Just the word “methamphetamine” brings to mind images from across the Internet showing the physical effects of the drug on long-term addicts. The news is replete with the stories of how meth destroys lives and relationships. Less noticeable, yet more damaging, are the ways that meth affects and changes brain chemistry. Study after study shows that prolonged use of meth can lead to very severe and debilitating changes in brain function that can affect every part of a person’s life.
Memory: Meth destroys the areas of the brain responsible for long- and short-term memory functions. Recent information reinforces the concept that meth actually causes physical changes to the memory centers in the brain. Users often report losing long stretches of time in their memory as well as not being able to remember recent events.
Chemical changes: Meth, like other drugs, causes changes in the naturally occurring chemicals in the brain, specifically dopamine. Using meth results in a flood of dopamine that causes a pleasant euphoria. The problem, however, is that the dopamine never quite returns to its original levels, which in turn causes the user to need more and more meth to achieve the same results and convinces the brain that meth is necessary in order to feel good.
Mental health issues: Chronic meth users become much more susceptible to co-occurring mental health issues. Meth has a profound effect on the emotion regulation areas of the brain. While using meth, individuals often experience tactile, visual and auditory hallucinations, paranoia, psychosis and obsessive behavior. All of these effects are markers for illnesses such as OCD and schizophrenia. In addition, as a person withdraws from meth, depression and suicidal ideation are common.
Judgment impairment: Meth attacks the frontal lobe, the area of the brain responsible for logic and reasoning. This area of the brain, not fully formed until the age of 25, controls an individual’s ability to make clear, well thought-out decisions and judgments. This can lead to poor choices that are often risky, impulsive and dangerous.
These are just a few of the effects of meth on a person’s brain. Often the effects will impair a user’s ability to recognize the need for help or know where to turn. There are a number of options for treatment when a user decides that it’s time to quit.
Many former addicts in Florida have turned to mental health centers, drug programs and other mental health hospitals to achieve their recovery. Fortunately, many of the effects of meth on the brain are reversible, to an extent. Given time and the proper care, neurological recovery is possible.