Your Body on Meth: Physical Effects of Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine, more commonly known as meth, is an illegal and highly addictive central nervous system stimulant that's often sold as a white, bitter-tasting, odorless crystalline powder.

Originally used as an ingredient in nasal decongestants and other medications that act on the respiratory system, methamphetamine is more powerful than other stimulants. Meth causes an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. Meth is abused for its stimulating effects, which include increased activity, a reduced appetite and euphoria.

Trends in Meth Abuse

Federally funded admissions for treatment of meth addiction among pregnant women rose from 8 percent in 1994 to 24 percent in 2006, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Although it appears that meth abuse is on the decline—emergency room visits related to meth dropped from 8.1 percent in 2005 to 5.6 percent in 2011—it's a devastating problem for the portion of the population who abuse it.

Health Effects of Meth

Chronic abuse of meth causes a number of cardiovascular problems, including heart attack and stroke, according the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Other long-term health effects include psychosis, hallucinations and paranoia as well as mood disturbances, aggression and violent behaviors. Long-term effects on cognitive function include memory loss, problems with thinking and processing information and a decrease in motor skills.

How Methamphetamine Changes Your Appearance

In addition to devastating effects on long-term health, meth is known for its ravaging effects on the physical appearance of chronic users. According to the clinical journal American Family Physician, the severe dental and skin problems related to meth are thought to be largely the result of malnutrition.

Meth Mouth

According to PBS' Frontline, methamphetamine dries out the salivary glands. Because saliva is critical for neutralizing and washing away the strong acids in the mouth, these remain on the teeth and gums and cause extreme tooth decay.

The decay is exacerbated by compulsive tooth grinding that characterizes a meth high as well as the sugary foods that meth users commonly binge on. Add to that the poor oral hygiene that typically accompanies a meth addiction, and even after a relatively short time of abusing meth, a user may have irreversibly broken, rotting and stained teeth.

Skin Sores

Abusing meth causes serious damage to the body's tissues and constricts blood vessels, cutting off the steady flow of blood to the body and preventing it from optimally repairing itself. Meth users often pick obsessively at their bodies as the result of hallucinations of bugs under the skin. This is known as formication, and those who abuse meth may be covered in sores that take a long time to heal. Acne commonly occurs, and the skin appears dull and lifeless and loses its elasticity. Meth users typically look far older than they actually are.

There is Hope

If you or a loved one is abusing meth, a high-quality, professional treatment program is essential for helping to ensure successful recovery. Because the withdrawal symptoms associated with stimulant addiction can be excruciating and include intense cravings and severe depression, very few meth users will be able to quit on their own.

Through various treatment therapies, those addicted to meth will identify and work through the issues underlying the addiction and learn to replace self-destructive behaviors and thoughts with healthier ones. Recovery from a meth addiction isn't easy, but it can be done. The support of loved ones during and after treatment can make a huge difference in long-term recovery and the restoration of a meaningful and productive life.

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