The Effect of Methamphetamine-induced Neurotoxicity on Crime Rates

Methamphetamine destroys the body’s neurological processes, leading to impulsive
behavior and ultimately breaking the law. Over 56% of state prisoners committed their crimes
while under the influence of an illicit substance (Mumola 1). Out of all crimes committed while
under the influence of a drug in 2004, 64% of them were petty theft and property offenses, such
as burglary or larceny. The use of methamphetamines causes neurotoxic effects on serotonin
neurons, resulting in anxiety and mood swings which could spur an individual into committing
non-aggressive crimes. Methamphetamines also behave as neurotoxins to dopamine, resulting in
a deficit of the neurotransmitter (Kish 1679). Depletion of serotonin and dopamine in the brain
cause symptoms of depression, obsessive compulsive behavior (such as the actions of the
stereotypical “tweaker”) and anxiety (“Methamphetamine in the Brain”). After long term use,
dopamine and serotonin-induced depression can lead the addict to commit acts of thievery in
order to purchase more methamphetamines, which become the body’s main neurotransmitter
release stimulant.

Short term use of methamphetamines promotes paranoia, sleeplessness, depression
and anxiety (“Short Term Use”). Further use of the substance causes these symptoms to
become more severe, resulting in depression and a loss of functional social behavior (“Long
Term Use”). Liz Sonneborn’s book, Frequently Asked Questions about Shoplifting and Theft,
notes how many chronic shoplifters suffer from imbalances in serotonin levels, which cause
depression and obsessive behaviors (31). Methamphetamines are psychomotor stimulants that
flood neurotransmitter-receptors, tricking the mind into releasing a magnified high that, under
normal circumstances, would only be experienced at a slight degree (“Methamphetamine in the
Brain”). However, repeated administration of methamphetamines to lab rats shows that after
long term use, methamphetamines significantly reduce the amount of serotonin and dopamine
content and uptake in the body by acting as a neurotoxins (Cass 8132). Once methamphetamines
become neurotoxins, the resulting depletion of serotonin and dopamine in the body cause severe
depression when not high, as dopamine is responsible for the experiencing of pleasure and pain
(Erickson). Methamphetamines also act as receptor desensitizers, actually reducing the number
of neurotransmitter receptors and causing the addict to build a tolerance to the drug. Therefore, depression is stimulated because the individual experiences limited enjoyment when not on methamphetamines, and a progressive decrease of enjoyment while high.

Depression further spurs theft (Khimm). An article by The Washington Post states the
National Bureau of Economic Research discovered that non-violent theft is the only crime that
can statistically be attributed to depression among adolescents and young adults. Depression
of this level could be attributed to methamphetamine usage, and a study in 2004 showed that
out of the 53% of state prisoners who regularly used drugs, 14.9% used methamphetamines,
36% claimed they continued usage despite emotional problems, such as depression, and 34%
claimed to have an increase in tolerance to the illicit substance (Mumola 2). In the case of
methamphetamines, this signifies that over a third of users continue using methamphetamines
despite having severe depression. Furthermore, the 34% who showed an increase in tolerance
would also be using higher dosages of meth, further shutting down their neurotransmitter
receptors. Depression aside, dramatic decreases in serotonin levels have an inverse relationship with impulsive behavior (Raine 96).

Impulsivity has a significant effect on property crime (Zimmerman 69-70). In Gregory
Zimmerman’s book, statistics show that an individual who exhibits normal impulsivity has a
probability of 11% of engaging in property crime, such as burglary. However, when impulsivity
rises by one standard deviation, the probability of engaging in a property crime increases from
approximately 11% to 23%. One of the defining roles of serotonin is to mediate behavioral
inhibition (Dalley 41). The decline in serotonin concentration and uptake causes individuals
to less effectively correlate rewarded and punished responses. This means that whereas one
individual may associate shoplifting with being fined or sued, an individual with decreased
serotonin levels, due to methamphetamines, will identify the rewards of shoplifting and the
punishments of being caught as two unrelated events.

Along with causing the deterioration of users, methamphetamines also have an
undeniable negative effect on the lives of others (Mumola 1). Methamphetamine causes the
depletion of chemicals that naturally make people feel happy and replace it with feelings of
depression and impulsive disorders (“Short Term Disorders”). The general lack of happiness
caused by the use of meth results in higher crime rates, and although the crimes are generally
nonviolent, they still detract from the safety of people’s homes and their rights to their property (Mumola 1).

Works Cited

Cass, Wayne A. “GDNF Selectively Protects Dopamine Neurons over Serotonin Neurons

Against the Neurotoxic Effects of Methamphetamine.” Official Journal of the Society for

Neuroscience 16.24 (1996): 8132-139. Journal of Neuroscience. Web. 02 Oct. 2013.

Dalley, J. W., and J. P. Roiser. “Dopamine, Serotonin and Impulsivity.” Neuroscience 215

(2012): 42-58. Science Direct. Web. 03 Oct. 2013.

Erickson, Carlton. “Dopamine- A Sample Neurotransmitter.” Understanding Addiction.

University of Texas at Austin, n.d. Web. 06 Oct. 2013.

Khimm, Suzy. “Study: Teen Depression Linked to Higher Property Crime, but Not Violent

Crime.” The Washington Post, 18 Feb. 2013. Web. 03 Oct. 2013.

Kish, Stephen J. “Pharmacologic Mechanisms of Crystal Meth.” Canadian Medical Association

Journal 178.13 (2008): 1679-682. Canadian Medical Association, 17 June

2008. Web. 03 Oct. 2013.

“Long Term Effects.” In The Know Zone. Education Specialty, 2011. Web. 02 Oct. 2013.

“Methamphetamine in the Brain.” In The Know Zone. Education Specialty, 2011. Web. 02 Oct.


Raine, Adrian. Crime and Schizophrenia: Causes and Cures. New York: Nova Science, 2006.

Google Books. Web. 03 Oct. 2013.

“Short Term Effects.” In The Know Zone. Education Specialty, 2011. Web. 02 Oct. 2013.

Sonneborn, Liz. Frequently Asked Questions about Shoplifting and Theft. New York: Rosen,

2012. Google Books. Web. 02 Oct. 2013.

Mumola, Christopher J., Jennifer C. Karberg. United States. Department of Justice. Office

of Justice Programs. “Drug Use and Dependence, State and Federal Prisoners, 2004.” Oct. 2006. Web. 03 Oct. 2013.

Zimmerman, Gregory M., and National Institute Of Justice. Impulsivity, Offending, and the

Neighborhood: Investigating the Person-Context Nexus. Ann Arbor, MI: ProQuest, 2009. Google Books. Web. 03 Oct. 2013.

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