The Intoxicating Highs and Horrifying Lows of Meth

Long-term drug abuse of any kind will negatively impact your health, and poor health will often have a detrimental effect on your physical appearance. However, no other drug causes the kind of extreme, visible physical deterioration that results from methamphetamine use. The rapid and often shocking physical decline seen in chronic meth users is a powerful warning against experimenting with this drug. Other dangerous and highly addictive drugs such as cocaine and heroin can cause serious side effects – including life-threatening problems such as liver disease, heart attacks, stroke and lung damage – but much of this serious damage remains externally invisible. When physical effects of cocaine or heroin do become apparent, they are typically mild. Cocaine, a stimulant, decreases appetite and can indirectly cause weight loss. The physical signs of heroin use – dark circles under the eyes, pale skin, extreme thinness – were actually celebrated during the 1990s as “heroin chic.” But not even those who thought the signs of heroin use were “chic” are going to be celebrating the physical appearance of meth users any time soon. Dramatic skin and oral deterioration in particular are common to meth users.

Skin Sores and Meth Mouth

Methamphetamine results in a sensation called formication, which feels like bugs crawling over the skin. This leads meth users to pick at their skin obsessively, resulting in painful and ugly sores. Meth also causes blood vessels to restrict and tissues to become fragile, so the body’s ability to heal is significantly inhibited. Finally, skin becomes dull and inelastic, and quickly makes users appear much older than they are. Then there are the signs of oral decay that have become strongly associated with methamphetamine use, and are often collectively referred to as “meth mouth.” Meth reduces saliva production, and without the protection of saliva, the naturally produced acids in the mouth begin to eat at tooth enamel. Meth users also grind their teeth obsessively, which can cause teeth to wear down rapidly and even to break. High-sugar diets and poor oral hygiene also seem to be common among meth users, which makes tooth decay and gum disease much more common. As a result of all these factors, many chronic meth users have a combination of discolored teeth, rotted teeth, broken teeth and missing teeth.

Methamphetamine Releases Huge Amounts of Dopamine

The shocking appearance of frequent meth users is arguably a stronger deterrent than the equally severe but less outwardly visible signs of other forms of drug abuse. Nevertheless, methamphetamine use has been on the rise in the United States over the past several decades. Despite the disturbing effects, the drug is attractive to many people because it produces an extremely powerful high. Methamphetamine triggers the release of significant levels of dopamine – the hormone and neurotransmitter that helps to produce feelings of pleasure and confidence. Methamphetamine is an extremely difficult drug to quit without professional treatment for meth addiction. The dopamine release triggered by meth use is so high that it significantly outperforms other activities associated with high levels of dopamine. For example, studies have found that the pleasure associated with sexual activity results in the release of 100 to 200 units of dopamine. The powerful and highly addictive drug cocaine results in the release of up to 350 units of dopamine. But methamphetamine can result in the release of nearly four times as much dopamine – about 1,200 units. Meth also results in a high that lasts much longer than that of other activities, including cocaine use. In about one hour, the human body can get rid of about 50 percent of one dose of cocaine. However, it can take up to 12 hours to eliminate 50 percent of methamphetamine in the body.

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