[NOTE: This page describes the nature of addiction and the effects of the meth high. LIFE OR METH makes no apology for doing so; as with all apsects of this site, it is important to graphically cover both faces of the coin to understand why many succumb to a drug which they know could well end up costing them everything, even their lives. Avoid reading this page if you feel it may serve as a trigger to use.]
Human beings are programed to instinctively seek comfort, pleasure and gratification in all situations.
Addictive behaviour always starts with pleasure, whether derived from substances such as alcohol, cigarettes or other drugs, or from people commenting on your physical appearance (for example when you've lost weight), a win on a poker machine, the feeling of relief from anxiety or pain... anything that induces a buzz, or high. Pleasure turns into addiction when the high becomes a necessity. What was originally satisfying turns into a deteriorating cycle of dependency and compulsive behaviour, signifying a loss of self-control.
"Addictions, chemical or otherwise, fill voids where something else should be. Many addicts I know have something in common: an emotional injury of some sort, whether in the past or in their present."
~ Paul Bakalite [Positive Nation]
Whenever an uncomfortable feeling arises, most of us instinctively reach out for something external - an addiction - in the hope that the feeling can be blocked, or anaesthetised. An addiction - be it to a substance like drugs or food, or to practices like sex, gambling or shopping - is a habitual psychological and physiological dependency to the emotion induced by the brain's release of certain chemicals which the addiction triggers.
These chemicals, or neurotransmitters, are made from amino acids which transmit nerve impulses between the brain cells. Factors like drug-taking and poor diet
hamper amino acid production, in turn upsetting the brain's chemistry and its ability to regulate emotions, leading to mental health problems. For example, serotonin, a key neurotransmitter made by the amino acid tryptophan, helps regulate feelings ranging from contentment to anxiety, but it can be depleted by amphetamines and a lack of tryptophan-rich foods such as nuts, seeds and wholegrains resulting in depression.
It has long been established that drug addicts' brains have some differences to those who use drugs and don't get addicted, but research by scientists at the University of Cambridge has revealed abnormalities in addicts' brains that indicate they are "hard wired" for addiction.
Different neurotransmitters affect different emotions. All mind-altering drugs - hard, recreational and pharmaceutical - are potentially dangerous as they create chemical imbalances in the brain which alter perception, mood and behaviour. Addiction to a particular emotional state occurs when the individual is unable to control and moderate his thoughts and is constantly imagining and creating situations that fulfill and ease a particular emotional craving.
"People who take amphetamines and problem gamblers report almost the same emotional changes when they take their drug or have their near win."
~ Vivienne Parry [The Times]
Street methamphetamine is the most powerful known stimulator, chemically structured to stimulate the central nervous system and the brain's "reward centre" - the hypothalamus - which regulates emotions and organises and controls feelings, mood and energy levels. Swallowed, snorted, smoked or injected, it triggers the release of high levels of the brain's energising, "feel-good" chemical, dopamine - which mediates the transfer of signals associated with positive emotions between the left prefrontal area and the emotional centres in the limbic area of the brain - along with neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine, into the bloodstream.
Like heroin and crack cocaine, the first hits of methamphetamine can induce the most powerful rush, or high, and may never be repeated.
Methamphetamine can cause a 1,500% increase in dopamine compared to the amount released during normal pleasurable situations such as achieving a goal or getting a pay rise, and its intensity permanently "rewires" the brain's chemistry (by comparison, cocaine raises dopamine levels 400%). Nerve ending sensation is enhanced and sensory perception amplified inducing a transcendent, omnipotent-like state described by one former user as a "celestial unification of body and soul"; vastly more potent than amphetamines like speed and ecstasy and more intense than crack and heroin. The superficial, euphoric rush heightens wellbeing, alertness, confidence and the user's perception of self-attractiveness, although the brain's mechanism for regulating sleep, hunger and thirst is impeded, severely compromising the functioning of the immune system.
The user's attention is fixated on the present moment, erasing all past and future-based fears, problems, anxieties, inhibitions and feelings of inferiority and unworthiness that may have built up over years of socially-conditioned or religiously-indoctrinated shame and guilt. Because methamphetamine blocks the re-
uptake of neurotransmitters and evades the enzymes that help to break down invasive drugs, the chemicals released from only one hit in a first-time user float freely and can remain active for up to 12 hours before wearing off, compared with about 45 minutes for cocaine which, by contrast, is completely metabolised by the body. The combined effects of the meth high can make it seductive even to those who normally shun drugs.
Crystal enters most people's lives in relaxed social situations when their guard is down.
Methamphetamine knows no boundaries and targets all social and economic groups, preying most easily on those who use drugs not as an occasional recreational enhancer in a contented life but habitually to escape their unhappy, mundane or bored realities and to anaesthetise psychological pain and despair; depressive, self-destructive and addictive personalities.
"Many experts allege that more than 90% of all addicts have some kind of emotional disorder."
~ Dr. Kenneth Cimino [The Politics of Crystal Meth]
People become prone to addiction and susceptible to the effects of drugs like crystal meth primarily due to the way thought and information is processed by the brain. The left side of the brain, where the ego resides, is responsible for logical, rational, controlling and systematic patterns of thought while the right is associated with creativity, openness, intuition and compassion. Human beings are born with the right hemisphere fully active but get mired in automated, left-side thinking due to social conditioning, stressful environmental factors and the ingestion of harmful, manmade chemicals and antibiotics which dull and inhibit the right hemisphere's ability to 'tune in' and positively influence rational thought.
The mind is most effective and in harmony when the two hemispheres work together, and it is this ability that defines us as human. Neurologists at the University of Southern California recently identified a frontal lobe in the brain - the ventromedial pre-frontal cortex - which they reported plays a crucial role in decision-making by allowing emotion and intuition to work in tandem with logic to solve moral dilemmas.
Balanced thinkers can silence and transcend linear thought and tap into the right brain's "stream of consciousness" at will, particularly during meditative states, improving their creative skills considerably. This ability is automatically reawakened in left-brain thinkers in the initial rush of a love affair, or the first time that they use a catalysing substance like crystal. In such users all rational thought melts away, resulting in a euphoric sense of power and creative energy immeaurably preferable to their normal, comparatively dormant state of being. It is the fear of losing this heightened state of consciousness that leads to addictive pursuits among many.
[See Healing Addiction]
An example of how state of mind influences creative activity and potential can be seen in the works of artists, writers writers and philosophers, who by nature are predominantly right-brain thinkers. The Beatles, for example, didn't overly abuse drugs and produced a consistent body of work, producing their most creative songs during their experimental psychedelic LSD phase. By contrast, many bands and songwriters lose their spark and momentum and fall by the wayside when experimentation with drugs turns into abuse and addiction because the brain's receptors become dulled, creative flow is blocked and the ego amplified, yielding bland, disjointed results.
"Fourteen of the 18 songs on this selection date from the time when the planet’s biggest band (or so it seemed) was also the best, before cocaine and hubris dulled them."
~ Steve Jelbert [The Times, reviewing Oasis' compilation album, Stop The Clocks]
"The reason why I left Oasis is because crystal meth is like cheap speed, and I was into far more exotic drugs at that point. I was quite upset my band members had become punks when I was busy reaching for the stars."
~ Noel Gallagher [Oasis' lead songwriter]
Methamphetamine spreads like a virus among groups of society that suffer high levels of depression and mental illness caused by factors like social exclusion, boredom, fatigue and marginalisation, due to its ability to enable the user to erase boundaries and connect with others. In the US, for example, methamphetamine is endemic within affluent, urban gay communities and, conversely, in deprived, socially-blighted rural towns.
Grounded, confident, self-empowered people who use drugs to enhance already pleasurable experiences - as opposed to numbing feelings of inherent hopelessness and despair - are more able to try crystal once and not be lured back, or maintain control over their intake and use sparingly. Some can use meth productively as a "rite of passage" or for creative pursuits, while a small minority of individuals appear to be completely immune to the effects others experience.
For such controlled users, meth's reputation as "the drug from hell" does not match their experience. For many who initially believed that they were mentally strong enough to "dabble" with crystal without becoming dependent, however, they have discovered the hard way the highly addictive nature of meth. Indeed many who appear or claim to be in full control, or who start out as "recreational weekend users", often go on to experience major problems and become unwitting addicts and "weekend warriors" because, unlike all other street drugs, meth has a prolonged, ten-day or so cycle. Therefore, for people out every weekend and for whom meth is the drug of choice or the only affordable enhancement available, it never leaves the system.
"People who thought they were under control [with their habit], they are the ones who are now showing up as out of control."
~ The Australian National Council on Drugs
Methamphetamine typically entraps its prey with the first couple of overwhelming highs. Locking seductively into the user's subconscious, the chemical rush triggers a psychological and physiological craving for more as he proceeds to "chase the dragon's tail". Tolerance quickly sets in and he is soon taking more and more to restimulate the brain's production of dopamine but for ever diminishing returns. Sucked into a swirling black hole of abuse and dependency, the dopamine-addicted abuser effectively surrenders control of his life to meth.