Shoreline Sober Living, San Diego, CA
How methamphetamine affects the brain

Meth, often referred to as Methamphetamine or crystal meth, is a potent drug that can cause significant damage to the brain and body in various ways. Thankfully, many side effects and symptoms caused by Methamphetamine can be reversible through treatment and recovery over time. However, restoring the brain to its original function does not simply happen overnight; the individual will need to abstain from any form of drug used for a substantial period.

Types of effects on the brain

Long-term and heavy meth use will cause severe effects on an individual’s brain-damaging both the functionality and the structure. An individual’s brain will, over time, become accustomed to the drug intake during the time the individual is struggling with addiction. Reversing the effects on the brain’s structure is not always 100% possible, as the illicit substance causes significant damage and death to the brain’s cells. The ability to reverse the damage relies mainly on how long the individual has been abusing and where the damage has occurred in the brain.

If damage has occurred in the brain where brain cells have been able to compensate, the likelihood of the individual improving once they stop abusing is likely. However, if damage occurs where brain cells are more specialized and cannot compensate, the repair process can become problematic; however, it is not impossible.

There are ultimately three ways in which long-term heavy meth users can damage their brain this can be seen as the following:

  • Rewiring the brain’s reward system
  • Causing acute neurotransmitter changes
  • Causing brain cells to die
  • Kills glial cells
  • Increased Glutamate Calcium in the brain
  • Circulatory system damage to the brain

Rewiring the brain’s reward system.

Meth addiction, like many other drugs, will cause damage to the brain’s reward or pleasure center. Changes to this part of the brain are more likely not permanent even if the individual is to stop for a substantial period. The illicit drug will attack the frontal lobe, ventral tegmental area, and nucleus accumbens, which are primarily responsible for the drug cravings individuals experience when attempting to quit.

Causing acute neurotransmitter changes

Individuals who experience long-term methamphetamine addiction will begin altering the brain’s cellular receptors and transports; these parts of the brain are in charge of delivering messages to and from the brain.

The receptors and transporters are heavily involved in regulating an individual’s mood; if these parts of the brain become damaged, it can leave the individual to begin experiencing the following symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Apathy
  • Depression
  • Rage
  • Insomnia

Causes brain cells to die

Individuals who are long-term heavy meth users will inevitably cause brain cells within specific brain regions to begin dying. This process is usually associated with the part of the brain that is responsible for self-control, which can be seen to be the:

  • Frontal lobe
  • Hippocampus
  • Caudate nucleus

Like certain other parts of the brain, these cells and their function can not be compensated for by other brain parts. Any damage caused to this section of the brain and its cells has a significant potential never to reverse, leaving the individual with long-lasting changes.

Kills Glial cells

Glial cells are an essential part of the central nervous system and are wholly responsible for:

  • Fighting infections
  • Developing myelin cells
  • Signalling capacities

When an individual abuses meth, the substance begins to damage and eventually kill the brain cells through a range of sections in the brain, especially within the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex (PFC) plays a central role in cognitive control functions, and dopamine in the PFC modulates cognitive control, influencing attention, impulse inhibition, prospective memory, and cognitive flexibility. The use of meth will considerably negatively impact individuals’ cognitive abilities.

Increased Glutamate Calcium in the brain

If an individual is to have too much glutamate within their brain, the individual’s nerve cells will start to become overexcited, which will lead to the ultimate death or severe damage to the brain cells. Excessive glutamate within the cortex has the potential to cause damage to the cortical interneurons further.

Circulatory system damage to the brain

Individuals abusing meth can further affect the arteries, veins, and capillaries that are located within the individual central nervous system, which can cause issues with:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Weakening of arteries and veins

These effects can leave the individual vulnerable to blood clots which can lead the individual to experience a stroke, which we are all known to have the potential of being life-threatening, mainly when located in the central nervous system, often referred to as ischemic or haemorrhagic.

Ischemic strokes: If an individual suffers an ischemic stroke, it is a result of depletion of blood flow to specific areas in the brain with the added factor of damage to the surrounding tissues, which would have been a result of depleted oxygen for a certain amount of time.

Haemorrhagic strokes: If an individual is to experience a haemorrhagic stroke, it will result from the breaking of a vein or artery that has occurred in the brain, which results in a significant reduction in blood flow to the tissues of the brain. Recovery from haemorrhagic stroke is generally more robust than if an individual is recovering from an ischemic stroke. However, neither are a good sign for an individual’s overall health, with both forms of strokes being a direct result of chronic methamphetamine abuse.

What to expect if you join sobriety

The ability for an individual’s brain to be restored will vary on various factors, primarily related to how long the individual was abusing meth, the dosage in which they consumed, and how regularly the abuse commenced on a day-to-day basis.

Within 6 to 12 months of an individual joining sobriety, individuals may benign experiencing:

  • Fewer nightmares
  • Significant improvement in attention and focus
  • Improvement in mental health states such as anxiety and depression
  • Progress in the individual’s mood swings
  • Reduction in emotional ranges
  • Reducing the amount of jitteriness
  • Normalization of transports and brain receptors,

However, the one aspect which may not significantly improve over the duration of 6-12 months is the cravings for methamphetamines. This specific problem is often caused by damage to the brain’s rewards system throughout the addiction.

For an individual to deal with their drug cravings, they will need to fully commit themselves to an extensive rehabilitation addiction treatment program to learn vital skills such as self-control and begin potentially building new pathways in the brain to override the craving.

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