How Does Meth Kill You?

a bag of meth on a table

While the opioid epidemic has been the leading conversation in substance abuse issues lately, methamphetamine use and addiction have also risen at alarming rates. In 2021, 2.5 million Americans aged 12 or older reported using methamphetamine within the past year. Further, studies demonstrate that methamphetamine is one of the most widely used illicit drugs globally, averaging 50 million global users between the ages of 15 and 64.

Between 2015 and 2019, the number of methamphetamine-related overdose deaths nearly tripled among U.S. adults — and in 2021, approximately 32,537 people died from an overdose involving a psychostimulant other than cocaine (primarily methamphetamine). This dramatic increase in numbers suggests that a methamphetamine epidemic comparable to the opioid epidemic could happen sooner than we think.

Given the severity of the current problem with methamphetamine, we want to provide some information on the drug, how it works, and what it does to the body. Read on to learn why methamphetamine-involved drug overdoses are now the second-highest drug-involved overdose deaths, behind only synthetic opioids.

What Does Methamphetamine Do to Your Body?

Methamphetamine can be a deadly and dangerous stimulant, whether derived from medicinal amphetamine or synthetically created in a meth lab. It is a powerful and highly addictive stimulant drug that wreaks havoc on your body, inside and out.

Methamphetamine is a highly potent derivative of amphetamine, a drug often prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Methamphetamine works by rapidly increasing brain levels of dopamine, the body’s “feel good” chemical. Besides producing an intense rush of pleasure, methamphetamine may also cause the user to feel energetic and alert. While those effects may be temporary, the damage it does to the body lasts significantly longer and is often irreversible.

Prolonged methamphetamine use also affects a person’s physical appearance. Often, methamphetamine users experience rapid aging, decaying teeth, skin rashes, and malnutrition. Methamphetamine misuse has also been shown to increase infectious disease transmission.

While the physical effects of methamphetamine abuse can become obvious to the naked eye, the unseen internal damage is even more severe. Continued methamphetamine use can alter brain function and respiration, causing loss of consciousness and brain damage. Users often experience short and long-term memory loss, increased aggression, and psychotic behavior. These impairments are often irreversible.

One study showed that even after more than a year of sobriety, former meth users still displayed severe impairment in cognitive functions like memory and motor coordination, similar to symptoms seen in Parkinson’s Disease patients. Methamphetamine use causes a rapid increase in your heart rate and blood pressure, which may lead to long-term damage to your cardiovascular system.

Why is Methamphetamine So Addictive?

The rapid increase in the body’s dopamine levels is what makes methamphetamine so addictive. In one animal lab study, methamphetamine use spiked dopamine levels from 100 to 1250 units, which is about 12 times more than you get from other pleasurable activities like eating food or having sexual intercourse.

However, methamphetamine’s euphoric effects typically last only six to 24 hours. To make matters worse, the longer a person uses methamphetamine the more that person becomes tolerant to the usual dose, needing increasingly higher doses of methamphetamine to achieve the same results.

Causes and Risk Factors for Becoming Addicted to Methamphetamine

Like many other illicit substances, it’s impossible to pinpoint one precise reason why someone would become addicted to methamphetamine. However, various factors can increase the chance of someone becoming addicted to meth (like any other drug).

The two chief causes are the person’s environment and genetics. When discussing environmental factors, we refer to the user’s personal living environment, including the beliefs, attitudes, and habits of the person themself and those in the person’s friend or family group. Experiencing trauma or adverse life events at any age, especially as a child, can also have a powerful impact.

The genetic component is when someone inherits traits from a parent that can speed up the addiction process. For instance, if your mother or father was addicted to methamphetamine and you start using it, you have a higher chance of that use evolving into addiction than someone with no familial connection to drug use.

The reasons why someone starts using methamphetamine are diverse. Sometimes, it’s due to peer pressure from friends, while others may turn to the drug to escape the harsh realities of their lives. But no matter why someone starts, once that person becomes addicted, kicking the habit can be challenging due to the changes methamphetamine has on the brain.

How Can Methamphetamine Use Kill You?

In a recent study, meth use was found to lead to a higher chance of premature death, while methamphetamine overdose often leads to the person suffering a stroke, heart attack, or organ problems.

Long-term methamphetamine use can cause a gradual build-up in the body, slightly increasing the risk of an overdose with each use. Additionally, methamphetamine users are at significant risk of cardiovascular disease, the country’s leading cause of natural death.

Methamphetamine’s dangerous spikes in heart rate are what usually puts the user at risk of cardiovascular failure. In some cases, methamphetamine abuse has rewired the heart so drastically that it causes sudden cardiac death. In addition to a heart attack, sudden death from meth use is often from a stroke. There’s also the risk of mixing methamphetamine with other drugs, including opioids, cocaine, and alcohol — each of which adds additional danger and can result in death.

Midwest Recovery Centers Can Help with Detox and Treatment

At Midwest Recovery Centers, we’re proud to offer tailored treatment programs to give clients the best possible chance of beating their methamphetamine addiction before it becomes deadly. We work with clients on addressing the root cause of what is contributing to their methamphetamine use and abuse, incorporating their friends and family into the process by building them up to be the support needed for clean living.

If you or a loved one are suffering from methamphetamine addiction, we want to talk. Start your recovery now by contacting us today.


Reviewed and Assessed by
Taylor Brown, B.A.Com., CADC
Tim Coleman, M. of Ed.

Staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Click or Call Today! 844-990-1578

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