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Understanding Meth Addiction (For the non-user)

Reason Understanding Meth Addiction (For the non-user)
This is directed not at the user, but to the non-user.


While reading the messages here I regularly see posts from people who have not used meth, but know someone who does, typically a relative or friend. Often they are looking for information about the nature of a users relationship with meth, their empathy stymied by a lack of knowledge. In this post I will explain best I can the psychology of meth usage. I want to get a little deeper than blanket attributes, and hopefully provide some little windows into the personal, internal side of addiction to this particular drug. I am not a psychologist or a doctor.

This is not a diagnosis, only my opinions. Nothing should automatically be accepted as accurate or as describing any specific person, and everything is for information purposes only. I haven't planned this out, so excuse my wandering. This is written for the meth non-user, and I want you to please really think hard about the points I raise, if you can make sense of any of them. I'm trying to only examine the more profound aspects. Imagine the implications, and the possible influences on the mind and behavior. Imagine if you were the person I was describing. The user I describe here has an active professional and personal life, and a healthy number of interests and hobbies. Over time, meth has become more regular and frequent. While this does not represent all users, it might represent anyone with responsibilities and destinations that finds to their surprise that meth has much more significance than before, and difficult to do--to even consider doing--without.

A significant aspect of meth usage crucial to understanding the user is that over time, it becomes part of one’s fundamental lifestyle. By that I mean so much a part of daily life that decisions of whether or not to use are mostly nonexistent. It is the same of any lifestyle behavior. If healthy eating is a cardinal value, few instances of pondering over whether to buy groceries at 7-11 or at Health-Rite Organic Foods will occur. Not many mental debates between Ding-Dongs or a Soy Protein Shake for a snack. Our fundamental lifestyle values operate automatically and thoroughly, shaping our desires and actions on a subconscious level, freeing us to focus on the particulars of life.

Long-time health nuts will not accidentally find themselves in a McDonald's. Perhaps a more recent convert to healthy eating would, because old habits fade, not blink off, and new ways of thinking take time to soak in deep. In time habits become fundamentally part of our character, enough to influence a broad sphere of our life, and we seldom have to think how to apply them; we just do.

Meth insinuates itself into the fabric of a life, and can do so rather quickly. It may seem odd, that all the effort necessary to purchase or acquire a drug and to regularly "get high" could be almost subconscious in nature, but that's the second thing I want you to realize: the meth user is not "getting high" in the way smoking grass gets you stoned, or alcohol, drunk, or LSD, tripping. Sure, its effects can be used recreationally in order to augment some occasion, in the same way LSD might be taken before seeing the Lord of the Rings trilogy (in your theatre of course). But that's not the kind of usage I'm referring to here. I'm talking the regular, habitual user.

As an observer, to consider their meth fix as the means to a temporary high, like something to do at Friday night's party, is to completely misunderstand the nature and effect of this drug. The meth high is not an entity in and of itself, like the alcohol high is. The liquor buzz can be felt forming. Inside, increasing and expanding up and out through your body until it spreads to your surroundings and the walls are bright, and you in the center of this aura, one with the buzz. Its enjoyable there, and it better be -- you can't do much of anything else BUT enjoy it, you're so incapacitated. And then it can be felt weakening, and things are less shiny, until you re-up your blood alcohol content, then it's back again and off you go. Repeat as needed.

Instead, meth is amplification. It does not move you from sober into a non-sober state; it zaps every atom of whatever state you were already in. It jacks into your mental energy and shoots it a crackling shot of juice that somehow doesn't fade like power surges are supposed to. Unlike alcohol inebriation, you've not lost capacity -- you've gained it. Whatever you could do before, now you can do it better, and enjoy it more. What interested you before now fascinates you. What used to lose your interest after doing a while can now be done indefinitely, and you won't even notice the hours speeding by. The basic becomes profound. The good, brilliant. The staid, vibrant.

Your confidence, fearlessness. Your desires, yearning. Anger, rage.

So it's not a matter of "getting high" and grooving on that high, it's a matter of recharging energy and then grooving on your life. The meth effect is not a destination, it's an acceleration. Which of course doesn't last forever, and of course leaves you with less mental energy than you began with, which means you got to do a bit to get back to even, and in that case why not a little more to perk up a little?

Do not wonder why the user is getting high all the time. They're not. Just putting a little gas in the tank. Which is another lifestyle function we do without barely thinking about it, gassing our cars. Why, I've arrived home with a full tank and not even realized I'd stopped at the station, it's so automatic a routine. Eating is another autopilot routine. I probably couldn't remember every single thing I ate yesterday either, since I eat often and without question, deliberation or particular fascination. This from habit, because I lack energy if I don't eat, and my body gradually increases in discomfort until I do...

... the same, which can be said for an interruption in meth consumption. When it becomes an addiction, there is no question about if to do it, only when. It serves such a basic need that the question whether or not to do it arises about as often as the question whether or not to brush your teeth in the morning, or wear socks to work. Do not be surprised if theft or some other moral compromise is committed to obtain meth. The desire to feel at least OK with the world is far too fundamental a need to be deterred by the passing guilt resulting from immoral acts. Which brings me to my third point: why is it so hard to quit? What does the body and mind go through? What kind of issues does a user consider when thinking about quitting? What are his options, alternatives, and consequences?

The reason why it becomes part of a lifestyle is not the same reason it was taken in the first place. Initially, doing it was an upper. Eventually, simply not doing it, is a downer.

I guess this will be part I, since I can't continue right now. Hope at least some of it is vaguely intelligible. 


This article is written for anyone personally unacquainted with meth but familiar with a habitual user, and curious about the dynamic between the two. It's impossible to comprehend by observation alone, and the users themselves are unlikely to be exactly forthcoming. But comprehension is what you need, because every bit of understanding will produce that much more opportunity to aide your friend in need. I will attempt to explain some of the real essence of a user's relationship with meth, and for your part, go slowly and immerse yourself in the bits of life I present. Imagine they are yours. Speculate on the emotional toll. Ponder the implications. I'll deal with concepts
more than behavior, so adopt each one as true, then explore the implications. If some effect seems without cause it's just something you've not experienced. Search for possible reasons, but it's not a necessary discovery -- by being wise to the end result, noticing the actions which lead there can suddenly shed a little light on someone's behavior.

Little piece, big puzzle. This entire process requires rapt attention to a person’s most subtle behavior. It's not easy intellectually ascertaining the effects of a drug never imbibed. If it was, doing the drug wouldn't be necessary, we could just learn about it to get high! LOL. Other people's experience may be the best teacher, but it sure ain't the easiest.

Part 1 of this post addressed the level of the relationship between meth and a regular user. Eventually it becomes second nature, rarely challenged or alternatives considered, subtly re-arranging and -scheduling what over time become lesser priorities. Never mind how this comes to be. Don't question the process; don't wonder about foresight and accountability (or sowing and reaping for you religious types). That particular squirmy journey defies easy description, and would pass undetected even were you told what to look for. It's over and irrelevant. The context you must fit yourself completely into is, meth is a fundamental part of a lifestyle. Fundamental like your house, which is part of most waking moments and a daily destination. Once having made a home, it's an integral part of ones life, and over-night hotel stays just to take a break from it are rare.

Fundamental like parenting, attention to which subsumes everything else. You live and die by the tear or twinkle in their eye. The Halo level doesn't get finished after the phone-call that they missed the bus and are stranded alone at school... you Spy Hunter it there and arrive before they've even hung up the pay-phone. Little debate takes place regarding fulfilling top-level values -- their success implicitly becomes the virtue of the lesser ones.

Yet even so dear as home and kids are, how many times has meth trumped them both? Place yourself there, full knowledge of the damage being done to things you value, without stopping what's doing the damage. Until those things are lost. How is that possible? What insanity struck your nightmare life? What are you thinking?!

Why is the meth habit so hard to kick? The health and lifestyle havoc alone should be enough to convince the most stubborn user it's bad news. This issue has been discussed and studied quite thoroughly, from all different angles, and I don't know if I have anything new to offer that hasn't been dissected already, but since I have a singular goal maybe I'll get lucky, lol. Put on your thinking caps, non-meth-users, and follow me.

The second most important thing you should know about the addict who's considering ending his habit: he doesn't think he can. Taking everything into consideration, all considerations explored, after tests, studies, and exhaustive experiments, all things being equal, his professional, scientific conclusion is: can't be done. Not by a long shot. Wasn't even close. Everything pointed one way. He recalls a previous occasion when fleeting thoughts of possible success were experienced. Hah, he smiles to himself. I must've really been high. He still occasionally considers it, but each time the preponderance of evidence is so overwhelming that eventually he rarely even bothers, turning instead to what has become a regular topic of consideration: how could my meth habit be configured in such a way to @#%$ up less @#%$, thus allowing a few more needs to be met? Now that's a good question. Because it shouldn't take that many adjustments, and with the added benefits taken into account... why... I think, I think I might just be able to work this thing for... uh... a long time! Straight up. Shouldn't be that hard, I'm not a @#%$ moron after-all, no reason it can't be worked out.

But things get busy and the considerations are put on hold, for, a bit, until a little while later--3 years to be exact--it occurs to him again... shouldn't be that hard to figure out... after all, if I'm not going to be able to quit, I better figure SOME way to co-exist with this thing.

You, non-user. How's your impetus to try things you know you can't accomplish? Are you generally really excited about beginning hopeless tasks? Would you work up the energy to give it a shot once a week? A month? How about after a few attempts that seemed ok fail? Nothing like hopes dashed to lift the human spirit, eh?

And the most important thing you should know about the addict, often thought but rarely voiced, his dirty little secret, both uplifting and terrifying:

I DON'T WANT TO QUIT! I DON'T WANT TO QUIT! I don't CARE about all the @#%$, I don't CARE what I had, don't care what I lost, I don't care because it doesn't matter anyways, because I don't want to quit this drug. I LIKE it. My life isn't going to completely fall apart; I'll figure it out more as I go along. Sure it sucks a little I lost that, and them, but you know what, it's par for the course. If I can be like this for the rest of my life, if I can feel like this, that's worth a little sacrifice. Everything worth having requires sacrifice, and this... this is worth having. I mean, really! If it's this way for 25 years more or sober for 50, that's not even a question. Those words don't even make sense.

But who, non-using reader, is he going to say that to? All those discussions where you felt he wasn't really engaging in, those times whatever he was thinking was inscrutable? In hindsight the truth may seem obvious, but at the time who would seriously even consider such an evil sentiment was possible? Can you imagine how alone they feel, thinking such ultimate, immense thoughts, unable to share it with anybody, even their loved ones, their family, or you? The meth addict not only feels alone in their experience, but separated from the people they love the most by a gulf of infinite size. It is a tortuous, absolutely crushing struggle. See, it's not just physiological symptoms, which bring on mental instability, it's the overwhelming significance of these decisions the poor souls finds themselves making.

Chew on that for a while. That all things being considered, with the entire rest of one's life in hand... they don't want to quit. They've not gone insane. They’re not being “unreasonable”. To them, it makes perfect sense!

That’s all I have time for now… part 3 will deal with what you, as a non-user, can do to 'really'  help the user.  
Reason Re: Understanding Meth Addiction (For the non-user)
Ever have a "blah" day or three, where you're at best lethargically detached and at worst, depressed in a muted, nonspecific kind of way? Can't really focus on much, no energy, not even enough mental direction to veg out in front of a favorite TV show. Drift through work, functional but unfocused. Nothing is interesting, all grays and muddy sounds. Passionless, listless, bored and weary.

Ever have a little time like that?

It's what a regular user feels like when he stops using. It's what they feel like a couple hours after waking without a hit. It's what they feel like 2/3rds of the way through work without a bump. It's what they feel like about the time they get home, with children and wives and broken washing machines needing attention, without a little crackback.

Nobody starts doing meth planning on addiction. (I'm going over very worn ground here, this stuff is in all the literature). It at first seems like a singularly useful drug--concentrate and work harder and longer, more energy, and upbeat mood to boot. If this is the first stimulant you've tried, its addictive potential likely won't occur to you--you've nothing to compare it to, you can't recognize it, it's a name, a floating abstraction. Indeed, you're enamored by it's bright effects, and marvel at its contrast to weed and beer. "This drug is not only cool to do, but it kind of helps me at the same time!"

Some of you are expressing anger at them ever getting mixed up with it in the first place. Yet, you have difficulty comprehending the concept of addiction, even with everything that's been written about it. So I ask you: why did you expect them to have some foreknowledge of addiction that you yourself do not have, that nobody has?

Psychologists say we must first possess the behavior which angers us in others. Psychologists would probably tell you your true frustration is your own inability to understand or help, and is transferred it to them as a defense mechanism. I am not a psychologist.

I suppose we've come to the point where a disclaimer is needed. What I'm discussing is a very specific, contained subject: meth addiction. But while its attributes are knowable, the behavior of its host is not. There are people who ditch addiction when they first realize its potential damage to their family. There are people who don't.

Meth is not an excuse for poor behavior. Plenty of people are functioning addicts, using it the same way some people use coffee, Red bull or cigs. Plenty of people are good, honest, productive, virtuous... drug addicts.

So many of the questions I see about relationship and family issues are just that---relationship and family issues, with meth one of many ingredients. We can speak to the meth but the rest up to you.

Do not waste your time with anger. It does you no good. Learn all you can, do what is appropriate, and make the right decisions after considering full context.

---and take mine and everyone's writing and advice for what it is: talk. Be selfish. Selfish... not to be confused with covetousness, avarice or rapacity. You do what you believe to be best for you and yours. Talk is cheap--and that was before it started up on internet forums. :)
Re: Understanding Meth Addiction (for the non-user)
Very good, very well written! Helped to add clarity.
That’s all I have time for now… part 3 will deal with what you, as a non-user, can do to _really_ help the user.

Part 3 is what I am waiting for, I am VERY interested!!

Reason Re: Understanding Meth Addiction (for the non-user)
I don't think there will be a part 3. What an addict needs depends on the individual and situation; there are as many solutions as there are addicts. I couldn't hope to condense anything into a post.

Besides which, I don't think I've much more to add to the conversation that hasn't already been said.
in SF
Re: Understanding Meth Addiction (for the non-user)
The voice of Reason is one of the most sensitive, eloquent, heart-felt and helpful pieces I have ever read about this monster called meth (I honestly think it belongs in a book...any chance you're willing to write one, Reason? I could be your editor! I'm good at stuff like that!).

I would love to see this piece at the top of the page with Spasemonkey's piece. How is that done? Do we vote on it or something? (I'm serious! How does it get to and stay at the top of the page?)

Thank you again, Reason, and please continue helping people like me...those struggling to understand!
Re: Understanding Meth Addiction (for the non-user)
Ok Sleepless-I just read it to my addict again so I just got to get it on the front again.... I have a chance tonight to read to him and read to him and read to him. He didn't want to go to an NA meet with me so I'm having one with him and ya'll. It's really a nice time and I'm so thankful that I get to share ya'll. One day he may want to meet you for himself after he's sick and tired of me reading

See also:

Are addicts made or born?

Meth addict or drug addict? What's the difference?

My best understanding of addiction

Approaching a meth user about their addiction

To what extent will a Meth addict Lie?

What does an addict feel the moment they cause pain to others?

Back to Crystal Meth & Methamphetamine Questions, Answers & Advice

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