Common Crystal Meth Myths Debunked

By Dr. Dru

Though the psychostimulant known as methamphetamine remains one of the most dangerous illegal and abused drugs in existence, it is also one of the most misunderstood. Perhaps no drug has been privy to as much mythology and exaggeration as the drug known affectionately in street circles as crystal meth. Below are some of the prevailing myths about methamphetamine and, where applicable, a debunking.

1. Myth: Methamphetamine is the number one drug problem in the United States.

Truth: Meth is far from the number one abused drug in the United States, although because of the seriousness of its cases, it receives the most attention from the media when it is abused or its dealers are caught. Also, because meth tends to be abused by pockets of communities, the data arising from certain areas may lead one to believe that the problem is as widespread everywhere across the nation. Actually, alcohol is without question the most abused drug in the United States, with over one fourth of reported cases of drug abuse being alcohol, and more than that being classified as alcohol related (alcohol plus another drug).

2. Myth: Teens are increasingly using crystal meth.

Truth: Actually, meth use among teenagers has been down since 2003, when the average age of first use was recorded at around 22 years of age. Again, pockets of youth are using meth in increasing numbers, namely, gay youth, and Caucasian youth in rural areas. These statistics, however, do not extend to the general populace. Alcohol is again the drug of choice among teenagers, with over half of children over 12 being a current drinker. Federal data has meth use among teenagers at around one percent, where it has been since 2002.

3. Myth: Meth can be addictive with only one usage.

Truth: It takes repeated use of meth to develop a physical addiction, although experts concede that a psychological addiction may develop much earlier, depending upon the emotional stability of the user. Even then, the user is not truly addicted to meth, but transferring and attaching other behaviors to meth in order to focus the fixation. The real statistic is that it takes anywhere from 2 to 5 years to develop a meth addiction, although some addictions can develop in as little as one year. Addiction is based on building a tolerance to the drug, and having to take ever higher and higher dosages to experience the same effect. Also, users may experience a false sense of addiction based on the pleasure centers of the body becoming used to the euphoria provided by the methamphetamine drug.

4. Myth: If a pregnant woman is using methamphetamine, her baby will undoubtedly suffer debilitating and chronic birth defects.

Truth: While it is true that pregnant women who use methamphetamine have a higher percentage of abnormal births, there is limited information as to the direct effect of the methamphetamine drug on an unborn child, due to the difficulty in controlling for an environment containing the methamphetamine drug (if someone is using meth, it is likely that they have other problems which would affect the childbirth as well).

5. Myth: If a parent or parents use the methamphetamine drug, the result is an automatically negative effect on their children.

Truth: While perhaps difficult to accept, alcoholism is a much bigger problem for parents who live with children. Parents who abuse alcohol are much more likely than methamphetamine users to abuse, hurt, or neglect their children. Average reported cases per annum of children taken from a meth addicted household because of abuse or neglect: 1300. Average reported cases per annum of children taken from an alcohol addicted household because of abuse or neglect: 6 million.

6. Myth: Once a meth addict, always a meth addict. Methamphetamine users do not respond to treatment.

Truth: The methamphetamine addiction is definitely a treatable condition. Many states, including states with the highest reported cases of methamphetamine abuse, report treatment success rates of anywhere from 60 to 90 percent. These users, once followed up at 6 month and one year intervals, had in great majority stayed sober. Methamphetamine success rates are about even with the amount of successful cocaine addiction treatments.

7. Myth: Meth users only live an average of five years from first use.

Truth: No data has been collected to prove the above claim, although it is widely circulated as a reason not to do meth. In fact, among a survey of recent meth addicts getting treatment, they had used the methamphetamine drug for an average of 7.5 years before checking into treatment.

8. Myth: The methamphetamine drug causes the user to have holes in his or her brain upon repeated use.

Truth: Though meth changes the basic functionality of the brain, basically turning it from a faucet of chemically induced neurotransmission into a firehose of the same, meth use does not cause the user to have holes in the brain, no matter how long usage takes place. This misconception comes from misreading MRI scans of methamphetamine users. Methamphetamine shuts off certain parts of the brain that usually show up on MRI scans, and show them as dark spaces, or "holes." They are not missing; they are simply not active any more.

9. Myth: Methamphetamine users are primarily white males who grow up in a rural environment and hold blue collar jobs.

Truth: Though the methamphetamine use of this particular group is the most well documented, both repeated use and abuse of the methamphetamine drug has been documented across a wide variety of ethnicities and economic classes.

10. Myth: The methamphetamine drug only affects your brain while the user is actively using the drug.

Truth: One of the main reasons that methamphetamine is so debilitating is that the effects of the drug far outlast the usage. Months and years after last use, former methamphetamine users have been shown to have changes in brain chemistry. Most notably, the brain loses the ability to secrete seratonin and the other chemicals associated with happiness for at least a short period of time, and may have its ability to do this reduced for life.

11. Myth: Meth side effects are only in the brain.

Truth: Meth users can develop a pungent odor, bad teeth, and decayed, pus filled skin from repeated use of the methamphetamine drug. Though these effects do not stay as long as the chemical changes in the brain after usage is stopped, they sometimes require treatment and are many times permanent.

12. Myth: Methamphetamine is legal in California and New York.

Truth: Meth is illegal in all forms in all 50 states. It is a crime to possess, use, sell, transfer, and hold the drug in any capacity, and even simple possession of a small amount can lead to jail time.

13. Myth: While a methamphetamine user is on the drug, he or she experiences increases in strength and energy.

Truth: These effects are all psychological, and usually come from the user's automatic filters in the body shutting themselves down. Muscles become more relaxed, giving the illusion of increased speed, energy, and power. There is no documented evidence of the methamphetamine drug actually increasing strength or energy. In fact, the high is often followed by a crash in which the user may feel depressed and sleepy.

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