For some reason, meth addiction holds one of the largest stigmas in our society; today, I want to explore why.
For as long as I can remember, being a drug addict was seen as just about the worst role you could take in society. My mom would often point out drug addicts on the street during our drives together, saying various things about how sad of a life that must be, among other (more unkind) statements. From an early age, society’s reaction to drug addiction was what deterred me from ever being viewed as a drug addict. Even in middle school and high school, when I began using drugs regularly, I vowed to never let my drug use become a visible problem. And so it wasn’t a problem, until it took my life over in a way that made it impossible to hide anymore— still, it took a lot for me to admit to an addiction. The stigma stopped me from speaking out before, and even after a point of blatant obviousness, I refused to label myself with the term “drug addict.”
This is the issue, drug addiction often disguises itself, because letting it be seen comes with a boatload of shame, judgement, and embarrassment. In turn, addicts will put on a mask— showing people that they are “fine” or even doing well, when in reality they suffer behind closed doors. You could be shacked up in a room, using drugs all day long, as long as when you went outside, you looked like you had it all together. This is the dangerous truth of addiction, your appearance dictates other people’s perception of you. Unless you look like a drug addict, it doesn’t matter if you act like a drug addict.
For some reason, the stigma surrounding methamphetamines, or meth, is especially bad. In the eyes of many, a meth addiction is up there as one of the worst addictions to have. But why? I blame pop culture and media’s depictions of meth addicts. If someone asked you to describe a meth addict, what would you say? For me, I would list out pretty much all of the stereotypes if you asked me to paint a picture of someone addicted to meth— rotten teeth (“meth mouth”), paranoid to the point of psychosis, stereotypical schizophrenic behavior, picking at their skin, grinding their teeth, cleaning their bathroom with a toothbrush, sleep deprived, malnourished, crazy. Meth is no more dangerous than other illicit drugs, so why is the stigma for meth addiction so thick?
Society is much more likely to “understand” or sympathize with a prescription pill or opioid addict, but they completely reject any and all forms of humanity when it comes to doing the same for a meth addict. My theory is that it stems from fear, the media makes meth addicts seem unpredictable and dangerous. Like any drug addiction, results may vary. So why is this picture of meth addiction so clearly engrained? Someone suffering from a benzo addiction could be just as dangerous and unpredictable, but for some reason, we are more likely to be afraid of a meth addict.
The Meth Addiction Stigma
The stigma around addiction, and for meth addiction in particular, is a massive deterrent to treatment. This stigma prevents addicts from reaching out for help, because they don’t want to admit that they are a drug addict and need help. The shame, the fear of judgement, the embarrassment, and the stigma itself leads to meth addicts suffering in silence. Not only does this stigma contribute to misinformation and misunderstanding in society, but it contributes to the 90% of people with a substance use disorder who never reach out for professional help. The stigma is dangerous, point blank period.
Breaking My Own Stigma
Recently, I’ve met two recovering meth addicts who completely shattered the stereotypes I had engrained for meth addicts. Let’s call one of these recovering addicts John*. John was a middle-aged man who is completely self-made and wildly successful, has an unparalleled sense of humor, good-looking, physically fit individual— who also happens to have all of his teeth and seemingly excellent dental care. John* was a meth addict for multiple years (almost a decade), and would use meth daily. John* has a fun-loving, friendly, and hilarious personality— he constantly cracks jokes and is the funnest person in any room. When I met John* and learned his drug of choice was meth, you can consider my stereotypes shattered. John* represented a fun, caring, and successful person— what most men aspire to be.
Another recovering meth addict I met, who we will call Adam*, further ruptured my view of meth addicts. Adam* was a confident, compassionate, caring, and impeccably dressed man. He had this air of confidence about him, that was actually masking a lot of uncertainty in himself. Adam* struggled with depression, but was always the first one to joke around. His humor was unmatched, although he often used it to deflect from pain. Adam* was a deeply sensitive man who struggled with a lot of pain, shame, and sadness. Adam* spoke with intelligence, an amazing vocabulary, and carried himself in a way that showed his educational achievements. Adam* was also a meth addict, although, from the outside you would never know.
Both of these individuals seemingly had everything together. Their lives on paper were impressive, marked by achievements and intelligence. Their personalities were unique, loving, funny, etc. Both men didn’t even look like they had a single fiber in their existence out-of-place, yet both men were recovering from a rampant meth addiction. My meth addict stereotypes were without a doubt obliterated. These men were nothing like what I pictured a meth addict to be.
How To Break Your Stigma
Educate yourself. Learn before you judge. Go to an open Meth Anonymous meeting, and take a look around. Your stereotypes will absolutely cave in on themselves. Meth addicts are just like any other group of addicts, people. People come in all shapes and sizes, with all different types of personalities, aspirations, appearances— addicts are no different.
The best way to break a stigma is to remind yourself that the full picture of something is always made up of smaller parts, those smaller parts can never represent a full picture on their own. Generalizations are dangerous. Just because you read a story in the news of a paranoid meth addict who turned psychotic, does not mean every meth addict upholds that picture. Just like if you read about a serial killer from Oregon, that doesn’t mean every person from Oregon is a serial killer.
Royal Life Centers at Spokane Heights offers comprehensive addiction treatment. Our treatment options are designed to follow guests through the stages of the recovery process, offering guidance and support each step of the way. Royal Life Centers at Spokane Heights provides addiction treatment programs including: medical detox, a residential inpatient program, a partial hospitalization program (PHP), an intensive outpatient program (IOP), an outpatient program (OP), sober living and graduate housing.
Meth is one of the addictions treated at Spokane Heights. We are experienced in treating meth addictions, from medical detoxification to lesser levels of care. Our goal is to provide healing for our guests, help them overcome addiction, and re-build lives rooted in happiness, health, and sobriety. We are dedicated to breaking the stigma of addiction.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at (888) 907-0898. Our team of addiction specialists make themselves available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Because We Care.
*names changed to protect this person’s privacy