It can take just months for the transformation to occur. Though healthy before first use, within just a few months or even weeks of regular meth use, a person’s physical transformation can be shocking. It’s a drug that destroys the outside as rapidly as the inside. When combined with the lack of sleep and malnutrition that often defines someone’s experience using the drug, the results usually include:
- Extreme weight loss, including loss of muscle tone
- Scars and sores on the skin
- Limp hair, broken nails, and sallow skin
- Tooth decay and loss (e.g., “meth mouth”)
The photo evidence of how meth can destroy a person’s appearance in short order has gone viral in some cases, so striking is the difference in a user’s eyes and face during active meth addiction. The Meth Project mug shot matchup demonstrates how widespread the problem is.
These pictures only tell part of the story, however. Though meth is devastating to a person’s outward appearance, what it does to the person’s mental health, emotional stability, social relationships, and ability to function in the world is far worse.
Mental Stability and Health
It doesn’t take years of abusing crystal meth to experience a decline in mental stability. People who abuse crystal meth chronically often struggle with:
- Extremely aggressively behavior
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
These issues can begin with a single large dose, after a days-long binge, or after weeks of regular use. Many users report hearing voices and seeing things that aren’t there when they are on the drug, and these symptoms often linger long after the drug has worn off.
Though there is evidence to suggest that treatment can reverse many of these effects, in some cases, full recovery is not possible, especially after long-term heavy use. It’s important to note that early treatment is recommended for this reason.
Use of crystal meth can increase the risk of contracting hepatitis C and/or HIV, and it can worsen the ability of the body to function if already living with either disorder. If a user injects crystal meth, there is the risk of shared needles – one common way that hepatitis C and HIV are passed. Even if an individual does not use needles as the method of ingestion, unprotected sex while under the influence of crystal meth is common – especially in sexual situations with people who use crystal meth by injecting the drug and thus are at greater risk of being a carrier. Additionally, it is rare for people who are living with an active addiction to prioritize their health enough to get regular checkups and screenings, so people who are living with an HIV or hepatitis C infection may be unaware and inadvertently pass the virus to others.
Acute Illness and Overdose
Taking crystal meth has the same effect seen among users of other addictive substances, including alcohol; it decreases the ability of the user’s immune system to fend off viruses and bacteria, thus increasing the risk of getting colds, flu, or infections.
Additionally, crystal meth causes a number of physical effects that can trigger medical emergencies, including:
- Increased heart rate, which can worsen an existing arrhythmia or cause a stroke
- Convulsions or seizures, which can signify overdose and lead to death if not treated
- Extreme increase in body temperature, which can cause neurological damage
- Liver damage, which can result in liver failure
Inability to Function
Like all drugs of abuse, crystal meth decreases the ability of the person to function at work, at home, and in relationships. It doesn’t take long for the drug to negatively impact these areas of a user’s life, causing:
- Job loss: When someone is not sleeping or eating, chronically hearing voices, paranoid, and anxious, it makes it difficult to function normally at work. Those who struggle with crystal meth addiction usually have a hard time maintaining employment due to chronic lateness or missed days, erratic behavior on the job, theft, drug use on the job, and other issues.
- Relationship problems: When one person in a relationship of any kind is abusing crystal meth and driven by the need to maintain an addiction at all costs, it makes it next to impossible to maintain a healthy relationship. Someone living with crystal meth addiction will find it hard to recognize and meet personal emotional needs, much less be an effective partner, friend, or parent.
- Financial difficulties: Due in part to employment issues and the cost of maintaining an addiction, financial loss is common among people living with crystal meth addiction. High debt, bankruptcy, foreclosure, and homelessness are fairly commonplace.
- Issues with day-to-day functioning: The mental health symptoms, the physical health problems, and the instability that comes with regular drug use – all these things usually add up to an inability to manage the daily tasks required to be functional in life, which in turn, make it more difficult to manage finances, relationships, and personal health.
Long-term drug addiction treatment, followed by aftercare and continued treatment for any ongoing mental health symptoms and physical issues, is recommended when crystal meth is the drug of choice. Comprehensive care is usually necessary in order for the person to stabilize in recovery, and long-term social support can help the individual to avoid relapse in the months and years following detox.