Louise Stanger is a speaker, educator, licensed clinician, social worker, certified daring way facilitator, and interventionist who uses an invitational intervention approach to work with complicated mental health, substance abuse, chronic pain, and process addiction clients.
Through my many years as a clinician in behavioral health, I have met many people of all races, socioeconomic status, and gender who have experienced a methamphetamine (meth) addiction. When I first learned about meth, I thought it was a poor person’s disease, reserved only for street people or the homeless. However, the people I have met look like you and me. The exception is that their substance abuse and co-occurring mental health disorders (i.e. anxiety and depression) have led them down a spiral staircase of street drugs, lost values, and money to a lonely existence fueled by meth to keep them up and going.
As the lyrics from Third Eye Blind’s semi final hit song ‘Semi-Charmed Life’ says, “smiling in the pictures you would take, doing Crystal meth for sale will lift you up until you break.” In order words, what starts out as an incredible pleasure ends like a shattered glass, broken and scattered.
Today, methamphetamine is a multi-billion dollar drug that, like cocaine, has made its way from rural and poor segments of the country to become the drug of choice for white-collar folks. Meth has reached across socioeconomic status, race, and gender. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), an online resource for substance abuse and addiction treatment, reports that 1.2 million Americans used meth in 2012. And as of 2013, 12.3 million Americans reported using meth in their lifetime.
The use of the drug has developed over time. NIDA outlines the history of meth, starting with an earlier form of the drug – amphetamine – first synthesized by German pharmacologist L. Edeleono at the turn of the 20th century. Years later, Japan created a chemically altered form of the drug – more potent and powerful – called methamphetamine. The United States government, which has labeled meth a schedule 2 drug because it has little medical use and a high potential for abuse, explains that meth acts as a powerful central nervous system stimulant. It floods the brain and spinal cord with a natural chemical in your body called dopamine, a neurotransmitter that interacts in the synapses between neurons, giving the user immense pleasure.
It didn’t take long for the drug’s powerful stimulating effects – sustained energy lasting 6-12 hours and a positive sense of well-being – to be used in questionable ways. During WWII, Germany, Japan, and the U.S. distributed meth to their soldiers because the drug’s energizing and antidepressant properties treated battle fatigue. In fact, reports revealed that Japanese kamikaze pilots – essentially suicide bombers – used the drug to complete their fatal missions.
Once meth got into the hands of the drug trade in America, it took root in rural and poor areas. Abusers of the drug often experiment with alcohol, cocaine, or opioids, and progress to meth because it is widely available and cheap to produce and purchase. And meth’s highly addictive qualities – 99% of users get hooked according to the Drugs, Inc. documentary on meth – make it difficult to break the habit. The drug slowly spread beyond rural areas, reports NIDA, catching the wind with the Hippie movement and psychedelic drug craze of the 1960s before becoming officially criminalized by the U.S. Congress in 1971.
crackdowns and Latin American drug cartels’ control of the drug. The drug cartels, situated in Mexico, Colombia, and other Latin countries, must smuggle cocaine across the U.S. border and transport it nearly 500 miles up the California coast. With border control and transportation difficulties, costs have gone up, making way for a cheaper and more readily available drug: meth.