Long-term methamphetamine abuse has many negative consequences, including addiction. Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease, characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, accompanied by functional and molecular changes in the brain. In addition to being addicted to methamphetamine, chronic abusers exhibit symptoms that can include anxiety, confusion, insomnia, mood disturbances, and violent behavior. They also can display a number of psychotic features, including paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations, and delusions (for example, the sensation of insects creeping under the skin). Psychotic symptoms can sometimes last for months or years after methamphetamine abuse has ceased, and stress has been shown to precipitate spontaneous recurrence of methamphetamine psychosis in formerly psychotic methamphetamine abusers.
With chronic abuse, tolerance to methamphetamine's pleasurable effects can develop. In an effort to intensify the desired effects, abusers may take higher doses of the drug, take it more frequently, or change their method of drug intake. Withdrawal from methamphetamine occurs when a chronic abuser stops taking the drug; symptoms of withdrawal include depression, anxiety, fatigue, and an intense craving for the drug.
Chronic methamphetamine abuse also significantly changes the brain. Specifically, brain imaging studies have demonstrated alterations in the activity of the dopamine system that are associated with reduced motor speed and impaired verbal learning. Recent studies in chronic methamphetamine abusers have also revealed severe structural and functional changes in areas of the brain associated with emotion and memory, which may account for many of the emotional and cognitive problems observed in chronic methamphetamine abusers.
Fortunately, some of the effects of chronic methamphetamine abuse appear to be, at least partially, reversible. A recent neuroimaging study showed recovery in some brain regions following prolonged abstinence (2 years, but not 6 months). This was associated with improved performance on motor and verbal memory tests. However, function in other brain regions did not display recovery even after 2 years of abstinence, indicating that some methamphetamine-induced changes are very long-lasting. Moreover, the increased risk of stroke from the abuse of methamphetamine can lead to irreversible damage to the brain.
Long-term effects may include:
- repetitive motor activity
- Changes in brain structure and function
- Memory Loss
- Aggressive or violent behavior
- Mood disturbances
- Severe dental problems
- Weight loss
This series of reports simplifies the science of research findings for the educated lay public, legislators, educational groups, and practitioners. The series reports on research findings of national interest.
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As a result of scientific research, we know that addiction is a disease that affects both brain and behavior.