Short and Long-Term Side Effects of Meth Use and Addiction

Last Updated: Apr 12th 2020

Reviewed by Brittany Polansky

Short and Long-Term Side Effects of Meth Use and Addiction

Crystal meth is a powerful stimulant that increases levels of dopamine, a brain chemical associated with motivation and reward. Because the feelings of euphoria are so pleasurable, it’s natural for the brain to want more. The problem is that crystal meth is highly addictive and incredibly toxic. The short and long-term effects of meth use are extremely harmful — and can often result in death. 

How to Detect Meth Use

Behavioral signs of crystal meth use are usually easy to spot. Common signs of meth use may include sweating, dilated pupils, constant talking, paranoia, and erratic or fidgety behavior (“tweaking”). However, one of the most easily recognizable symptoms of crystal meth use is dramatic weight loss. Since meth is a stimulant, it speeds up both the heart rate and a person’s metabolism, causing them to burn fat and calories more quickly.

Side Effects of Short-term Meth Use

Some short-term side effects of meth can be deadly, even in small doses, while others may fade relatively quickly if meth is stopped. Symptoms of short-term meth use may include:

  • Increased energy and self-confidence
  • Irregular or rapid heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Confusion
  • Decreased appetite
  • Panic attacks
  • Irritability
  • Erratic or bizarre behavior
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea

Long-term Side Effects of Meth Use

The long-term side effects of meth use can very, but most often include addiction, changes in appearance, and neurological damage.  

Increased Tolerance, Which Can Lead to Addiction

One of the dangers of meth use, especially long-term crystal meth use, is the development of a tolerance. Developing a tolerance means that each time the drug is taken, it loses effectiveness and doesn’t provide the desired high. Larger or more frequent doses of crystal meth are needed to get the desired results, or people may switch from snorting it to consuming it in a faster-acting method, such as smoking or injecting. This dangerous cycle usually doesn’t stop until the user overdoses, or until they’re able to get into some kind of treatment program.  

Crystal Meth tolerance, which typically builds up over weeks or months, often leads to a full-fledged addiction. A person who is addicted to meth is unable to stop or cut down despite serious negative consequences. 

Getting clean off crystal meth triggers unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, often beginning with extreme fatigue, anxiety, panic, stomach cramps, sweating, and severe depression. Early crystal meth withdrawal is typically followed by difficult symptoms like intense cravings, hallucinations, delusions, confusion, mood swings, aches and pains, tremor, agitation, increased appetite, and cravings for sweet or high-carb food. 

After three or four weeks, the majority of crystal meth withdrawal symptoms diminish. However, fatigue, anxiety, and depression may not subside for several months. 

Early Aging and Changes in Appearance

Scabs and skin sores are another common side effect of meth use. This happens when a user incessantly picks or scratches to stop the sensation that bugs are crawling under the skin. Hair may fall out or become patchy, and users may appear gaunt, old, or frail due to extreme weight loss and malnutrition.

Frequent or long-term meth use causes “meth mouth,” consisting of tooth decay, broken teeth, and tooth loss due to poor oral hygiene, dry mouth, teeth grinding, and consumption of sugary beverages. Meth users may also develop premature osteoporosis, which is associated with bone weakening and increased risk of brittle or broken bones.

Neurological Damage

Unfortunately, brain damage from meth use is all too common. Long-term meth use causes a decrease in the number of neurons in the brain, which results in symptoms similar to those of severe head injuries.  

The brain is resilient, and some damage is reversed after long-term sobriety, depending on the length and amount of meth used. However, heavy or long-term meth users — those who go on long binges or those with pre-existing mental illness — may experience more severe brain damage.

NIDA (National Institute on Drug Addiction) reports that as they get older, crystal meth users may be at increased risk of Parkinson’s disease, an incurable nervous disorder that causes muscle stiffness and trembling hands. 

Other neurological side effects of meth use may also include:

  • Severe psychiatric disorders, such as hallucinations, paranoia, or repetitive movements
  • Difficulty focusing, paying attention, solving problems, and remembering
  • Mood swings, depression, or loss of motivation
  • Irritability, aggression, and the possibility of suicidal or homicidal thoughts

Other Side Effects of Meth Use on the Body

Aside from the main three side effects of meth use described above, there are other health concerns to be aware of:

Cardiovascular system issues

Crystal meth places a great deal of stress on the cardiovascular system. Users may experience rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, chest pain, shortness of breath, and inflammation of the lining of the heart. Constriction of the veins and blood vessels can cause blood clots that may rupture. Heart attack and stroke are always possible. 

Organ damage

Smoking meth causes toxins to travel directly to the lungs, where reduced blood flow can cause severe lung damage. An extreme elevation of body temperature may cause the kidneys to shut down. The liver may be damaged as it works to break down toxic substances, often leading to liver disease and cirrhosis.

Weakened immune system

Long-term meth use weakens the immune system and makes it difficult for the body to fight off illness and infections. 

Dangers of risky behavior

A strong sex drive, paired with impaired judgment, often results in risky behavior such as unprotected sex or sharing of needles. Problems may include unwanted pregnancies, and sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/AIDS, or hepatitis B and C. 

Overdose

Dangers of meth use include death from a sudden heart attack or stroke. An overdose may also trigger seizures and coma. 

Using Meth While Pregnant Can Lead to Birth Defects

Women who use meth during pregnancy are more likely to deliver infants with severe problems, including premature birth, low birth weight, delayed growth, heart abnormalities, or infections. 

Prenatal methamphetamine exposure may cause birth defects such as cleft palate, small head circumference, malformed ribs, or gastroschisis, a condition that causes the baby’s intestines to emerge from a hole near the belly button. 

As they mature, children may have trouble with sleep, anger, behavior, learning, or coordination. Outcomes for moms and babies are difficult to study because many pregnant women also use cigarettes, alcohol, or other drugs. 

A study by the University of Toronto, published in Science Digest, indicates that a single use during pregnancy may cause long-term problems for babies. Other studies, however, suggest that women who stop using meth at any point during pregnancy are likely to have a better outcome. 

Social Side Effects of Meth Use

People who use meth are typically talkative and energetic, but their bizarre behavior may cause problems with friends and family. Users may lose interest in their partner or children, and in time, users may socialize only with other meth users.

Get Treatment for a Meth Addiction Today

Addiction to meth is challenging, and some side effects of meth use can be long-lasting or even permanent. The sooner you seek treatment, the better the chance you can avoid harmful outcomes, including death. Addiction is a treatable disease, and with hard work, recovery is always possible.

At 1st Step Behavioral Health, our compassionate, experienced team of professionals is ready to help. Give us a call at 855-425-4846 or contact us here for more information.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Brittany Polansky

Brittany PolanskyBrittany has been working in behavioral health since 2012 and is a Primary Clinician at our facility. She is an LCSW and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has great experience with chemical dependency and co-occurring mental health diagnoses as well as various therapeutic techniques. Brittany is passionate about treating all clients with dignity and respect, and providing a safe environment where clients can begin their healing journey in recovery.