Imagine eating a delicious cake but not enjoying it. Imagine drinking a glass of water when you’re really thirsty, but never experiencing that wonderful sense of satisfaction from having your thirst quenched. Even worse, imagine engaging in sexual intercourse but being unable to experience any sexual pleasure from it. This is the depressing reality that awaits some chronic high-dose methamphetamine abusers. Methamphetamine has the ability to destroy a person’s ability to experience pleasure, permanently and irreparably.
Methamphetamine is a powerful stimulant drug commonly abused for the long-lasting euphoric high it gives users. Methamphetamine, sometimes also called meth, ice, speed, or crystal, became notorious in the 1990s when illicit synthesis of methamphetamine from the over-the-counter nasal decongestant pseudoephedrine became widespread.
Chemically, methamphetamine is very closely related to the widely-prescribed attention deficit order treatment drug amphetamine, sometimes sold under the trade name Adderall. Amphetamine is also a potent central nervous system stimulant. However, unlike methamphetamine, amphetamine is not neurotoxic.
Methamphetamine is a genuinely frightening drug. Because it is toxic to the body’s neurons, chronic methamphetamine abuse can permanently damage the central nervous system. It is toxic to both serotonin and dopamine neurons in the brain, which are two neurotransmitters with complex functions, some of which are involved in regulating mood, reward, and pleasure. Chronic methamphetamine abusers can develop a condition called anhedonia, the inability to experience any pleasure at all.
Anhedonia is a life devoid of happiness nobody wants to imagine. Beyond mood and pleasure, chronic methamphetamine abuse also damages the brain’s gray matter, thus reducing a person’s cognitive faculties. But the horrors don’t stop there. Methamphetamine abusers are at higher risk for Parkinson’s disease. Outside of the brain, dopamine is involved in regulating muscle contraction. Parkinson’s disease is a disorder of dopamine to function normally in the body. Methamphetamine abuse can cause Parkinson’s disease because the drug is directly toxic to dopamine neurons.
Very few other drugs are neurotoxic in the same manner methamphetamine is. Individuals in recovery from other substances can eventually regain the pleasure in life they thought they could only experience under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Even addicts of heroin, sometimes seen as “the ultimate hard drug,” never lose their ability to experience pleasure from things like food and sex. This makes methamphetamine’s long-term consequences some of the most severe of any drug of abuse.
The extent of anhedonia triggered by methamphetamine use is proportional to the severity of the addiction. The longer a person uses methamphetamine, the higher the risk for anhedonia they face. This doesn’t mean that trying methamphetamine once will destroy your ability to experience pleasure forever. But it does mean that every time you take it, you are decreasing your ability to experience pleasure by a tiny amount. Over time, those tiny amounts add up.
What does this mean for the methamphetamine addict in recovery? It doesn’t mean give up all hope. The brain’s ability to “bounce back” from damage inflicted to it by drugs and alcohol is remarkable. Some recovering methamphetamine addicts are able to quit and return to a normal life, and enjoy things in life like anyone else does. But it does mean that he or she should cease using methamphetamine immediately if he or she wants to preserve the ability to experience enjoyment from the little things in life that make life worth living. If you have a problem with methamphetamine abuse, get help today. You can stop damaging your brain and regain your cognitive faculties.
Methamphetamine toxicity and messengers of death. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2731235/