Methamphetamine abuse and addiction are significant issues in the United States. As a highly addictive drug, methamphetamine use can lead to addiction, unpleasant side effects, and a substantial risk of overdose and death.
At Alpine Recovery Lodge, we treat all kinds of addiction, but one of the most addictive drugs we see clients using is methamphetamine.
In fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, methamphetamine, or “meth” for short, was a drug used by over 2.5 million people 12 and older in 2021. Of that, approximately 1.6 million were living with active methamphetamine use disorder.
People who use meth may not think beyond the present moment during the high they get from using it. However, for those in recovery or contemplating rehabilitation services, it’s essential to know what the potential long-term effects of methamphetamine use are, including the tie between meth and weight loss.
In this blog post, we’ll cover four of the most serious long-term effects of methamphetamine use and answer the common question, “Why does meth make you lose weight?”
Understanding Meth Weight Loss
There are many ways that meth use can negatively impact your physical appearance, but one of the most dangerous is that methamphetamines are often used for weight loss.
CBS News reported that one person who uses methamphetamine said she lost between 15 and 20 pounds in her first week of using the drug.
The issue, of course, is that methamphetamine is highly addictive, and nobody can predict how their body will react to it. Many people who end up addicted start using meth only as a way to lose weight.
On the surface, weight loss might seem like a good thing — but losing weight with methamphetamines is an unsafe and unhealthy way to drop unwanted pounds. So, if you’ve considered meth for weight loss, we highly discourage it.
Why Does Meth Make You Skinny?
Meth is classified as a stimulant drug known to increase energy levels significantly. Therefore, when people binge meth or overuse it, it may lead to days without quality eating and long-term appetite suppression. In fact, those who take meth regularly may go days without a full meal.
In addition to appetite suppression, meth contributes to weight loss through its long-term impact on the body’s metabolism and ability to store fat. By overstimulating the metabolism, the body cannot keep up with fat storage, leading to significant weight reduction without the ability to gain weight.
Over time, these factors can lead to drastic weight loss and malnutrition.
The dangers are even more pernicious than that implies. The body needs a certain amount of fat to be healthy. Subcutaneous fat protects the body and bones from injury. Losing too much weight can be very hazardous to your health.
Likewise, not eating — or mainly eating sweets and junk food, as with some methamphetamine addicts — can lead to vitamin deficiencies and even malnutrition.
If you or a loved one is struggling with a meth addiction and losing weight rapidly, you may wonder how to gain weight on meth.
The best way to start improving your health and increasing your weight to a healthy and sustainable level is to stop using meth entirely and eat a balanced diet. Then, to heal from meth addiction for good, contact us for effective detox and rehabilitation.
Beyond Meth Weight Loss: Four Other Serious Long-Term Effects of Meth
1. Cognitive Damage
Aside from meth weight loss, one of the most damaging long-term effects that methamphetamine has on your body is that it impacts dopamine production.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with the brain’s pleasure center. People who use meth experience a surge of dopamine production up to four times the average amount.
Repeated exposure to abnormally high dopamine levels can destroy the dopamine receptors in the brain. That’s part of why methamphetamine is addictive. First, the body craves the dopamine rush associated with using it, and then it encourages people to use it again.
After a while, the body loses its ability to recognize dopamine because the receptors get flooded and overwhelmed. The result is a failure to obtain the same rush they got when they first started using meth. The disappointment and craving for dopamine’s effects may increase methamphetamine use.
Habitual use can lead to difficulty experiencing pleasure. This feeling, known as dysphoria, is widespread for those who use methamphetamine long term.
While some evidence suggests that some patients may be able to regrow their dopamine receptors over time, the damage may be permanent in many cases.
The desire to experience that rush can lead even people with solid willpower and determination to use methamphetamine again despite their best intentions.
The risk of permanent brain damage is serious. The effect that methamphetamine has on the brain is profound and potentially life changing.
People who abuse meth may also experience symptoms similar to those of Parkinson’s disease, including
- Memory loss
- Impaired judgment
- Deterioration of motor skills and coordination
2. Behavioral Changes
Prolonged methamphetamine use can lead to behavioral changes, some of which are severe and dramatic due to its impact on brain development and functioning.
One of the most common behavioral changes involves sexual promiscuity. There have been numerous studies on sexual behavior that indicate meth use lowers inhibition.
One study from 2003 examined the sexual behavior of a group of heterosexual adults with an average age of 36 years. It found that, on average, the men participated in a very high number of sexual acts with multiple partners in the 2 months of the study. Here are some statistics:
- The average participant in the study engaged in 21.5 incidents of unprotected vaginal sex, 6.3 incidents of unprotected anal sex, and 41.7 incidents of unprotected oral sex.
- The average number of partners the participants had was 9.4.
The takeaway from this study is that methamphetamine use lowers inhibitions and leads to an increased frequency of high-risk sexual behavior. In turn, such behavior may increase the risk of being exposed to HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Another behavioral issue that has been confirmed in methamphetamine users is an increase in anger and aggression.
A 2011 study compared a group of regular methamphetamine users who were not in treatment with a control group. It was found that the study group self-reported significantly higher feelings of aggression and anger than the control group.
Likewise, the study group showed a decreased ability to process emotions compared to the control group.
It has been thought that people with a poor ability to process emotions may be more likely to seek out mood-elevating drugs.
The human body consists of several interlinked systems, all working together to help us maintain good health. Therefore, when something negatively impacts one method, it can affect others.
Such is the case with methamphetamine use and the human immune system. Under normal circumstances, the immune system protects the human body from diseases and infections.
However, the bodies of people who use methamphetamine regularly are less able to defend themselves from disease. As a result, they are more prone to viruses and infections than the general population.
The effects can be even more severe, as there is an increased risk of heart disease and other serious issues. In addition, the liver is also at risk of severe damage as the body’s main detoxification organ.
One study from 2002 looked at two groups of mice, one infected with a retrovirus and one not infected. What if found is that, in both groups, there were significant effects on the immune system of the mice.
For example, the growth of tumors was greatly accelerated once methamphetamine was supplied. Likewise, there was a decrease in Vitamin E in the body and increased liver damage.
A 2008 study on mice looked specifically at the effects of methamphetamine use on the body’s production of leukocytes, which are white blood cells, an integral part of the body’s immune response.
The study found that after the first injection of methamphetamine, subjects’ levels of leukocyte production dropped. In other words, the effects were immediate. In addition, the mice that received injections had a demonstrably reduced ability to protect themselves from disease and infection.
Looking at these two studies in light of the above information about sexual promiscuity, it’s easy to see why many people who use methamphetamine also end up with HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Reduced inhibitions, combined with a lowered ability of the body to resist infections, make it remarkably easy for people who use methamphetamine to become infected.
4. Physical Appearance
While we now understand the link between meth and weight loss, there are other physical factors to consider regarding the long-term adverse effects of meth use.
Aligned with the physical effects of weight loss, one of the most common hallmarks of methamphetamine abuse is the deterioration of the user’s physical appearance.
People who use methamphetamine on an ongoing basis often end up with a condition known as “meth mouth,” which is characterized by severe tooth decay.
Multiple factors contribute to meth mouth, including
- Methamphetamine use dries out the salivary glands. As a result, the mouth can’t stay adequately lubricated without enough saliva, leading to increased oral bacteria.
- Regular use causes blood vessels in the body, including those in the mouth, to shrink. The teeth and gums need a steady supply of blood and oxygen to stay healthy. Without it, they begin to decay.
- Methamphetamine is made with hydrochloric acid, a highly corrosive substance. When people smoke meth, the acid comes into contact with their teeth and erodes the enamel.
- A common craving for those who use meth is sweets, which, combined with inattention to dental hygiene, can accelerate tooth decay.
The prevalence of severe dental damage among methamphetamine users is high. For example, in 2005, an NPR report revealed that dental costs in Minnesota’s prison system had doubled due to meth mouth.
The constriction of blood vessels can lead to significant skin problems too. People who use methamphetamine are likely to see any or all of the following:
- Increased outbreaks of acne
- Slow healing of sores
- Yellowing of the skin
- Drying out of the skin
- A loss of elasticity in the skin
The result is that many people who use methamphetamine look years, or even decades, older than they are. This is because their skin loses its elasticity, and even relatively young people can look old and unhealthy after prolonged meth use.
Recover From Unplanned Meth Weight Loss in Utah
There is no question that using methamphetamine is dangerous. It’s highly addictive and can cause severe damage to your body in various ways — all of which have long-term implications for your health and well-being, including unexpected meth weight loss.
Because of its highly addictive nature and physical and mental effects, people often have difficulty breaking methamphetamine addiction without significant assistance. That’s where we come in.
Our specialists at Alpine Recovery Lodge are here to help you reach long-term recovery on your terms.
Contact us today to get started.