For the past 35 years, I have studied cocaine and methamphetamine (meth) substance use disorder (formerly referred to as "drug addiction"). Much of my work has been in a research laboratory, but a few years ago I started going out into the local community to speak to meth users face-to-face. I have met with them in treatment centers, in prisons, and even in my office, and I have talked to men as well as women. I can honestly say that I have learned so much more from talking to meth users, and actually listening to them, than I ever did from all the medical books and journals I read.
First, let me assure you that I want to help everyone struggling with meth, men as well as women. I don’t discriminate.
Methamphetamine is a drug misused by people all around the world. And while men are two to three times more likely to use most other drugs, women are as likely to use meth as men are.
The reasons for this are not really clear.
And historically, at least until relatively recently, medical and scientific research has focused primarily on males, unless it was research on a female-specific disease such as endometriosis. There were a variety of reasons for this, but the result was that many diseases were not studied in women for many years.
The same holds true for methamphetamine. I quickly discovered that most of the medical and scientific research on meth had been conducted in men. And most of this research was conducted in men who have sex with men. You see, meth tends to increase sexual arousal while decreasing inhibitions. Therefore, safe sex is not often practiced, and doctors and scientists soon realized that the rate of HIV/AIDS was higher in men who have sex with men and who also use meth. Some research even suggests that meth makes it easier to be infected with the virus that causes AIDS.
So there has been very little medical and scientific research on the effects of methamphetamine in women. That's quite unfortunate. But there are more important reasons for my interest in helping women who are healing from methamphetamine.
In my opinion, substance use disorder, whether it is meth or even another substance, is especially difficult for women.
We all know that a woman can become pregnant, whether intentional or not. And when she becomes a mother, she also becomes responsible for her child. In an ideal world, the father would share in the care of the child.
But we also know the reality. In far too many cases, the mother becomes the primary caregiver for her baby. What if this mother is also struggling with meth use? Who is going to take care of her baby if mom is on a three-day meth binge?
Who makes sure that her baby is fed? Who gives her a bath? When she is older, who helps her with her homework and gets her ready for school? Too often the child depends solely on her mother.
Meth use is often initiated in women as a means to survive. A mother can take care of her children and work a full-time job and become “supermom” if she can just find the energy. Many women unwittingly fall into the clutches of meth because they first turned to this insidious chemical as an energy boost.
They usually start by smoking meth. But over time the effects begin to wane.
So she tries injecting meth for the first time in an attempt to really boost her energy levels. She can handle it, right?
But, unfortunately, then everything changes.
Injected meth is often associated with sex, even more so than with most other drugs. Some women claim that meth produces sexual desire and/or arousal and reduces inhibitions. Some even claim than the euphoria associated with an injection of meth, when it is of sufficient purity and dosage, is very similar to sexual pleasure.
But it is never quite as good as that first time ever again. It can still be quite euphoric – for a while, but just not quite as good. So she continues to use meth, seeking (chasing) that first high.
It’s as though the drug is calling out to her – and lying to her. Inside her head a little voice tells her that all she needs to do is to inject just a little bit more meth. Maybe she just needs to make the meth solution in the syringe a little thicker. Maybe if she can just find that dealer that sold her the “really good dope” that time…
But as with most things, too much of a good thing often becomes harmful. I think that God created us this way.
Meth increases levels of the brain pleasure chemical called dopamine more than any other pleasurable activity. Other drugs also increase dopamine – that’s why people enjoy using them too. But meth increases dopamine three or four times more than even cocaine or heroin.
However, the massive amounts of dopamine that meth releases in the brain actually begin to damage the very nerve cells that release the pleasure chemical. So over time, the user realizes that meth doesn’t make her feel as good as it used to. So she uses more and more of the drug, trying to find that euphoria she covets. But it’s to no avail. The more she uses, the more her dopamine cells are damaged.
Eventually she gets to the point that she feels like she has to inject (“slam”) meth just to feel normal – just to get out of bed.
But there’s more.
If a man first “introduced” a woman to meth, he often exercises tremendous control over her. The euphoria is so sexual, so primal, that women often resort to using sex to get meth. And if a man is the source for her meth, women will do anything he asks to get more meth.
I have talked to men as well as women. Many of the men told me about their exploits with women. I often heard of instances where a man was able to convince women to do literally anything that he wished or demanded – all for just another shot of meth. They’ve shared their stories with me – men and women alike.
I have heard of so many cases where women ended up as prostitutes or in other forms of sex trafficking after meth took control of their lives. That’s slavery and it’s wrong! Sex trafficking is a real and growing problem in the United States – and meth is often a contributing factor.
I have also heard, primarily from women, about how injecting meth is different from smoking or snorting the drug – especially with respect to the sexual effects. Almost everyone tells me about this difference, but you won’t find it mentioned in any medical book or journal. I intend to change that.
Most people in this field, unfortunately, do not take the time to actually listen to the people that they are trying to help. They just run more tests and prescribe drugs. How sad!
I have asked some of the women I have talked to if they had ever discussed many of the things that we talked about with their counselors. They almost always say no. When I ask why not, they tell me that they were never asked.
The women I have talked with are not toothless, uneducated people who should just be ignored, neglected, and thrown away. No one should ever be treated that way; everyone deserves love. But the women I talked to, and who are using meth right now in our own backyards, are someone's mother, sister, daughter, next-door neighbor or friend. They are teachers, nurses, doctors and lawyers. I have been told time and time again that if I knew about the women (and men) from so many diverse walks of life who are struggling with meth today, I would literally be shocked.
I believe them!