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Effect Of Methamphetamine On Teen Brains

Brenda Munnerlyn, RN, BSN

Medically reviewed by

Brenda Munnerlyn, RN, BSN

March 4, 2019

Methamphetamine is a stimulant that changes the way the brain works. It can be smoked, injected, or snorted and looks like a white powder, white or brown crystals, or small shards of glass. Teens who use meth are at an increased risk of side-effects and lasting damage because their brains are still developing.

What Does It Do?

Meth affects the brain, specifically the neurotransmitters that produce dopamine, the body’s own naturally producing happy chemicals. Dopamine is also in control of motor control, reward, and motivation. Taking meth in any form messes with this pleasure center, and produces a fast high—and a pretty quick low as well. Regular use causes chemical and molecular changes in the brain. A meth addict can feel like they don’t need to eat or sleep, that nothing matters but getting more of that high.

Why Methamphetamine Is A Problem

Methamphetamine is a kitchen-sink sort of drug. Its list of ingredients includes antifreeze, lantern fuel, drain cleaner, and battery acid. Not stuff that’s exactly good for brain chemistry.

Aside from the whole kitchen-sink aspect, meth can really mess a person up. A user often has problems with motor control and can experience hallucinations, paranoia, aggressiveness, and violent or psychotic behavior. By taking methamphetamine, a user is basically overpowering the body on purpose, trying to trigger that pleasure center. This isn’t a great thing to do, because the body gets perplexed. If it stays overloaded, serious damage can result in the kidneys, heart, liver, and lungs. Brain sensors can become depleted, and the user may find it’s hard to feel anything anymore, mentally or physically.

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Damage sustained as a teen can still be there years later, and the risk of AIDS and hepatitis is greatly increased. Meth addiction may cause extreme weight loss, dental problems, and body sores as well.

Effects On The Teenage Brain

The body of a teenager is still developing, and needs more sleep and food than that of an adult. Meth deprives the user of both. A study from South Korea published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry used MRI scans that showed decreased white and gray matter in the brains of meth addicts. The brains of teens showed more damage than those of adults, despite the fact that teens generally feel addictive effects from smaller doses of drugs.

This is especially telling information, as the “pleasure center” part of the brain most affected also controls risky behavior. This may help explain the severe behavior problems and relapses that commonly occur with younger meth addicts.

What Can You Do?

If you are a teenager experiencing problems due to methamphetamine addiction or know someone who is, call us. We have resources specifically designed for teens, and we can help you use them. Don’t hesitate. We can help. Contact us today at to find out how.

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