This is a painfully personal blog post. I considered writing the sub-title as “Meth and Madness” to balance two one-word nouns, but “madness” is a stigmatizing word, in my opinion. This is a personal blog post because six members of my family (immediate and extended) fell under the spell of crystal meth (short for crystal methamphetamine). The common street name is simply “Meth”. It is a white crystalline drug that people take by inhaling through the nose, smoking it, or injecting it. Some even take it orally, but all develop a strong desire to continue using it because the drug creates a false sense of happiness and well-being—a rush of confidence, hyper-activeness, and energy. One also experiences a decrease in appetite. These drug effects generally last from six to eight hours, but can last up to twenty-four hours.
Crystal Meth use is associated with several serious physical and mental illnesses:
1. Paranoia: suspicion, distrust or fear of other people.
2. Cardiovascular: related to both the heart and blood vessels.
3. Alzheimer’s disease: a disease affecting some older people that is accompanied by memory loss.
As of this writing, four family members are in recovery. I pray every day for the others before this insidious drug causes permanent damage or even death.
Substance abuse and mental illness is called a “dual diagnosis”. These are separate illnesses with different treatment plans. Treatment centers dot every community and meetings of Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous are attended by millions of addicts and alcoholics each day all supporting one another to stay clean and sober.
In the past, addiction was viewed as a moral failing or a sign of a weakness. Today, we realize that drug addiction is a devastating, chronic brain disease. The most commonly abused substance in America today is alcohol. Seventeen-point-six million Americans are dependent on or abusing Alcohol, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc.
I spoke recently with my friend Chris Thrall, a former Royal Marines Commando (an elite military group like our Navy Seals here in the U.S.). Chris lives in London. He is author of the memoir Eating Smoke, which tells the story of his experience with crystal meth addiction. Chris told me Americans are “20 years behind the British” in terms of addiction recovery.
“The whole jargon of Narcotics Anonymous,” he said, “branding people as 'addicts' and 'ill' by a “God” (or Higher Power) of your choosing' is wrong. It's offensive and it's inaccurate as it only relates to a single part of someone's whole lifetime, and thus is stigmatizing and bad for an individual's self- image. Addiction is a 'learned psychological condition' and thus can be 'unlearned' for many people, without joining a cult-like organization to do it. For some individuals, yes, NA and AA is just simply a good option as it provides a rigid framework when all else has fails,” Chris explained.
Why do people abuse meth and other drugs? Some do it out of curiosity or peer pressure while others stumble upon drugs as an escape from the uncomfortable feelings of sadness or anxiety they experience. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports about 20 percent of substance abusers have an anxiety disorder or a mood disorder, such as depression. When someone is struggling with mental illness, it often isn’t visible to the sufferer, who is in the thick of it.
I self-medicated with alcohol abuse when I was a teenager as the first symptoms of bipolar disorder appeared after the sudden death of my mother. Alcohol is a depressant and is counter-productive when trying to escape from depression. My depression worsened the more often I was intoxicated. I never smoked marijuana or abused illegal or prescription drugs. Unfortunately, my late brother and step-sister fell into the trap of prescription narcotics which eventually resulted in overdoses of their drugs of choice.
The Drug Enforcement Administration paints a picture of the associated risks through the following statistics:
• Over 100,000 emergency department visits related to methamphetamine.
• More than 3,200 poisoning exposures have been reported to poison control due to methamphetamine.
• At its peak in 2005, methamphetamine was responsible for almost 4,500 deaths in the US alone.
The dangers of crystal meth are not outweighed by the limited therapeutic benefits such as weight loss and energy boost. This substance is cause for concern in the US and around the world.
I asked my friend Stanley Victor Paskavich to write a poem for this post. Stan is a wounded war veteran suffering from both PTSD and bipolar disorder.
“There’s a dance many take that leads them towards death. They waltz around for days on end from harmful chemicals someone did blend. Up for days in a distorted phase their reality often becomes a confusing maze. Many steal things to sell and dance with this drug, which can turn an innocent into a thug. If and when they make a conscious effort to get free, and reclaim some of their self-worth and sanity. Whether in rehab or a choice of their own it will be a life time battle to leave it alone.”