Because today's methamphetamine is stronger, more potent and wreaks greater havoc on the brain, chronic users exhibit symptoms similar to patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI), according to the Brain Injury Association of Arizona (BIAAZ). The symptoms include memory impairment, cognitive impairment and inability to do basic psychological assessments.
The belief that neurologic symptoms of methamphetamine use are due to structural damage to the brain is supported by current neuro-imaging research. Recent publications in the America Journal of Psychiatry have documented losses of dopamine transporters in detoxified methamphetamine users that mimic the reductions seen from Parkinson's disease, both of which correlate with decreased performance on simple motor and learning tasks.
Methamphetamine abuse is a major problem in Arizona. It has emerged as the second leading cause of admissions to substance abuse treatment in the state, rising from 11% to 24% of all admissions between 2002 and 2003, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. In 2004, one in four persons receiving substance abuse treatment reported methamphetamine as the primary substance abused.
It is clear that methamphetamine does cause some brain damage, says Gene van den Bosch, BIAAZ Executive Director. "What is unclear is whether the damage is permanent," he explains, adding that the amount of recovery of memory and cognitive process is still unknown because many of the current studies are still in their infancy.
The Brain Injury Association of Arizona is a non-profit membership organization of people with brain injuries and their families, friends, and service providers working together since 1983 to provide information & referrals, education, advocacy and support for those affected by brain injury. BIAAZ is the only statewide organization in Arizona dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for people with brain injuries and their families and preventing brain injuries. BIAAZ is a chartered state affiliate of the Brain Injury Association of America.