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When Meth enters the brain, it invades brain cells along the dopamine pathway. It forces the release of dopamine—a neurotransmitter that helps control movement, learning, memory, motivation, and pleasure.

Meth blocks transporters, causing
dopamine to get trapped in the synapse.
This overstimulates the brain and creates
an initial rush of euphoria.

When the drug wears off, the
crash throws users into a low.
Changes to the brain's reward
systems leave users depressed,
prompting them to take more
of the drug.

Because Meth prevents dopamine from
being recycled, there's less
dopamine to be released.

When the user takes the same amount
of Meth, they don't get the same high.

The user then takes a bigger
dose of Meth to try to get
the same high. Side effects
like psychosis, paranoia,
aggression and anxiety
may surface.

Even though the high isn’t as
strong, the crash when the drug
wears off is still extreme.

Soon the brain chemistry changes.

Meth uses up the dopamine
supply and reduces the number
of receptors too, so what little
dopamine is released doesn't
produce normal pleasure.

How the High Works

See how Meth impacts the brain to create the intial high
and how this impact damages the brain’s reward system.

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Over time, these changes to the dopamine system can
cause cognitive impairment, issues with memory and
movement, and anhedonia—the inability to feel pleasure.

Effect of food on dopamine levels in the brain
The brain is designed to reward behavior necessary for survival. That’s why eating food feels good.
Normal Dopamine levels in the brain
The brain is designed to reward behavior necessary for survival. That’s why eating food feels good.
Effect of sex on dopamine levels in the brain
Since reproduction is necessary for the continuation of our species, our brains reward us for sex, causing feelings of pleasure.
Normal Dopamine levels in the brain
Since reproduction is necessary for the continuation of our species, our brains reward us for sex, causing feelings of pleasure.
Effect of cocaine on dopamine levels in the brain
Cocaine creates a powerful rush by tricking brain cells and causing more dopamine to accumulate in the brain than normal.
Falling dopamine levels in the brain
Cocaine creates a powerful rush by tricking brain cells and causing more dopamine to accumulate in the brain than normal. This ultimately depletes dopamine, making it harder to feel good.
Dead dopamine levels in the brain
Cocaine creates a powerful rush by tricking brain cells and causing more dopamine to accumulate in the brain than normal. This ultimately depletes dopamine, making it harder to feel good.
Effect of meth on dopamine levels in the brain
Meth forces out a surge of dopamine. This makes it highly addictive and also damages the brain. Users experience a rebound low, and over time can no longer experience feelings of pleasure.
Falling dopamine levels in the brain
Meth forces out a surge of dopamine. This makes it highly addictive and also damages the brain. Users experience a rebound low, and over time can no longer experience feelings of pleasure.
Dead dopamine levels in the brain
Meth forces out a surge of dopamine. This makes it highly addictive and also damages the brain. Users experience a rebound low, and over time can no longer experience feelings of pleasure.
Normal dopamine
Normal dopamine
Food dopamine
Normal dopamine
Sex dopamine
Normal dopamine
Cocaine dopamine
Cocaine dopamine falling
Cocaine dopamine dead
Meth dopamine
Meth dopamine falling
Meth dopamine dead

Comparing Highs and Lows

Our brains release dopamine to make us feel pleasure. It's how it rewards us for doing things necessary for survival. Meth hijacks this system to create an initial high that sets the stage for a powerful addiction.

Select an option to see how the brain reacts
Food
Sex
Cocaine
Meth

Terms

  • The chemical in the brain that allows us to feel pleasure. It is also involved in movement, learning and memory, and motivation. Initially, methamphetamine floods the brain with dopamine. With repeated use, Meth severely depletes the brain’s dopamine supply. This makes it difficult for users to feel pleasure at all, lessens their ability to think and remember, and can also affect movement. The Brain on Meth

  • An extreme feeling of happiness that results in confidence and an overall sense of well-being. The high from Meth makes people temporarily euphoric by overstimulating the brain. Ring the Bell

  • The body’s stress-response system, or natural alarm system, that prepares the body to fight or flee when danger is imminent. When this response is activated, the body’s physiology changes—blood pressure and heart rate increase, pupils become dilated, and there is a release of adrenaline. Methamphetamine unnaturally triggers this reaction, forcing the mind and body into an extended state of hyper-alertness. "FBI Watching Me"

  • Commonly called an “upper,” it is a substance that causes increased alertness or physical activity. A stimulant like methamphetamine first elevates mood and energy, then leads to rebound depression and anxiety. The Heart in Overdrive

© Meth Project Foundation, Inc., 2013. All rights reserved.