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Meth, Amphetamine Addiction Greatly Increases Risk for Parkinson’s Disease

According to new research published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, a pattern of methamphetamine or amphetamine abuse/addiction can seriously increase the risks for the onset of Parkinson’s disease, an incurable, degenerative neurological disorder that ultimately produces debilitating changes in the ability to control muscle movement. Amphetamine and methamphetamine are two powerful, chemically-related stimulant substances known for their ability to trigger addiction when repeatedly consumed in excessive amounts. Researchers are continually exploring the consequences of becoming addicted to one of these substances.

Amphetamine and Methamphetamine Addiction

Amphetamine and methamphetamine produce their primary drug effects by stimulating or increasing the baseline rate of activity inside the brain and altering the chemical environment in a part of the brain called the pleasure center. This pleasure center alteration triggers an intense sensation called euphoria, which typically far outweighs the amount of pleasure derived from such common activities as eating tasty food, taking part in preferred leisure activities or having sex. Methamphetamine, in particular, is capable of triggering profound, euphoria-producing changes inside the brain. Some people attempt to repeatedly access the euphoric feelings associated with amphetamine or methamphetamine intake and subsequently establish an ongoing pattern of substance abuse. Unfortunately, the abuse of meth or amphetamine can lead to lasting alteration of the pleasure center’s chemical environment (in particular, a key brain chemical called dopamine) and the onset of physical drug dependence. In turn, a person physically dependent on amphetamine or methamphetamine can easily develop the symptoms of full-blown, uncontrolled addiction. Both meth addiction and amphetamine addiction are subtypes of a larger condition called stimulant use disorder, which includes all forms of stimulant addiction, as well as all forms of dysfunctional stimulant abuse.

Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease occurs when the brain experiences a die-off of cells that produce dopamine, the same chemical that helps produce euphoria inside the brain’s pleasure center. Dopamine also helps the brain control body movement, and when the cells that produce this chemical start to die, the brain begins to lose critical portions of its movement control network. No one knows precisely why Parkinson’s disease affects any given individual, but potential factors in the onset of the illness include relatively rare forms of genetic mutation and (in some cases) environmental toxin exposure. Main potential symptoms of Parkinson’s include tremors in the upper or lower extremities, muscle rigidity, unusually slow muscle movement, loss of control over body balance or posture, speech impairment and loss of some forms of involuntary body movement. In most cases, the disease first appears in people who have reached their 50s. Increased Parkinson’s Risks In the study published in January 2015 in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from the University of Utah, Intermountain Healthcare and several other Utah-based institutions used health records drawn from over 40,000 Utah residents to help determine if people who habitually consume methamphetamine or a related amphetamine substance have increased chances of developing Parkinson’s disease. Close to 5,000 of these residents were known consumers of amphetamine or methamphetamine, while more than 1,800 were known consumers of another stimulant drug of abuse, cocaine. The remaining 34,000-plus study participants did not consume amphetamine, methamphetamine or cocaine; they also did not abuse alcohol or any other substance. After reviewing the medical records of the study participants, the researchers concluded that, as a whole, people who abuse methamphetamine or amphetamine have a roughly 200 percent higher chance of developing Parkinson’s disease than people who don’t abuse either of these substances or any other substance. They also concluded that the risk for developing the disease is much higher in women who abuse methamphetamine or amphetamine; when considered separately, women who abuse one of these substances have an almost 400 percent higher chance of developing Parkinson’s disease than their same-gender counterparts who don’t abuse either of these substances or any other substance. The researchers could not identify a specific reason why women have such elevated risks. Interestingly, they also did not identify any connection between cocaine abuse/addiction and increased chances of developing Parkinson’s disease.   Based on their findings, the study’s authors believe that methamphetamine/amphetamine abuse alone is a driving factor for increased Parkinson’s risks, not methamphetamine/amphetamine abuse in combination with other factors. The current study’s outcomes support the outcomes of a previous California study that included 250,000 participants.

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