Home > The Complex Nature of Abused Substances and Getting Help for Addiction > Methamphetamine Brain Damage
Scientists and researchers have linked chronic and long term methamphetamine abuse to significant brain changes and tissue damage. MRI scans of individuals who are methamphetamine addicts show distinct cell loss in particular regions, including the limbic and hippocampus. The limbic system is primarily responsible for emotions and formation of memories. The hippocampus is one area of the limbic system that converts short-term memories into long-term memories. If the hippocampus is damaged, a person will exhibit symptoms similar to those of a person who has Alzheimer’s.
Long term, chronic users of methamphetamine are known to have difficulty in memory retention but also exhibit symptoms similar to bipolar, schizophrenia and movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. It is believed that long-term methamphetamine use also causes irreparable damage to the central nervous system which causes these symptoms.
Irrational and violent mood swings, inability to concentration, poor judgment and recollection skills and depression are all symptoms that methamphetamine users may show during their drug use or after giving the drug up. For some people, these symptoms will fade soon after abstinence, for others, these changes can be long term.
Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant drug that increases the amount of dopamine released in the body, causing a user to have intense euphoria and pleasure. Methamphetamine works by stimulating the neurons in the brain to increase production of dopamine. Chronic use of the drug overstimulates these brain neurons, and destroys the dopamine receptors. This renders the user unable to feel pleasure without massive amounts of the drug to synthetically make the user feel good, or feel anything.
Chronic use of methamphetamine is known to cause serious health problems and lead to intense behavior changes including paranoia, insomnia, agitation, hallucinations, delusions and other psychotic behaviors. Along with causing behavioral changes and brain damage, meth is known to contribute to kidney and liver damage, cardiovascular problems, respiratory problems, lowered immune system function, significant mouth and teeth damage and anorexia. These combined issues all increase the risk of a person having an adverse reaction and the risk of death as a result of using methamphetamine.
The limbic system is a sensitive and important part of the body that produces positive feelings in the body. Smells, actions, taste and sound all can stimulate positive reactions in the limbic system which makes a person respond to things. Food, sex, music, spending time with friends and family and many other stimuli will illicit these feelings in the body. However, methamphetamine synthetically stimulates the limbic system, making the body feel really good and desire that feeling again.
Through chronic use of methamphetamine, scientists have discovered that the limbic system loses up to 11 percent of its tissue. This causes a person to feel depressed and anxious and to suffer from anhedonia. Anhedonia is the inability for a person to experience joy, happiness or pleasure from activities, places or people they previously enjoyed. When a person has this condition, they will appear flat, empty and emotionless. For methamphetamine addicts recovering from their addiction, this symptom can be felt for a long time after they give up the drug.
Dopamine is an important chemical in the brain that is responsible for controlling the brain’s pleasure and reward center. It is also linked to efficient functions such as movement, compulsion and preservation. Dopamine receptors are found in the brain, and these receptors are important in maintaining normal dopamine functioning. Drugs like methamphetamine interact with the dopamine pathways and receptors.
A person’s physical and mental health is affected by the regulation of dopamine. Repeated stimulation of the dopamine receptors causes a person to develop tolerance to the drug and they will begin to require more of the substance to achieve the same affect. Continued chronic use will disrupt the dopamine system to such an effect that significant emotional changes will be seen. Methamphetamine addicts will exhibit irrational and violent mood swings, which are symptomatic of the damage.
One of the key issues associated with methamphetamine use is the overstimulation of dopamine receptors in the brain. Dopamine is known as the pleasure center in the brain and is responsible for positive, good feelings. Overstimulating these receptors causes changes in brain chemistry, which then causes a person to be unable to experience pleasure. Researchers have found that dopamine receptors that have been damaged by methamphetamine can grow back and may repair completely over time.
Sadly, for individuals who have caused damage to memory, cognition and motor skills, there is little evidence showing that these changes can be reversed. Many chronic users will suffer symptoms of the brain damage for the rest of their life which include shakes, tremors, difficulty in speaking, poor judgment skills, anxiety and memory and recognition problems. Some individuals also exhibit symptoms that are similar to schizophrenia and bipolar disorder with manic episodes, paranoia and delusions.
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