Home Counterdrug Operations Anatomy of a Methamphetamine Addict

Anatomy of a Methamphetamine Addict

The neurochemistry of methamphetamine abuse


Outside of the medical community, it may be difficult for most to understand exactly what takes place inside the human body when methamphetamine abuse is the underlying factor to adverse health. A part of what makes drug abuse so destructive to the user is the unmistaken change in perception, the inability to employ wise decision making processes and the unwavering need to increase the use of a harmful substance.

Immediate changes can be noted in the brain on both the clinical and non-clinical levels. The Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Alan I. Leshner, likens the curiosity of why people become drugs abusers to only one conclusion; abusers are heavily reliant on the affect of the stimulants (Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, 1999).

There are four common routes that abuser choose to consume addictive substances: oral, snorting, smoking and intravenously (Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, 1999). Substances that are consumed through the oral route must first reach the stomach and then move to the intestinal tract. This provides an opportunity for the drug to enter into the blood stream through the digestive system and be broken down into its chemical components. Inhalants, on the other hand, enter the lungs and coat the lining of the nasal passage; this provides a direct route for the gases to enter the blood stream after being ignited and smoked or snorted. Substances that are injected enter the blood stream more rapidly than all others and at a regulated rate. Methamphetamines (i.e., chalk, crystal, glass, ice, meth, speed or Tina) are very addictive stimulant drugs that began as powder, but can be made into a pill or a shiny rock (Medline Plus, 2017). In its powder state, it can be eaten or snorted through the nasal passage (Medline Plus, 2017). It can also be mixed with liquid and used intravenously (Medline Plus, 2017). In the crystalized form, meth can be used as an inhalant and smoked in a glass pipe (Medline Plus, 2017).

Once inside the brain, the clinical symptoms associated with methamphetamine can consist of raising the body temperature so high that the user passes out, severe itching may occur, as well as, broken teeth and dry mouth; modifications to mood, perceptions and emotional states may also become apparent because of drug abuse. These symptoms manifest as the communications between the nervous system and brain are altered due to methamphetamine use. Typically, the brain processes sensory information internally and throughout the body by guiding muscle movements and locomotion, the regulation of body functions, through the formation of thoughts and feelings and through one’s perceptions and moods. This communication is ultimately responsible for controlling all behavior.

From as early as 1998, investigators have been able to identify 72 risk factors for substance use and its dependency (Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, 1999). Among the obvious are poverty, social dysfunction, poor education and peer influences, but environmental and genetic factors also play a significant role in one’s initial decision to use abusive substances (Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, 1999).

Risk factors for drug abuse consist of many negative and undesirable life conflicts and emotions. This results in lower levels of dopamine. Dopamine is noted for its ability to create feelings of pleasure. When methamphetamines are used, dopamine levels become elevated and the individual feels an immediate sense of elation. On the contrary, as dopamine levels deplete, an individual partakes in repetitive behaviors that, once again, creates feelings of happiness and pleasure. This is the primary reason why individuals who use or experiment with drugs become drug addicts. Dopamine motivates and enforces us to indulge in activities that make us happy whether positive or negative. When methamphetamines are introduced into this mix, receptors are overly stimulated and dopamine levels stay high for longer periods of time than with other drugs (i.e., cocaine). The most problematic issue with this is when dopamine levels return to normal in a methamphetamine abuser, the feelings associated with pleasure are no longer felt.

For more information on this topic, please read “Treatment for Stimulant Use Disorders” Chapter 2: How Stimulants Affect the Brain and Behavior.


Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. (1999). Treatment for Stimulant Use Disorders. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Medline Plus. (2017, September 21). U.S. Naitonal Library of Medicine. Retrieved from Medline Plus: Methamphetamine: https://medlineplus.gov/methamphetamine.html


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