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The Link Between Meth Abuse and Parkinson’s Disease

Methamphetamine, also known as meth, is an extremely potent stimulant that can lead to rapid dependency and addiction. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Among people aged 12 or older in 2021, 0.9% (or about 2.5 million people) reported using methamphetamine in the past 12 months.”[1]

Most people are aware of the detrimental effects meth can have on someone’s brain and body. From rotting teeth to skin picking, meth abuse can destroy your health. However, there are some long-term effects of meth abuse that are not as well known. 

For example, experts have found a link between long-term meth abuse and Parkinson’s disease, a brain disorder characterized by uncontrollable movements such as shaking, stiffness, twitching, and poor balance and coordination.

What are the Short-Term Effects of Meth Abuse?

People abuse meth because it can cause euphoria, increased energy, and decreased appetite. However, it can also cause intense anxiety, paranoia, and even delusional thinking. 

The short-term effects of meth abuse can include:[2]

  • Increased attention
  • Inability to sleep
  • Increased energy
  • Lessened appetite 
  • A rush of euphoria
  • Anxiety and paranoia 
  • Aggressive or violent behavior
  • Increased respiration 
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Hyperthermia 
  • Addiction 

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, “Methamphetamine use releases very high levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the reward circuit, which “teaches” the brain to repeat the pleasurable activity of taking the drug.”[2] As a result, you can become addicted to meth after only using it once or twice. 

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder that affects your central nervous system (CNS). This condition causes uncontrollable movements, twitching, tremors, and changes in speech. As the disease progresses, people may have difficulty walking and talking. They may also have mental and behavioral changes, such as sleep problems, depression, memory difficulties, and fatigue.[3]

The symptoms can vary from person to person, but the most common symptoms of Parkinson’s disease include:

  • Tremors or shaking in the hands, arms, legs, jaw, or face.
  • Stiffness or rigidity in the arms, legs, or trunk.
  • Slow movement (bradykinesia) which may lead to difficulty initiating or completing movement (akinesia).
  • Impaired balance and coordination, which can lead to falls.
  • Changes in gait or walking pattern, such as shuffling or taking smaller steps.
  • Difficulty with fine motor tasks, such as buttoning clothes or writing.
  • Reduced facial expressions or a masked face.
  • Soft, mumbled, or slurred speech.
  • Decreased sense of smell.
  • Cognitive changes such as problems with memory, attention, and planning.

It’s important to note that not everyone with Parkinson’s disease will experience all of these symptoms, and the progression of the disease can vary widely between individuals.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, but progression can be slowed and many symptoms can be managed with comprehensive treatment.

Treatment plans are individualized and may include a combination of the following:

  • Medications
  • Deep brain stimulation (DBS)
  • Physical therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Lifestyle modifications

Can Meth Abuse Increase Your Risk of Parkinson’s Disease?

Parkinson’s is primarily caused by impairments or death of cells in the part of your brain known as the basal ganglia. This area of the brain is responsible for controlling movement. When cells in the basal ganglia die, less dopamine is produced which is what causes the movement issues associated with Parkinson’s disease.

Meth abuse can permanently reduce your brain’s ability to produce dopamine on its own, so long-term use can increase your risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. In fact, studies have found that meth users are nearly twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s.[4]

Other Long-Term Dangers of Methamphetamine Addiction

Long-term meth abuse will lead to addiction, and if you suddenly stop using meth, withdrawal symptoms may occur. Meth withdrawal may involve serious mental health crises, ranging from paranoia and panic attacks to suicidal thoughts.

Some of the other long-term dangers of meth abuse and addiction include:[5]

  • Severe weight loss
  • Tooth decay 
  • Skin sores 
  • Irreversible brain damage 
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Psychosis (paranoia and hallucinations)
  • Deficits in thinking and motor skills
  • Memory loss 
  • Damage to your brain’s structure and function 
  • Aggressive or violent behavior 

Some of the most frequently discussed long-term effects of methamphetamine are dental decay, tooth loss, and skin sores. People who have been abusing meth long-term often neglect their dental hygiene and grind their teeth, causing them to experience significant dental issues. Additionally, when you abuse meth you might begin to experience delusions, such as believing there are bugs under your skin, causing you to pick at your skin. 

The irreversible damage to your brain and its ability to produce dopamine is what increases your risk of developing Parkinson’s disease. Because this is a condition that affects older adults, you might not notice the brain damage meth has caused until later on in your life. 

Find Help for Meth Abuse and Addiction 

If you or a loved one are struggling with meth addiction, it is important to seek help before the substance causes irreparable damage to your brain and body. Because meth abuse can increase your likelihood of developing Parkinson’s disease and other long-term complications, attending professional drug rehab is vital. 

Meth rehab centers like Mandala Healing Center can provide you with the support and tools you need to recover from meth addiction. With a combination of evidence-based behavioral therapy, group counseling, and relapse prevention planning, you can create a strong foundation of sobriety to build upon for years to come. 

To learn more about our meth addiction treatment program or to find help for yourself or a loved one, contact Mandala Healing Center today.