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What Happens To Your Body When You Use Crystal Meth?

While meth is a member of the amphetamine family, it is much more potent than other amphetamines. It is an "amped up" version as it works in a similar, but much stronger way. The physical effects of crystal meth on the body can be catastrophic, as we explore below.

In this article

Short-Term Effects of Meth Abuse

When someone uses crystal meth, there can often be obvious visible signs. Some of the immediate effects of meth use which can be seen by others include:

  • Jaw Clenching or Teeth Grinding
  • Dramatically Increased Energy
  • Repeatedly Performing Menial Tasks (cleaning, fidgeting, disassembling things, etc.)
  • Non-Stop Intense Talking (usually involving grand plans for the future)
  • Dramatically Increased Sex Drive
  • Paranoid or Delusional Thinking
  • Insomnia
  • Increased Body Temperature and Sweating

Long-Term Effects of Meth Abuse

Using meth for extended periods of time often produces negative consequences. These can range from physical complications, lack of dental hygiene, malnutrition, and lack of sleep. Meth use also causes long-lasting neurological damage, which may or may not be reversible. Some of the more long-term physical dangers may include:

  • Increased Risk of Stroke or Heart Attack
  • Liver or Kidney Damage
  • Increased Risk of STDs including HIV/AIDS
  • Severe Dental Issues, commonly known as “Meth Mouth”
  • Brain Damage
What Happens To Your Body When You Use Crystal Meth

How it Affects Each System

Meth is extremely hard on the body. It places a heavy strain on the heart, lungs, brain, liver, kidneys, and muscles. It is also very harmful to dental health, as meth is corrosive to tooth enamel. Some of the secondary effects of meth are harmful in a more general way like reducing appetite, promoting insomnia, and contributing to dehydration.

Some of the strongest effects meth produces in different systems of the body include:

Cardiovascular Effects

When using meth, levels of the hormone norepinephrine spike. Norepinephrine stimulates blood flow to muscles and increases heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. This results in a feeling of increased physical strength, endurance, and capability. This can also increase the risk of suffering a hemorrhagic stroke or an ischemic stroke if someone is shooting up meth. With frequent meth use, the heart becomes overworked. This can increase the risk of various heart arrhythmias, some of which can be fatal.

Meth use is also known to promote the release of endotoxins into the blood. These compounds are found inside cells and bacteria in the body. When released into the blood, they can cause a variety of health issues, some of which can be fatal. Meth reduces the normal anti-inflammatory response of acetylcholine which can make inflammation issues worse. Meth use can also contribute to hyperthermia or increased body temperature. This is dangerous as it can worsen inflammation. If someone is hyperthermic for too long, may lead to brain damage.

Pulmonary Effects

Similar to its cardiovascular effects, norepinephrine also increases lung efficiency through bronchodilation. A non-psychoactive variant of meth (levo-methamphetamine) is used in decongestant medications for this reason. Coupled with the increase in heart rate, this puts more oxygen into the blood as breathing increases. If someone is shooting meth, the risk of pulmonary embolism heightens.

Gastrointestinal Effects

Meth dampens appetite, but it also causes disruption to the normal digestion process. The vasoconstriction produced by meth can result in intestinal ischemia. This means that blood vessels constrict to the point that the intestines do not receive enough oxygen, and their function is compromised. This can cause digestion to slow or stop completely, but may also cause diarrhea and intestinal cramping. It can even lead to reduced nutrient absorption, as the normal digestive functions of the gut are disrupted.

Norepinephrine is also known to slow digestion by reducing muscle function in the intestines. As part of the fight-or-flight response, it is common to sacrifice gut function to use energy elsewhere for immediate survival. The norepinephrine released that meth produces can hijack this system. This further decreases gastrointestinal function and can result in paralytic ileus (total blockage of the intestines) or an intestinal infarction, which may be fatal.

Reproductive Effects

Meth use increases sex drive and sexual desire. It can also have severe, negative impacts on reproductive health in both men and women. Additionally, unborn children can have serious birth defects, both mental and physical, if the mother is using meth while pregnant.

  • Male Reproduction. Meth use interferes with male fertility in many ways. Prolonged meth use will reduce sperm count, but it will damage the sperm which remain. Sperm motility (ability to swim) is reduced, and there is significant DNA damage to the sperm that do retain motility. Meth use also reduces blood testosterone levels, as well as inhibits the balance of hormones that maintain healthy reproductive function. All of the effects which have been studied were dose-dependent meaning that the more meth used, the stronger the effects.
  • Female Reproduction. The most common sexual side effect of meth use in women is menstrual abnormalities. These can persist for 10 months or more after meth use has stopped. This may include irregular, heavy, or light periods with an increased possibility of anovular menstruation. This is when menstruation occurs without ovulation, meaning that the egg remains in the ovaries.
  • During or After Pregnancy. Meth use by women during pregnancy is a massive risk to the fetus and the mother alike. Factors that pose a threat to both can include higher chances of hypertension, placenta previa, placental abruption, amniotic infection, and intrauterine fetal death. There are a variety of birth defects that can result, including deformities of the nervous system, heart, digestive system, limb deformities, and cleft lip or cleft palate. The most common issues for the fetus are premature birth, small gestational size, and low birth weight. Additionally, cognitive deficits and mental health disorders are extremely common in infants born to mothers who used meth during pregnancy. Meth can also be passed into breast milk, making children much more irritable, anxious, and interfering with normal mental development.

If you or a loved one is struggling with crystal meth use, please reach out for help. We have two locations across Georgia, one treatment center in Atlanta and another rehab in Roswell.

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