Meth Addiction Health Conditions

Learn about meth addiction, its signs and symptoms, as well as related meth addiction health conditions.

Meth Addiction Health Conditions

Learn about meth addiction, its signs and symptoms, as well as related meth addiction health conditions.

Table of Contents

What Is Meth Addiction?

Almost two million people in the US struggle with meth addiction, or methamphetamine use disorder. Meth is a highly addictive stimulant drug which, when used, can lead to sensations of euphoria and increased energy. Individuals may even be at risk for developing an addiction from just one use.1

Meth addiction is characterized by persistent meth use and onset of withdrawal symptoms when individuals try to quit. Meth addiction wreaks havoc on the body and can lead to a number of meth addiction-related health conditions.2

How Does It Work?

Methamphetamine use disorder occurs because of the effects that meth has on the brain.  Methamphetamine specifically affects how the brain stores, releases, and replaces the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is the “feel good” chemical in the brain that plays a role in mood, decision making, thinking, movement, and the brain’s reward system. Taking methamphetamine causes the brain to release a massive amount of dopamine, which results in the high associated with meth.3

Once the initial high wears off, individuals will experience a crash as their system slowly comes down from the high of dopamine. Coming off meth can be unpleasant, and many individuals will continue to use it to avoid withdrawal symptoms. Long-term meth use can lead to dopamine receptor damage, as well as damage to the pathway that the brain uses to make more dopamine. Because of this, individuals may feel like they have to use meth to feel normal, leading to addiction. 

Symptoms And Warning Signs Of Meth Abuse

Meth symptoms and warning signs can be physical, emotional, or mental. Behavioral changes such as hyperactivity, twitches, paranoia, agitation, outbursts, and sleeping disturbances are all tell-tale signs of meth abuse. Additionally, individuals who use meth are likely to experience dilated pupils, burns, changes to dental health, and skin sores.

Hyperactivity

Meth is a powerful central nervous system stimulant, and many individuals experience hyperactivity when they use the substance. Individuals on meth may move erratically, appear energetic, and be very talkative.

Twitching, Facial Tics, Jerky Movements

Twitching, facial tics, and jerky movements are all symptoms of meth usage. Meth use can lead to dystonia, which is the involuntary contraction of muscles in the face and the body, which can lead to twitching. Dystonia often resolves itself within a couple of days for many, while for some individuals, these symptoms can linger for years.

Paranoia

A common symptom of meth use is paranoia and psychosis. Individuals may experience delusions, hallucinations, and anxiety. Symptoms of paranoia typically resolve within fifteen days of stopping using meth but can last longer. 

Dilated Pupils

Individuals who are on meth may have dilated pupils or experience mydriasis. This is because the release of dopamine associated with meth use causes the pupils to dilate.4

Agitation

Agitation, irritability, and difficulty remaining still are all symptoms of meth usage. These symptoms can be present both while an individual is on meth and during withdrawal.

Burns, Particularly on Lips or Fingers

Another tell-tale sign of meth use is burns on the lips or fingers. Meth is incredibly caustic, and smoking it can lead to chemical burns on the lips and fingers.

Erratic Sleeping Patterns

Meth use can cause irregular and erratic sleeping patterns. While on meth, many individuals experience insomnia, or may feel like they don’t need to sleep at all. However, when the effects of the drug wear off, fatigue is usually one of the first symptoms to set in. Individuals who are using meth are likely to alternate between sleepless nights and getting too much sleep, depending on their usage.

Rotting Teeth

Meth use has disastrous effects on dental health. A common sign of meth use is the occurrence of “meth mouth,” which is characterized by rotting teeth and gums. In a recent study of individuals with meth addiction, it was found that 96% had cavities, and only 23% had all of their natural teeth. Missing teeth, cavities, gum disease, and dry mouth are all signs of meth use.

Skin Sores

Skin sores are another common symptom of meth usage. Meth addicts often will pick at their skin, and itching is common. Individuals may also experience hallucinations of bugs crawling beneath or on their skin, leading them to pick and itch. Skin sensitivity increases with meth use, resulting in hives and flushed skin as well.  Additionally, individuals who use meth are at a higher risk of contracting skin infections.

Rapid Eye Movement

Individuals who are on meth may have a difficult time maintaining eye contact, and their gaze may rapidly change focus. Jerky eye movements are also common for individuals on meth.

Outbursts or Mood Swings

Meth can lead to changes in mood, outbursts, and mood swings. Because meth affects dopamine, individuals may experience extreme changes in mood, alternating between mania and depression. Additionally, anger outbursts are common for individuals using meth.

Extreme Weight Loss

Meth is a powerful appetite suppressant, and its use can lead to extreme weight loss and nutritional imbalances. This is especially true when individuals first start using meth, as weight loss tapers off as tolerance develops.

Meth Addiction Health Conditions

Meth addiction is damaging to all systems of the body and can lead to health conditions both in the short- and long-term. Certain side effects of meth can be felt immediately, accompanying the high. Other meth addiction health conditions develop over time with sustained meth usage.

Immediate Side Effects Of Meth Use

Certain mental and physical effects of methamphetamine use can be felt immediately. These side effects can often linger after the meth high has worn off and are common during withdrawal. Immediate side effects of meth use include: 

  • Anxiety: Using meth can cause immediate anxiety and paranoid thoughts.
  • Increased heart rate: One of the physical effects of methamphetamine is increased heart rate. This effect can linger long after the high wears off, as methamphetamine damages the circulatory system and heart.
  • Chest pain: Because of the strain placed on the heart and circulatory system from meth use, many individuals experience chest pain. Chest pain may also be related to issues with the respiratory system.
  • Suppressed appetite: Meth acts as an appetite suppressant, which can lead to severe weight loss when an individual begins using meth.
  • Aggression: Individuals who are on meth may become more aggressive.
  • Insomnia: Because meth is a powerful stimulant, its use can lead to insomnia.
  • Flushed or itchy skin: Individuals may experience flushed or itchy skin, as well as meth sweating while on the drug
  • Muscle twitching: At toxic levels, meth can cause involuntary muscle twitches.
  • Hallucinations: Individuals using meth may experience auditory and visual hallucinations.
  • Fever: Those who use meth may experience a high fever due to its effects on the circulatory system.

Long-Term Health Effects Of Meth Use

Meth can lead to long-term health complications and puts individuals at a higher risk for multiple health conditions. Long-term side effects include:

  • Respiratory issues: Individuals who use meth are more likely to have lung scarring and respiratory issues, such as pneumonia.
  • Heart disease: Meth use affects heart tissue and also puts individuals at risk of coronary artery disease.
  • Blackened, rotting teeth: Individuals who use meth have double the risk for broken, missing, or rotting teeth, as well as periodontal disease.
  • Arrhythmia: Meth use affects heart rate and rhythm, putting patients at risk for arrhythmia.
  • Malnutrition: Meth is a powerful appetite suppressant and sustained use can lead to nutritional imbalances.
  • Premature aging: Not only does methamphetamine use change an individual’s appearance, but it also contributes to premature cellular aging and DNA damage.5
  • Birth defects: Individuals who use meth while pregnant are 3.5 times more likely to have low birth weight. Additionally, defects such as cleft palate are associated with meth use during pregnancy.6
  • Reproductive issues: For men specifically, methamphetamine decreases sperm count and is associated with abnormal sperm morphology.7
  • Skin infection: Due to picking and increased skin sensitivity, patients are more prone to contracting skin infections such as Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA).
  • Seizures: Meth toxicity can lead to seizures. Meth increases blood flow to the brain by 30%, which can lead to meth brain bleeds as well.8
  • Sudden cardiac death: Individuals who use meth have a 27% increased risk of sudden cardiac death.9

Can Meth Cause High Blood Pressure?

Meth causes the arteries and veins in the body to constrict, increasing blood pressure. While high blood pressure is a symptom of meth use, this can linger after meth use stops as well, as methamphetamine use damages the circulatory system.

Can Meth Cause Kidney Failure?

One of the dangers of crystal meth use is the increased risk of kidney failure. Methamphetamine causes the breakdown of muscle tissue, which floods the kidneys with toxins. This is known as rhabdomyolysis, and it affects about 20% of individuals who use meth.10

In rhabdomyolysis, the kidneys become overworked and shut down, as they are unable to process the toxins. This leads to kidney failure which if untreated can be fatal.

What Does Meth Do to Your Liver?

Meth is metabolized by the liver, and over time does damage to this vital organ. In an autopsy study of individuals who use methamphetamine, it was found that 40% had liver disease. Individuals who use meth also have an increased risk of hepatitis.

Meth and Lung Damage

Long-term side effects of meth use include shortness of breath, chest pain, and breathing complications. Meth is incredibly irritating to the lungs and can cause damage when smoked. Smoking meth damages the blood vessels in the lungs, which can lead to blood pooling in the lungs with sustained use. 

Additionally, smoking meth damages the alveoli of the lungs leading to conditions such as emphysema. Other lung complications such as bronchitis, pneumonia, and pulmonary arterial hypertension are associated with meth damage.

Meth’s Impact on Your GI Tract