Methamphetamine (“meth”) can cause progressive and sometimes severe damage to the brain. The question is whether the damage can be reversed once a person stops using methamphetamine. Unfortunately, the answer is rarely simple.
Although certain damages may begin to reverse when a person stops using methamphetamine, other types of damage are more difficult to reverse. What we do know is that any restoration of brain function is only possible after a period of complete abstinence.
Types of brain injury
Large or long-term use of methamphetamine can damage the brain in terms of function and structure.A person’s brain gets used to this drug during the process of addiction.
Once the drug is stopped, this altered biochemical activity may take some time to return to normal. In most cases, it will—because certain dysfunctions in brain neurons will eventually repair themselves.
From the perspective of brain structure, reversal is not always easy. Ultimately, methyl groups can cause damage to brain cells. The ability to reverse the damage largely depends on where the injury occurred.
If the damage occurs in an area that other brain cells can compensate, a person’s symptoms may improve. If the damage occurs in a place where the cell is more specialized and less redundant, repairing may be difficult—if not impossible.
Long-term use of methamphetamine can damage the brain in three ways:
- Causes acute neurotransmitter changes
- Cause brain cell death
- Reconnect the brain’s reward system
Acute neurotransmitter changes
Long-term exposure to methamphetamine will directly change the brain’s cell transporters and receptors (the system responsible for transmitting information throughout the brain).
These transporters and receptors are involved in regulating a person’s mood, which is why chronic injuries can cause symptoms of irritability, apathy, anger, depression, insomnia, and anxiety.
Reconnect the brain’s reward system
Methamphetamine addiction can also damage the so-called pleasure (or reward) center of the brain. These areas of the brain include the ventral tegmental area, nucleus accumbens, and frontal lobe. Changes in these brain areas are usually permanent.
Changes in the reward center of the brain are largely responsible for the drug cravings that a person may experience when quitting smoking.
Brain cell death
It is known that large amounts of methamphetamine can cause the death of some cells in the brain related to self-control, including the frontal lobe, caudate nucleus, and hippocampus. Damage to these areas can be manifested as a variety of psychiatric symptoms.
Unfortunately, these types of units are not considered redundant. Their functions cannot be compensated by other brain cells. Any damage done to them can lead to lasting change.
Possibility of reversal
Scientific research aims to evaluate the effects of long-term withdrawal on the brain activity of former methamphetamine users.
A 2010 study conducted by Temple University’s Department of Psychology and the Center for Drug Abuse Research reviewed the recovery of brain function after stopping various recreational drugs, including marijuana, ecstasy, and methamphetamine.
For methamphetamine, compared with a matched group of people who had never used it, former drug users who had quit smoking for six months had lower scores on motor skills, language skills, and mental tasks.
However, after 12 and 17 months, their ability to perform many tasks has improved-their motor and language skills are the same as those of non-users.
One area where users lag behind is performing mental tasks. Previous users are more likely to be depressed, indifferent or aggressive than non-users.
What happens after you quit smoking
The ability to restore normal brain function after quitting smoking varies from person to person. This is largely related to the length of time a person uses the drug, the frequency of use, and the amount of use.
Former users can expect the following functional and/or symptom improvement within 6 to 12 months after stopping the drug:
- Fewer nightmares
- Improve depression and anxiety
- Improve concentration and concentration
- Normalization of brain receptors and transporters
- Reduce tension and emotional anger
- Stabilize mood swings
- Decreased activation of microglia
One thing that may not be easy to improve is the craving for drugs that a person may experience, which may persist even after years of abstinence. This particular problem is usually caused by damage to the brain’s reward system.
In order to cope with the craving for drugs, former users need to undertake an extensive rehabilitation program. Here, a person can learn to exercise self-control, and it is possible to establish new pathways in the brain.