The Gruesome Health Effects of Meth Addiction

Meth addict

Methamphetamines are extremely addictive, and the withdrawal symptoms are severe, which makes it hard to quit. And as if meth addiction, itself, wasn’t bad enough – new research shows that most meth addicts are also struggling with many health problems, behavioral issues and sometimes life-threatening hardships.

Meth abusers are likely to find themselves in serious and complex life situations, which makes it even more difficult to quit the drug. With an estimated 1.6 million meth users in the US alone, it’s a situation worth understanding with a move towards solutions.

What is Meth?

Methamphetamine is a powerful, highly addictive, dangerous stimulant drug. The drug affects the central nervous system, stimulating activity and causing an altered mental state. Also called “crystal meth” or just “meth,” this drug appears in the form of glass fragments or shiny, bluish-white rocks. As to its chemical composition, meth is quite similar to amphetamine.

People use meth by:

  1. Smoking it (the most common form of use)
  2. Swallowing it
  3. Snorting it
  4. Injecting meth powder dissolved in water or alcohol

A meth high comes on fast and fades quickly. While on meth, users may feel a rush of energy and a sense of euphoria, often accompanied by a feeling of invincibility or immense courage. Meth increases dopamine in the brain, stimulating increased body movement and motivation and reinforcing rewarding behaviors. Because methamphetamine impinges heavily on the brain’s reward area, users often use meth repeatedly, even after its harmful effects have become apparent.

What are the Short and Long-Term Effects of Using Meth?

Meth abuse leaves a harmful mark on a human being, even after just one use of the substance.

Taking even just a very small amount of meth can lead to:

  • Increased wakefulness and physical activity
  • Decreased appetite
  • Interrupted sleeping patterns
  • Faster breathing
  • Rapid and/or irregular heartbeat
  • Increased blood pressure and/or body temperature
Meth addict

The more often one uses meth and the longer they use it, the more likely they are to experience serious harmful effects. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, some of the long-term effects of meth use are:

  • Unhealthy weight loss
  • Addiction
  • Severe dental problems
  • Intense itching, leading to skin sores and lesions from scratching
  • Severe anxiety
  • Changes in brain structure and function, sometimes permanent and irreparable
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Memory loss, sometimes permanent
  • Sleeping problems, not being able to maintain a regular sleep schedule
  • Violent, aggressive behavior
  • Paranoia, including an extreme and unreasonable distrust of others
  • Hallucinations and delusions

Perhaps the most concerning long-term effect of meth addiction is the potential for meth use to cause permanent brain damage in addicts. Quoting NIDA research, “Continued methamphetamine use causes changes in the brain’s dopamine system that are associated with reduced coordination and impaired verbal learning. In studies of people who used methamphetamine over the long term, severe changes also affected areas of the brain involved with emotion and memory. Although some of these brain changes may reverse after being off the drug for a year or more, other changes may not recover even after a long period of time. A recent study even suggests that people who once used methamphetamine have an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.” Given the risks for permanent damage from using meth, it is essential that meth addicts seek help as soon as possible.

Serious Health Problems – What They Don’t Tell You About Meth Use

The above information on meth (definitions of the drug, how it’s used, and what the short and long-term effects of meth use are) is readily available information. However, researchers at New York University made some alarming and recent discoveries regarding meth that had not been previously discussed. The researchers found that people who use meth are more likely to have serious health conditions, mental illness, and other substance abuse problems than people who do not use meth.

Furthermore, meth overdoses are rising, suggesting that meth users are more at danger for serious health issues and even death. The researchers also found that using meth can cause permanent harm to the heart, lungs, liver, and neurological system. People who use meth are at higher risk of contracting infectious diseases.

The researchers found that people who use meth were almost twice as likely to have medical multi-morbidity (two or more chronic medical conditions). The researchers also found that meth users were more than three times as likely to have a mental illness than those who did not use meth and were more than four times as likely to have another substance abuse problem than those who did not use meth. The researchers found that people who use meth are likely to have a complex and seriously concerning combination of physical, mental, spiritual, and behavioral health problems.

One of the study authors, Dr. Benjamin Han, a clinician-researcher in the Division of Geriatrics, Gerontology, and Palliative Care, commented on the findings. “Methamphetamine use adds complexity to the already-challenging care of adults who have multiple chronic conditions. Integrated interventions that can address the multiple conditions people are living with, along with associated social risks, are needed for this population.”

Meth Overdose Deaths – A Growing Problem

Meth overdose deaths

The National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention worked together to tabulate drug deaths in the United States. According to NIDA reporting, 16,167 people died from meth or meth-related overdoses in 2019. When compared to the just 1,854 meth-related overdose deaths that occurred in 2010, or the just 547 such deaths recorded in 1999, it’s clear that the critical nature of meth addiction and the sheer threats it poses to peoples’ lives is getting much, much worse.

Addiction Treatment, Breaking Away from Meth Addiction for Life

Meth addiction is a serious, frightening, and highly debilitating crisis that can ruin lives. Not only are addicts at risk of death and serious, lifelong harmful effects, but their families are at risk, too, of losing a loved one and of experiencing varying degrees of harm.

If you know someone who is addicted to meth, they must get into a residential drug and alcohol addiction treatment center as soon as possible. Meth addiction is not often thought of in the context of a lethal habit, but fatal meth overdoses are becoming more common each year. Ensure that your loved one gets help before it is too late.


Reviewed by Claire Pinelli, ICAADC, CCS, LADC, RAS, MCAP, LCDC



After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.