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Meth is one of the most addictive drugs ever encountered. It is said that just one or two uses of meth may lead to an intense addiction that is extremely difficult to overcome. In the short term, meth produces a brief but intense “rush,” followed by a sense of euphoria that lasts up to twelve hours. Meth produces these feelings by releasing high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine into areas of the brain that regulate feelings of pleasure.
Even in the short term, meth has toxic effects on the brain. In animal studies, scientists have found that a single high dose of meth can damage nerve terminals in the regions of the brain containing dopamine.
In the long term, meth use leads to meth addiction, altering the brain and causing the user to seek out and use meth in a compulsive manner. Chronic meth use leads to increased tolerance of the drug and damages the ability of the brain to produce and release dopamine. As a result, the user must take higher or more frequent doses of meth in order to experience the pleasurable effects of meth or even just to feel normal.
Chronic meth users commonly exhibit violent behavior, anxiety, confusion, and insomnia. They sometimes become psychotic, experiencing paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations, mood disturbances, delusions, violent outbursts, and homicidal or suicidal thoughts. Serious meth addicts often have the sensation that insects are crawling on or under their skin, and this causes them to pick at their skin incessantly, causing sores and infections. These imaginary insects are commonly referred to as “meth bugs.”
Meth use can do great harm to the user’s heart and lungs. Specifically, meth use can cause rapid heart rate, irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure, and irreversible damage to small blood vessels in the brain, sometimes leading to strokes. Chronic meth use may also result in inflammation of the heart lining and – among users who inject the drug – damaged blood vessels and skin abscesses.
Because many meth users lose their appetite, they often lose weight and become emaciated. Meth also destroys enamel, causing users’ teeth to rot away. The combination of weight loss, rotting teeth, and sores caused by picking at imaginary “meth bugs,” along with inattention to personal hygiene, often give chronic meth users a poor physical appearance.
The effects of methamphetamine on the developing fetus can be severe and life threatening. Although research on this subject is limited, those studies that exist suggest that methamphetamine abuse during pregnancy may result in prenatal complications, increased rates of premature delivery, and altered neonatal behavioral patterns such as abnormal reflexes and extreme irritability. In addition, there is evidence suggesting that meth use during pregnancy may be linked to congenital deformities.
A March 2004 story in the Chicago Tribune discussed research on this subject by Dr. Rizwan Shah at Children’s Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa. Dr. Shah has followed 370 children born during the last 10 years to mothers who took meth during pregnancy. Here are some of her findings:
Fortunately, Dr. Shah believes these problems can be overcome in most cases if the child’s condition is properly diagnosed early on. “Only Future Will Tell Full Damage Speed Wreaks on Kids,” Chicago Tribune, March 7, 2004.
Because meth use causes pregnant women to neglect their health, prenatal nutrition and prenatal care are also seriously neglected. The fetus is likely to also be exposed to alcohol and other damaging substances.
Meth use contributes to the spread of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B and C because addicts who inject meth spread these diseases when they re-use contaminated syringes, needles, and other paraphernalia. Meth also leads to unsafe sex practices and other risky behaviors.
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