What is a Meth Head? The Dangers Of Meth, & Brain Damage from Meth Abuse
What is Meth?
Methamphetamine, commonly known as meth and its other forms such as crystal meth and methamphetamine tablets, is the most widely used synthetic drug globally . It’s a highly addictive illegal stimulant that dramatically affects the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). Meth addiction has devastating effects. It can cause lung disorders, kidney damage, hyperthermia, stroke, and cardiac arrest. Oral or dental disease, including meth mouth, was one of the most prevalent (41.3 percent) medical comorbidities in meth heads .
These psychoactive drugs give “meth heads” a rush of energy and intense feelings of pleasure. It is made from a mixture of household products and agricultural chemicals with pseudoephedrine or ephedrine, a decongestant found in over-the-counter cold remedies like Sudafed. Meth is popular and very addictive because of the euphoric effects it gives its users. However, it’s illicit because its continuous consumption has been proven to alter and destroy brain functions, resulting in a stroke, psychosis, or even death.
Meth has been classified by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)  as a Schedule II controlled substance, making it legally available only through prescription. Medically it may be used for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and as a short-term component of weight-loss treatments. However, these uses are limited, and it is rarely prescribed. Also, the prescribed doses are far lower than those typically misused. The FDA-approved brand-name medication is Desoxyn.
The Dangers of Meth
Meth can cause addiction in as little as one use in some users. People typically use meth and alcohol combinations, which increases the side effects. This is mainly due to the rush of dopamine produced by the drug. Dopamine is a chemical responsible for inducing feelings of pleasure and motivation, memory retention, learning, and reward processing. People who use meth sometimes combine it with other drugs, such as fentanyl (a “speedball”), which can be particularly dangerous and raise the risk of an overdose.
Meth causes an intense elevated or euphoric mood that is much stronger than cocaine. Experiencing these unnatural dopamine levels causes a strong desire to continue using the drug. It becomes addictive because your body experiences intense cravings to maintain the euphoric state, which often results in constant redosing and binge-like behavior to achieve that goal.
Methamphetamine causes changes in the brain circuits that control reward, stress, decision-making, and impulse control, making it more and more difficult to stop using even when it has adverse effects on your life and health. Frequent use also can lead to tolerance and withdrawal, so you need more of the drug to feel normal. Additional effects of using methamphetamine can include anxiety and depression, chronic fatigue, paranoid or delusional thinking, and severe psychological issues.
What is a Meth Head?
Meth head is a methamphetamine addict (see referred to as a “tweaker”.) Meth heads are known for their extreme paranoia, flagrant dishonesty, and lack of non-methhead friends. A meth head will steal your stuff and then help you look for it. This is a stereotypical definition of a meth head.
Others say that “Meth Head” is actually used by law enforcement and those out there who have no clue what using meth is like and therefore have no first-hand knowledge of what meth actually does to the human mind and body. They use the term only to label meth users. It’s the same as calling a group of young men with baggy pants on thugs or a group of young men with their heads shaved skinhead.
Just because someone has sores on their face doesn’t mean they use meth, that person has probably never ever used a day in their life, and their skin irritation can actually be caused by cancer, eczema, a bacterial infection, allergic reaction.
Some people automatically think that because a person has messed up teeth, they have to be on meth. Wrong again, bad teeth stem from genetics and or bad personal hygiene, and just because you see someone with bad teeth doesn’t mean they are on meth.
Your “typical” meth head is someone who likes to get high and often smokes throughout the day. They never really stay in one place for too long because they are always on the go. They house surf and carry a backpack with all their worldly belongings. They will sell whatever they have to get a pipe load, and they will appear dirty because they are constantly working on something, whether it be their bicycle or rewiring their car stereos.
Then you have your “functioning addict” these are the ones you don’t and won’t even suspect are meth users at all. They are not the stereotypical meth heads. They are your rugged, clean-cut men, your prim and proper women. The men that own and are running your local heating and airconditioning business and the women that sit at their desks making your appointments and sending you your invoices,
They are your hard-working maintenance men remodeling your homes from the ground up and the women who bring their lunches. They are the big men and women you see every day with that sandwich from Subway that actively uses meth every day and holds down good jobs.
People who use meth every day own their homes and sit around the table with their families at dinner time. There is no look to a meth head. Meth head is actually like a label put on people by people who have no clue what they are talking about.
Signs of a Meth Head
Methamphetamine is a drug that does not allow much room for casual use. Users quickly become addicts. The health of users quickly deteriorates, as does their ability to tend to basic personal hygiene. Meth is often referred to as the “dirty drug.” The physical signs of meth abuse include:
- Eye Movement: Rapid eye movement and dilated pupils.
- Low Body Weight: Users lose weight rapidly and often appear sick.
- Dental Problems: Meth use causes severe tooth decay.
- Skin Sores: Users often pick at imaginary bugs under their skin (“meth bugs”), causing open sores, infections, and scarring of the skin.
- Body Odor: Chemicals are emitted from the skin of meth users, often producing strong and unpleasant odors.
- Facial Appearance: The faces of users often appear pale or splotchy and may be sweaty as well.
Methamphetamine users will also be paranoid, jittery, and anxiety-ridden. They may communicate with senseless and irrational babble and their speech may be impaired. They are prone to moodiness and violent outbursts.
Meth Rewires the Brain
Heavy or long-term methamphetamine use damages the brain both functionally and structurally. In addition, a person’s brain becomes accustomed to the drug during addiction.
This altered biochemical activity may take time to normalize once the drug is stopped. In most cases, it will—as some dysfunction in the brain’s neurons can eventually right itself.
From a brain structure standpoint, reversal is not always so easy. Ultimately, meth causes damage to brain cells. The ability to reverse the damage largely depends on where the injury occurred.
If damage occurs in an area where other brain cells can compensate, improvement in a person’s symptoms is likely. If damage occurs where cells are more specialized and have fewer redundancies, the repair can be difficult—if not impossible.
There are three ways that long-term meth use can damage the brain:
- Causing acute neurotransmitter changes
- Causing brain cell death
- Rewiring the brain’s reward system
Heavy meth use is known to cause cell death in parts of the brain associated with self-control, including the frontal lobe, caudate nucleus, and hippocampus. Damage in these areas can manifest with a variety of psychiatric symptoms.
Brain Damage from Meth Abuse
Long-term meth users may develop life-long problems with verbal skills, memory, and may even develop Parkinson’s disease, an incurable nervous disorder with symptoms of trembling hands and extreme muscle stiffness. Animal studies show as much as 50 percent of the dopamine-producing cells in the brain can be damaged after long-term exposure to relatively low levels of methamphetamine . In other animal studies, a single high dose of the drug has been shown to damage nerve endings in the dopamine-containing regions of the brain. The nerve endings do not die but do not grow back to their original sizes.
Meth Head Teeth
Meth mouth is a term used to describe the visible effects of oral disease in an individual who uses meth because of the widespread tooth decay that often happens with the drug’s use. People who use meth may have stained, blackened, broken, or rotting teeth, both due to side effects of the drug itself and related lifestyle factors.
The typical decay pattern involves the maxillary and mandibular teeth’ facial and cervical areas with eventual progression to frank coronal involvement. Eventually, the best course of treatment for a person struggling with oral disease caused by meth use, such as meth mouth, is to treat the addiction.
Recognizing a Meth Addiction
If an individual is regularly using meth, when they try to stop, they will experience severe withdrawal symptoms. This may be a clue to an addiction when the individual hasn’t been able to score any drugs or is attempting to detox alone. Although the withdrawal is not as threatening as other drugs, it is still uncomfortable.
Symptoms of a meth withdrawal will include exhaustion, cold sweats, anxiety, cravings, suicidal thoughts, and nausea. An individual that is attempting to detox from meth should experience withdrawal symptoms in a medical detox facility so that they are overlooked by a medical professional during the process. This enhances the comfort of the patient and ensures their safety.
Find Treatment for Meth Addiction
First and foremost, if you think that a loved one is using meth, you should first research the drug and addiction so that you can better understand what your loved one needs. Next, you must plan an intervention to provide your loved one with options as to battle their addiction in a supportive environment. During this intervention, make sure that you offer support and compassion instead of judgment. Lastly, offer your support throughout the entire treatment process.
Clearing meth from the body and overcoming withdrawal symptoms is the goal of detox, which is the first step of treatment for meth addiction. Here at We Level Up NJ, a comprehensive team prescribing medications can alleviate your withdrawal pains while monitoring your health 24 hours during the detox. We prioritize your safety and comfort because this is a fragile and challenging time for you.
Once detox is complete, a new doorway in treatment opens up, which is referred to as a residential level of care. Our residential care program slowly and effectively introduces the individual into an atmosphere of therapeutic growth, marked by master’s level therapists, clinicians, group counselors, psychiatrists, and a community of like-minded individuals with the same aim: to attain sobriety and live a great life.
Some of the many modalities applied and practiced within our residential treatment facility are:
Our treatment tailors the program to the individual and the individual to the program of recovery. We begin by assessing our client’s history of mental health, drugs, and alcohol-related past. The needs of each patient are specific and personalized because we aim to provide comprehensive support for mental health, addiction, and dual diagnosis treatment. Our supportive environment is designed accordingly to give patients 24-hour care for sobriety. Most importantly, we hope to have our patients live comfortably within the facility during this crucial and fragile time.
To say “meth head” is similar to stereotyping a group of people based on a characteristic. It, along with many other terms like “crack head” or “nerd” is not only derogatory, but it can make one not come across in a manner to be taken seriously. One shouldn’t stereotype users of a substance just as one shouldn’t stereotype race, gender, age, etc.
We prioritize removing the stigma and temptations for relapse and applying an air of recovery into every component of the treatment timeline. At We Level Up NJ, we find that when clients are living in a supportive community, especially during their early recovery process, they can truly focus on what matters most: their recovery.
[1 UNODC – https://www.unodc.org/documents/scientific/Global_Smart_Update_20_web.pdf
 NCBI – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2947197/
 DEA – https://www.dea.gov/factsheets/methamphetamine