Face

Meth use can cause a wide variety of effects that can alter a person’s appearance. There are several possible visual indicators that a person is using meth, including changes involving the eyes, mouth, teeth, and skin.

Meth Eyes

The term “meth eyes” is used to refer to the appearance of a person’s eyes when they use meth. In particular, the eyes of a person on meth will be dilated, and they may also appear red or bloodshot and have yellowing of the sclera. Likewise, the person’s eyes may appear to twitch and move around rapidly, and they may complain of blurry vision. Meth use can also directly cause conjunctivitis (pink eye) and corneal damage. (1) Over the long term, prolonged use of stimulants like meth may even lead to cataracts, glaucoma, and eventual blindness.

Meth Mouth & Meth Teeth

The terms “meth mouth” and “meth teeth” refer to the severe dental damage prolonged meth use can cause. Indeed, meth mouth is one of the most recognizable consequences and physical stigmas of meth use. Habitual meth use damages the teeth and gums due to a combination of factors.

Because it is a powerful stimulant, a person high on meth may exhibit bruxism, or excessive teeth grinding and jaw clenching. This can wear teeth down or cause them to chip or break over time. In addition, meth is associated with decreased saliva production, which under normal circumstances acts as a protective layer for the teeth and gums. When less saliva is present, a person is generally more likely to experience gum disease and tooth decay.

Individuals suffering from meth addiction also tend to neglect routine self-care, including brushing and flossing. These other factors are complicated by dietary disturbances frequently seen with prolonged meth use, including poor nutrition and irregular mealtimes. Teeth and gums need nutrients to stay healthy, and eating food and drinking water at regular intervals helps keep the oral cavity clean. Finally, meth use is commonly associated with cravings for sugary and carbonated beverages, which accelerate dental damage. (2) Oral damage from meth use is often severe, and it is not uncommon for users to require extensive dental work and even dentures.

Meth Sores, Scabs, & Lesions

People who use meth on a regular basis often get sores and scabs from compulsively scratching and picking at skin. Meth use can induce formication, which is a tactile hallucination that causes the person to feel as if they have bugs crawling on or under their skin—a condition also known as “meth mites.” (3) Meth use is associated with dry and itchy skin, as well as a disruption of the body’s ability to heal wounds and fend off infection. (4) Common locations for meth sores are the arms, legs, and face.

Dry or Cracked Lips

Another visible manifestation of meth use is dry or cracked lips, which occur due to a few factors. The decreased saliva production that meth causes leads to the person experiencing dry mouth in general. Likewise, habitual meth users are prone to dehydration due to going long periods without consuming water. This is compounded by the fact that meth causes hyperthermia, because it constricts blood vessels, preventing heat from being exchanged through the skin. (5) Meth use can also lead to repetitive lip licking and biting, which can worsen their appearance.

Wrinkles & Visually Older Appearance

Chronic meth use can cause a person to exhibit signs of premature aging for various reasons. First off, meth degrades skin collagen, which is the protein the body uses to create new skin, and disrupts wound healing. (6) As such, sores caused by repeated episodes of skin picking end up healing slowly and poorly, which can make the skin look dry, flaky, and damaged. Less collagen in the skin also causes it to lose its elasticity, which in turn gives rise to premature wrinkling and sagging. The person’s skin may eventually become sallow, pallid, or even slightly gray, due to a combination of poor blood flow and malnutrition.

Furthermore, poor hygiene, nutritional deficiencies, and chronic physiological stress frequently cause meth users to experience rapid thinning and loss of hair. Their fingernails may also begin to yellow and become brittle due to poor blood supply, malnutrition, or a fungal infection.

The appearance of aging isn’t just an appearance. One study of young adult meth users found that they showed shortened leukocyte telomere length, suggesting that meth accelerates biological aging. (7)

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Malnutrition & Dental Damage Can Cause Physical Facial Changes

When severe dental damage progresses to multiple tooth loss, it can present outwardly as sunken cheeks and a receding jawline. Similarly, poor nutrition promotes thinning of the lips, muscle atrophy, and weight loss, contributing to an overall gaunt appearance. In many cases, the changes to a person’s face may be only temporary and reversible with a healthy lifestyle and dental work.

However, some changes are structural and may be irreversible. Meth’s effects in the central nervous system cause loss of bone density and altered bone metabolism. These in turn affect the process of bone turnover by which they repair themselves. (8) Over a long period of time, modified bone turnover can lead to structural deformation of the bones in the face.

Other Effects of Meth Use

Meth is a harsh substance that produces a litany of negative physical and mental effects, both in the short and long term.

Short-Term Effects of Meth Use Include:

  • Elevated heart rate.
  • Heart palpitations.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Elevated body temperature.
  • Teeth grinding.
  • Headaches.
  • Hyperactivity.
  • Tremors or muscle twitching.
  • Seizures.
  • Heart attack and stroke.
  • Suppressed appetite.
  • Increased talkativeness.
  • Aggression.
  • Acute anxiety.
  • Panic attacks.
  • Paranoia
  • Visual, auditory, and tactile hallucinations.
  • Impaired judgment and decision-making.
  • Impulsiveness and engagement in risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex.

Long-Term Effects of Meth Use Include:

  • Lung damage and difficulty breathing.
  • Malnutrition and rapid weight loss.
  • Extreme dental disease.
  • Contraction of infectious diseases, such as hepatitis B and C and HIV/AIDS.
  • Increased risk of bacterial infections and abscesses.
  • Premature aging.
  • Osteoporosis.
  • Greatly increased risk of cardiovascular issues.
  • Development of tolerance, dependence, and addiction.
  • New or worsened mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression.
    Stimulant psychosis involving delusions and hallucinations.
  • Permanent brain damage, cognitive deficits, and memory loss.
  • Increased distractibility and inability to concentrate.
  • Repetitive motor tics or behaviors.
  • Aggression and violent tendencies.
  • Financial and legal issues.

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Getting Treatment for Meth Use

Meth use can have detrimental effects on a person’s face, body, brain, and overall well-being. A meth addiction can lead to many long-lasting or permanent physical effects, including extensive dental decay, skin damage, and premature aging. If you or a loved one is struggling to break free from meth, you are urged to seek treatment before circumstances worsen.

At Guardian Recovery, we offer comprehensive rehab programs featuring a wide variety of evidence-based services, including medical detox, behavioral therapy, dual diagnosis treatment, relapse prevention, and more. Contact us today to speak to a skilled Treatment Advisor and receive a free assessment and no-obligation health insurance benefits check. We are dedicated to ensuring our clients are provided with the tools and support they need to conquer substance misuse and reclaim the healthy and happy lives they deserve.

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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://www.reviewofoptometry.com/article/how-drug-abuse-affects-the-eye
(2)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7668266/
(3)(4)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4290678/
(5)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4700537/
(6)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4626859/
(7)https://www.nature.com/articles/s41398-021-01640-z
(8)https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9030599/

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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:

Cayla Clark

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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