How does meth affect the brain? Using meth doesn’t only harm your life, but your loved ones’ lives as well. Read more about the different treatment options for you or your loved ones struggling with meth addiction.
By We Level Up NJ Treatment Center | Editor Yamilla Francese | Clinically Reviewed By Lauren Barry, LMFT, MCAP, QS, Director of Quality Assurance | Editorial Policy | Research Policy | Last Updated: March 23, 2023
What Does Meth Do to the Brain?
What does crystal meth do to the brain? Methamphetamine (also known as meth, crystal meth, or ice) is a powerful and highly addictive central nervous system stimulant drug. It is a synthetic substance that is chemically similar to amphetamine, which is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.
What does meth do to your brain? The effects of crystal meths on the brain can be significant, both in the short-term and long-term. Here are some of the ways that methamphetamine affects the brain:
- Increased dopamine levels. Methamphetamine stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is associated with pleasure and reward. This flood of dopamine can lead to feelings of euphoria and a sense of intense pleasure.
- Damage to dopamine receptors. Methamphetamine use can cause damage to dopamine receptors in the brain, leading to a decrease in dopamine production and reduced ability to experience pleasure or reward.
- Changes in brain structure. Methamphetamine use can cause changes in the structure of the brain on meth. Meth brain scan shows a reduced gray matter volume and changes in the connectivity between different areas of the brain.
- Impaired cognitive function. Methamphetamine use can impair cognitive function, including attention, memory, and decision-making.
- Meth induced psychosis. Methamphetamine use can cause psychotic symptoms, including delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia.
- Increased risk of addiction. Methamphetamine is a highly addictive drug, and repeated use can lead to changes in the brain that increase the risk of addiction.
- Long-term damage. Long-term use can cause irreversible damage to the brain on meth, including memory loss, problems with learning and motor function, and an increased risk of stroke and other neurological disorders.
It is important to note that the effects of meth on the brain can vary depending on the individual and the frequency and duration of use. If you or someone you know is struggling with methamphetamine use or other drug use, it is important to seek professional help and support.
How Does Meth Affect the Brain and Neurotransmitters?
How does meth affect your brain? Meth affects the brain by affecting the levels of several neurotransmitters, including dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Here are some ways that methamphetamine affects these neurotransmitters:
- Methamphetamine increases the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is associated with pleasure and reward. This leads to a surge of dopamine in the brain, which can create a sense of euphoria or intense pleasure. Over time, methamphetamine use can cause damage to the dopamine receptors in the brain, which can lead to decreased dopamine function and problems with motivation, pleasure, and movement.
- Methamphetamine also increases the release of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that is associated with the “fight or flight” response. This leads to increased heart rate, blood pressure, and other physiological responses. Over time, methamphetamine use can cause damage to the norepinephrine system, which can lead to problems with anxiety, mood, and arousal.
- Methamphetamine also affects the levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is involved in mood, appetite, and sleep. Methamphetamine use can cause a surge in serotonin levels initially, but over time, it can lead to damage to the serotonin system, which can cause problems with mood, memory, and cognitive function.
What meth does to the brain? Methamphetamine use can cause long-lasting changes to the brain’s chemistry and structure, which can lead to cognitive impairment, mood disorders, and other mental health problems. It is important to note that how meth affects the brain and the extent of brain damage from meth use depends on the amount and duration of use, as well as other factors such as age, genetics, and overall health.
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Meth Abuse Statistics
Methamphetamine is a highly addictive drug that can lead to serious physical and mental health problems, as well as significant social and economic consequences. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), in 2020, approximately 1.5 million people aged 12 or older reported using methamphetamine in the past year.
Among people aged 12 or older in 2020, 0.9% (or about 2.6 million people) reported using methamphetamine in the past 12 months.
Source: 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health
Among people aged 12 or older in 2020, an estimated 0.6% (or about 1.5 million people) had a methamphetamine use disorder in the past 12 months.
Source: 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health
In 2020, approximately 23,837 people died from an overdose involving psychostimulants with abuse potential other than cocaine (primarily methamphetamine).
Methamphetamine Drug Facts
What is Methamphetamine?
Methamphetamine (meth) is a stimulant. The FDA-approved brand-name medication is Desoxyn.
What is its origin?
Mexican drug trafficking organizations have become the primary manufacturers and distributors of methamphetamine throughout the United States, including Hawaii. Domestic clandestine laboratory operators also produce and distribute meth on a smaller scale. The methods used depend on the availability of precursor chemicals.
What are common street names?
Common street names include:
- Bikers Coffee
- Black Beauties
- Poor Man’s Cocaine
- Stove Top
- Methlies Quick
What is its legal status in the United States?
Methamphetamine is a Schedule II stimulant
under the Controlled Substances Act, which
means that it has a high potential for abuse and a
currently accepted medical use (in FDA-approved products). It is available only through a prescription that cannot be refilled.
Today there is only one legal meth product, Desoxyn. It is currently marketed in 5, 10, and 15-milligram tablets (immediate-release and extended-release formulations) and has very limited use in the treatment of obesity and ADHD
What does it look like?
Regular meth is a pill or powder. Crystal meth
resembles glass fragments or shiny blue-white “rocks” of various sizes.
How is it abused?
Meth is swallowed, snorted, injected, or smoked. To intensify the effects, users may take higher doses of the drug, take it more frequently, or change their intake method.
What is its effect on the body?
- Taking even small amounts of meth can result in:
- Increased wakefulness
- Increased physical activity
- Decreased appetite
- Rapid breathing and heart rate
- Irregular heartbeat
- Increased blood pressure
- Hyperthermia (overheating)
What is its effect on the mind?
Meth is a highly addictive drug with potent central nervous system (CNS) stimulant properties. Those who smoke or inject it report a brief, intense sensation or rush. Oral ingestion or snorting produces a long-lasting high instead of a rush, which reportedly can continue for as long as half a day.
Both the rush and the high are believed to result from the release of very high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine into areas of the brain that regulate feelings of pleasure. Long-term meth use results in many damaging meth effects on brain, including addiction.
Does Meth Permanently Damage Brain?
Does meth cause brain damage? Methamphetamine use can cause long-lasting and sometimes permanent damage to the brain. Methamphetamine can damage the dopamine receptors in the brain, which can lead to decreased dopamine function over time. This can cause problems with motivation, pleasure, and movement.
How does meth work in the brain? Meth use can lead to reductions in gray matter volume in certain areas of the brain, particularly in the frontal cortex, which is important for decision-making, planning, and self-control. These changes in brain structure may be related to cognitive impairment and problems with impulse control that can persist even after someone stops using the drug.
Additionally, methamphetamine use can increase the risk of stroke, seizures, and other neurological problems, which can cause long-lasting damage to the brain.
It is important to note that the brain has some capacity for recovery and repair, but the extent of brain recovery after meth depends on the amount and duration of methamphetamine use, as well as other factors such as age, genetics, and overall health.
Meth Brain Scan
Brain scans can provide visual evidence of the structural and functional changes that occur in the brain as a result of methamphetamine use. Here are some of the common findings in brain scans of individuals who have used meth:
- Reduced gray matter volume. Meth use has been associated with reduced gray matter volume in areas of the brain involved in decision-making, emotional regulation, and memory.
- Changes in white matter. Meth use can cause damage to the white matter in the brain, which is responsible for transmitting signals between different regions of the brain. This can lead to impaired cognitive function.
- Decreased dopamine activity. Chronic meth use has been shown to reduce dopamine activity in the brain, which can lead to symptoms of depression and anhedonia (a lack of pleasure or interest in activities).
- Alterations in cerebral blood flow. Meth use can alter cerebral blood flow in the brain, which can lead to ischemia (a lack of oxygen and nutrients in the brain) and damage to brain tissue.
Overall, brain scans provide important information about the changes that occur in the brain as a result of meth use. These changes can have serious consequences for cognitive function, mood, and overall brain health.
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How Does Meth Damage The Brain?
Meth damages the brain by affecting the levels of certain neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Here are some of the ways that can cause meth damage to the brain:
- Neurotoxicity. Methamphetamine use can cause neurotoxicity, which is the death of brain cells. Methamphetamine is believed to cause this by inducing oxidative stress, which can damage cells in the brain.
- Damage to dopamine receptors. Methamphetamine use can damage the dopamine receptors in the brain, which can lead to decreased dopamine function over time. This can cause problems with motivation, pleasure, and movement.
- Changes in brain structure. Methamphetamine use can lead to reductions in gray matter volume in certain areas of the brain, particularly in the frontal cortex, which is important for decision-making, planning, and self-control. These changes in brain structure may be related to cognitive impairment and problems with impulse control that can persist even after someone stops using the drug.
- Neurological problems. Methamphetamine use can increase the risk of stroke, seizures, and other neurological problems, which can cause long-lasting damage to the brain.
- Psychotic symptoms. Methamphetamine use can cause psychotic symptoms, including delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia, which may be related to the crystal meth effects on brain, particularly on dopamine and other neurotransmitters in the brain.
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What Part of the Brain Does Meth Affect?
- Dopamine pathways. Methamphetamine increases the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is associated with pleasure and reward. This affects the dopamine pathways in the brain, which are involved in motivation, reward, and reinforcement.
- Frontal cortex. Methamphetamine use can lead to reductions in gray matter volume in the frontal cortex, which is important for decision-making, planning, and self-control.
- Limbic system. Methamphetamine affects the limbic system, which is involved in emotions, learning, and memory. Methamphetamine use can lead to changes in the connectivity between different areas of the limbic system, which may be related to the meth effects on the brain, particulary on learning and memory.
- Hippocampus. Methamphetamine use can cause damage to the hippocampus, which is involved in learning and memory. Methamphetamine use may lead to a reduction in the size of the hippocampus, which can cause problems with memory and cognitive function.
- Basal ganglia. Methamphetamine use can affect the basal ganglia, which are involved in movement and motor control. Methamphetamine use can cause problems with movement and coordination.
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What are the Long Term Effects of Meth on the Brain?
Long-term methamphetamine use can have serious and lasting effects on the brain. Here are some of the long-term meth effects on the brain:
- Cognitive impairment. Methamphetamine use can lead to long-term cognitive impairment, including problems with memory, attention, and decision-making. These cognitive deficits can persist even after the user has stopped using the drug.
- Mood disorders. Meth use can increase the risk of developing mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, and psychosis. These conditions can persist even after the user has stopped using the drug.
- Structural changes. Meth use can cause structural changes in the brain, including a reduction in the size of the hippocampus, which is involved in memory formation and learning. Meth use can also lead to damage in the striatum, which is involved in motor control and reward processing.
- Increased risk of stroke. Meth use can increase the risk of stroke, particularly in young people. This is due to the drug’s effects on blood pressure and blood vessel function.
- Increased risk of Parkinson’s disease. Meth use has been associated with an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that affects movement and coordination.
Overall, the meth long term brain effects can be severe and lasting, with potentially permanent cognitive and neurological deficits of your brain on meth. It is important to seek treatment for meth addiction as soon as possible to prevent further damage to the brain and nervous system.
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Meth Addiction Treatment
First and foremost, if you think a loved one is abusing meth, you should research the substances and their associated addiction to understand better what you loved one needs. Next, you must plan an intervention to provide your loved ones with options to battle the effects of meth on brain in a safe and supportive environment. During this intervention, offer compassion and support instead of judgment. Lastly, show your support throughout the entire treatment process.
In addition, prolonged drug use can have severe physical and psychological effects on you, so it is essential to seek treatment as soon as possible. Inpatient drug rehab offers intensive care that can help you promptly get through the early stages of meth withdrawal.
Medical Detox for Meth Addiction Treatment
Medical detox is often considered the first stage of treatment. It will help you navigate the complicated meth detox withdrawal but doesn’t address patterns of thought and behavior contributing to drug use. Various treatment approaches and settings can help provide the ongoing support necessary to maintain long-term sobriety after you complete the meth detox.
Cravings are very common during drug detox and can be challenging to overcome. This often leads to relapse. Constant medical care provided during inpatient treatment helps prevent relapse. Clinicians can give medication and medical expertise to lessen cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
Inpatient Rehab for Meth Addiction Treatment
There isn’t one treatment approach or style that will suit everyone. Treatment should speak to the needs of the individual. Inpatient rehab and addiction treatment aren’t just about drug use. the goal is to help the patient stop using meth and other substances, but drug rehab should also focus on the whole person’s needs.
Addiction is a complex but treatable disease that affects brain function and behavior. When someone or their family is considering different treatment facilities, they should account for the complexity of addiction and the needs of the individual. The objective of attending an inpatient rehab center for addiction treatment is to stop using the drug and re-learn how to live a productive life without it.
Following a full medical detox, most people benefit from inpatient rehab. Inpatient drug rehab can last anywhere from 28 days to several months. Patients stay overnight in the rehab facility and participate in intensive treatment programs and therapy. Once someone completes rehab, their addiction treatment team will create an aftercare plan, which may include continuing therapy and participation in a 12-step program like Narcotics Anonymous.
Psychotherapy for Meth Addiction Treatment
Several different modalities of psychotherapy have been used in the treatment of mental health disorders along with addiction, including:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – is an effective treatment that involves changing both the patterns of negative thoughts and the behavioral routines which are affecting the daily life of the depressed person for various forms of depression.
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) – is a comprehensive mental health and substance abuse treatment program whose ultimate goal is to aid patients in their efforts to build a life worth living. The main goal of DBT is to help a person develop what is referred to as a “clear mind.”
Medication-Assisted Treatments (MAT) for Meth Addiction Treatment
Medication-Assisted Treatments (MAT) for substance use and mental health disorders are commonly used in conjunction with one another. This includes the use of medications and other medical procedures. During your rehab, the staff from your treatment facility will help you identify what caused your addiction and teach you skills that will help you change your behavior patterns and challenge the negative thoughts that led to your addiction. Sometimes, the pressures and problems in your life lead you to rely on substances to help you forget about them momentarily. The crystal meth effects on brain and the nervous system can be treated simultaneously with the help of therapies.
If you or a loved one is struggling with crystal meth addiction or a high-functioning meth addict, call today to speak with one of our treatment specialists. Your call is private and confidential, and there is never any obligation. The We Level Up NJ treatment center network offers nationwide facilities. Connect with one of our rehab specialists.
Meth Brain Damage and Faces of Meth Video
The “Faces of Meth” is a term used to describe the physical deterioration that can occur in individuals who use methamphetamine over a prolonged period. Methamphetamine use can cause significant changes in a person’s appearance, including skin problems, dental decay, and premature aging.
The “Faces of Meth” is a well-known anti-drug campaign created by the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office in Portland, Oregon. The campaign features a series of meth addicts images who were arrested for meth-related crimes.
The video show the physical transformation that happens after prolonged meth abuse and is intended to represent the crystal meth effects on brain and on an individual’s appearance, health, and life. The “Faces of Meth” video is designed to deter people from using crystal meth by showing the negative effects associated with its use.
3 Popular Effects of Crystal Meths on the Brain FAQs
What is meth baby brain?
Meth baby brain refers to the effects that methamphetamine use during pregnancy can have on the developing fetus’s brain. When a pregnant woman uses meth, the drug can cross the placenta and enter the developing fetus’s bloodstream, leading to a range of negative effects on fetal brain development.
Can meth cause brain damage?
Yes, methamphetamine (meth) use can cause brain damage. Meth is a highly addictive stimulant drug that affects the central nervous system, causing a surge of dopamine to be released in the brain. Over time, this can lead to neurotoxicity and structural changes in the brain, which can result in long-term cognitive and neurological deficits.
Does meth kill brain cells?
Yes, methamphetamine (meth) can damage or kill brain cells. Research studies have shown that long-term use of methamphetamine can lead to changes in the brain’s structure and function, including reduced gray matter volume, altered dopamine levels, and decreased metabolic activity. Methamphetamine use can also cause inflammation and oxidative stress, which can damage brain cells and disrupt normal brain function.
Search We Level Up NJ “What Does Meth Do To The Brain?” Topics & Other Resources
 What treatments are effective for people who misuse methamphetamine? | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) (nih.gov) – https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-treatments-are-effective-people-who-misuse-methamphetamine / Tag: What does meth do to the brain?
 Patterns and Characteristics of Methamphetamine Use Among Adults — United States, 2015–2018 | MMWR (cdc.gov) – https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6912a1.htm / Tag: What does meth do to the brain?
 Know the Risks of Meth | SAMHSA – https://www.samhsa.gov/meth/ Tag: What does meth do to the brain? / meth and the brain
 Neurologic manifestations of chronic methamphetamine abuse – PMC (nih.gov) – Rusyniak DE. Neurologic manifestations of chronic methamphetamine abuse. Neurol Clin. 2011 Aug;29(3):641-55. doi: 10.1016/j.ncl.2011.05.004. Epub 2011 Jun 24. PMID: 21803215; PMCID: PMC3148451. / Tag: What does meth do to the brain?
 Drug Fact Sheet: Methamphetamine (dea.gov) – https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Methamphetamine-2020_0.pdf / Tag: What does meth do to the brain? / meth and the brain
 How Long Does Meth Stay In Your System? – 7 Stages & Effects (welevelup.com) – https://welevelup.com/addiction/how-long-does-meth-stay-in-your-system/Tag: What does meth do to the brain?
 Methamphetamine DrugFacts | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) (nih.gov) – https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/methamphetamine / Tag: What does meth do to the brain?
 Methamphetamine Research Report: Overview | NIDA (nih.gov) – https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/overview / Tag: What does meth do to the brain?
 Meth Overdose Deaths Surge | NIH Record – https://nihrecord.nih.gov/2021/10/29/meth-overdose-deaths-surge / Tag: What does meth do to the brain?
[10 ] Trends in U.S. methamphetamine use and associated deaths | National Institutes of Health (NIH) – https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/trends-us-methamphetamine-use-associated-deaths / Tag: What does meth do to the brain?