Nothing about Theresa’s Noxzema-fresh face, curvy body, and just-washed auburn hair reveals the hell she put herself through for more than 20 years.
“I know I don’t look like it now,” Theresa says, sipping an iced chai tea at Willow House, a downtown Phoenix coffee house, “but I did some really bad shit.”
She’s years past her brief career as a second-grade schoolteacher, when she counted down the hours until she’d get home to do more tweak. That lasted just one semester, before Theresa began dancing at a strip club in central Phoenix, where she graduated from the diet pills she’d been using since she was 14 to smoking the street meth her brother was cooking up.
After grinding poles in Phoenix strip clubs, Theresa scored a contract to work in the South Pacific as a stripper, for $5,000 a week. There, she began smuggling “glass” — one of a dozen street names for high-grade crystal meth — back and forth between Guam and the Philippines.
She came back to the Valley, worked as a high-cost hooker for an escort agency, made a couple dozen porno films, and never stopped tweaking.
“I was always high, and I was always having sex,” says Theresa, who — like the other meth users in this story — asked that her last name not be used. “The two just went hand-in-hand.”
Not just sex.
But the kind of uninhibited, disconnected, sometimes violent, and often unprotected sex that tweakers obsess about, hunting for orgasms as they would a gram of meth.
“We’ve compared meth to cocaine, opiates and alcohol, and have found much more of a connection between sex and meth than those other drugs,” says Richard Rawson, a researcher and associate director of the Integrated Substance Abuse Program at the University of California-Los Angeles. “It increases sexual pleasure, it increases sexual activity, and it increases the extreme kinds of high-risk behavior that lead to HIV and other STDs. More so than any other drug.”
Theresa is sitting inside a smoke-filled room at the Willow House today with two fellow ex-tweakers, Randy and Robert. The three are here to share a graphic, cautionary tale. Just 20 feet behind the coffee house is a meeting hall, where their 12-step recovery program — which they prefer remains unnamed so they’re not seen as speaking for the group as a whole — gathers weekly.
The stories pour with the coffee.
As an escort, Theresa says, she once “double-fisted a guy” while high on meth.
She liked to smoke meth — or sometimes “slam” it (intravenously) — while a trick “fucked me from behind,” she says.
And when she wasn’t “working,” she still needed sex — from her boyfriends, girlfriends, and from herself.
“I would masturbate for eight hours straight,” she says. “I remember once that the dildo I was using got so hot, I had to wear an oven mitt.”
But such occasions were rare. There was almost always someone willing to pay for the pleasure.
“I’ve had sex with over 2,000 men, at least. I can’t say exactly how many,” she says. “And most of them were unprotected.”
Unlike other narcotics — namely cocaine, universally regarded as the sex drug of the 1970s and ’80s — crystal meth makes women just as horny as men. It turns them into raging sexaholics, just like their male counterparts — gay and straight — looking to live out the most deviant of their sexual fantasies.
“Our data shows there’s almost a negative reaction to sex among women using cocaine. But with meth, it’s very powerful and positive,” Rawson says.
She’s been pregnant, though — a lot — but never had kids. Theresa ended up having 12 abortions, and doubts she could ever get pregnant again.
Officials at Planned Parenthood of Central and Northern Arizona estimate that the number of abortions had by meth users has quadrupled in recent years.
“We get these women coming to us for an abortion who can barely get through their appointments because they need to hit the pipe,” says Joseph Feldman, Planned Parenthood’s director of counseling and education.
And one state employee who works closely with Child Protective Services calls meth a fertility drug. “Meth moms are having baby after baby after baby,” she says. (See “Ice, Ice, Baby” for more details about meth moms.)
“The meth moms trade sex for drugs, and contraception and prenatal care are not always the highest priority,” says the state employee. “There’s a bit of a baby boom among women using meth.”
As reports of HIV infections increase in Maricopa County, local health officials say widespread meth use is to blame. The meth problem in the Valley’s gay community, where most of Arizona’s HIV-positive cases have been reported, has been pervasive for years.
Yet even with more than 40 percent of local HIV patients reporting that they are also meth users — significant because tweakers are much less likely to use protection, HIV-positive or not — there’s been no significant public health campaign in Maricopa County warning of the dangers of having sex while tweaking.
There certainly hasn’t been an effort like that made in other major metropolitan cities like New York, Chicago, Boston, or San Francisco, where city leaders and nonprofit agencies are pre-emptively targeting gay men before they use meth for the first time. The Stop AIDS Project credits a series of public health awareness campaigns coordinated in part by the agency for a nearly 50 percent drop in meth use among gay and bisexual men in San Francisco.
That’s not the case in Phoenix, where health officials admit they’ve done little, if anything, to address what a huge problem meth and sex present.
“It just hasn’t been on our radar screen,” says Bruce Porter, the HIV/AIDS coordinator for the Arizona Department of Health Services. “Should it have been? Absolutely.”
That’s an understatement, according to Steven Varnadore, an investigator in Maricopa County’s Department of Public Health, who administers HIV tests at local gay bathhouses.
“We’re dropping grains of sand to fill up a hole,” says Varnadore, a former “recreational” meth user. “And it’s enormous.”
For the sex-addicted tweakers, if they manage to be sober long enough to get into recovery and therapy — like Theresa, Randy and Robert — there is a lifetime of sexual reprogramming, somehow learning to disassociate sex from the act of using meth.
“I know I’m not gay,” says Randy, who once so obsessively sought “to get a nut” while high on meth that he had unprotected sex with a transsexual while his girlfriend waited for him at home. “I’ve never seen some guy’s hairy ass and said, ‘Oh, I gotta have that.’ I’m not dealing with my sexual identity.
“My biggest problem,” says Randy, “is that I don’t know how to have a healthy sex life.”
Crystal meth has an almost instant attraction to dopamine receptors — commonly referred to as the human brain’s “pleasure system” — more so than other narcotics, according to Brough Stewart, the chemical dependency program director for Banner Behavioral Health in Scottsdale.
“It’s a euphoric drug,” says Stewart. “It allows us to work more, to eat less, but most often to have more sex.”
“If you talk to the users,” says Richard Rawson, the UCLA researcher, “meth becomes sex. It actually stimulates the same part of the brain [the dopamine receptors] that controls sexual arousal. The chemistry of sexual arousal and the chemistry of meth become the same. That’s why it’s so uniquely different from these other drugs we associate with sex.”
Which explains why Don Sherrard, who supervises the Phoenix Police Department unit that focuses on searching out and shutting down meth labs, finds “stacks and stacks” of porn at almost every meth house he busts.
“When these guys aren’t cooking up the meth or tweaking, they’re masturbating or having sex with multiple partners,” Sherrard says. “There’s pornography everywhere. Sex toys everywhere. These people have contraptions hooked up all over the bedroom.”
Robert, one of the ex-tweakers now in recovery, is familiar with what happens in a meth lab.
He says he was once referred to simply as “The Doorman,” guarding local meth labs run by biker gangs, protecting both the house and the cooks inside from cops and psychotic tweakers alike. But for willing teenage “sex toys,” there was plenty of meth, if not access inside the meth house, for the price of orally satisfying The Doorman.
Robert wasn’t initially into meth for the sex. He was only in the seventh grade when he was first exposed to it, weighing cocaine for a friend who happened to have a pocket full of “white crosses.”
But over the years, working for biker gangs like “The Dozen” and “The Spartans,” he was exposed to more women — more women looking for drugs.
“You wanted meth? You had to go through me,” Robert says. “So I had all these little 18- and 19-year-old sex toys at my feet.”
Robert and a fellow tweaker buddy decided it wasn’t enough to have their way with young girls who were totally uninhibited on meth; they wanted to film it. They bought a stolen professional-grade video camera, recruited the girls, and then spent hours at a time choreographing the scenes, like big-shot porn directors in the San Fernando Valley.
“I remember we stressed about the cum shot, the ‘money shot,’ for so long,” Robert says — typical, obsessive tweaker behavior. Eventually, they finished the film, and ended up selling it to a small-time subsidiary of a larger porn distributor for about $7,500.
“They started out with a $10,000 offer,” Robert says. “But then they came out to see us, saw that our faces were sunken in and how skinny we were, and they lowballed us down to, like, $6,000. We had to struggle just to get the price we did.”
Randy, now a beer-bellied process server also in recovery, never made his own porn. But he did do things he wouldn’t have done had he not been on meth.
There are some things about that hot summer night that Randy remembers vividly: He left his job as a car salesman to meet up with some fellow tweakers at a house party, he says, as Robert and Theresa nod, almost fondly remembering what those days were like. At the tweaker party, Randy would sell some meth, and smoke a little, too.
“Beyond that, all I remember is that I needed to fuck. I was just looking for a receptacle to put my dick in,” Randy says. “Pretty much everyone I had sex with was just a receptacle.”
Randy met eyes with a black-haired girl across the room once he finished getting high. She needed a ride home, and Randy, although he had a girlfriend at the time, needed “to get a nut.”
“He was hot, man!” Randy recalls. “I thought he was a girl; everyone thought he was a girl.”
Until the girl pulled down her pants and showed Randy she was only a girl in spirit.
“I can’t really say what was going on in my head, but it wasn’t enough for me to stop myself from getting what I wanted,” Randy says. “He looked enough like a girl for me to fuck. So I did.”
Scott is an HIV-positive tweaker. He’s in recovery with Robert, Theresa and Randy, but he relapsed back in September, going on a monthlong meth and sex binge.
He hangs out at the Willow House, too, and goes to the same 12-step meetings.
“I had sex with as many as 20 different guys in that one month,” Scott says, taking a long drag of an American Spirit, gazing out the window of the Willow House on a breezy Saturday afternoon. “I have no idea exactly how many men. I was high every time.”
Steven Varnadore says he deals with new HIV patients like Scott all the time. As a communicable-disease investigator with the county’s health department, Varnadore’s job is to contact every sex partner new patients can identify. (The new patients are required to inform Varnadore and the county to be eligible for HIV treatment.)
Varnadore spends most of his time sifting through lists as many as 300 names long of former sex partners who might have been exposed to HIV.
“And I’d say that, easily, better than 50 percent of them are meth users,” he says.
The figure sounds high, but not far off from a June 2005 assessment of Phoenix’s HIV-positive population, funded by a federal grant, that says almost 44 percent have used crystal meth. Of those referred to in the report as MSMs (men having sex with men) and HIV-positive, 40 percent said they were users.
What’s worse, according to Mark Kezios, the director of HIV services for Pueblo Family Physicians, a clinic in central Phoenix that caters to lower-income patients, is that those same HIV-positive, meth-using patients are still having unprotected sex.
“They just don’t care, it seems, what happens to them or to the people they’re having sex with,” Kezios says.
Scott says it’s not that he doesn’t care; after all, he tells every prospective sex partner that he’s HIV-positive (and has been since 1993).
“At that point, it’s up to them whether or not they want to have sex with me,” he says.
Problem is, they tend to make that fateful decision high on “Tina,” meth’s most common nickname in the gay community.
The easiest way to score meth is by visiting a gay chat room online, Scott says. In fact, his most recent relapse occurred after a late-night cruise on the Web.
“It’s easy,” he says. “Some guys advertise that they’ll just leave their apartment door open, you can come in, slam some meth, fuck them, and then leave.”
On sites like gay.com and men4sexnow.com, users publish profiles that advertise “PnP,” an acronym for “party and play,” a.k.a. tweak and sex. But it’s becoming more difficult to get hook-ups on some sites, like manhunt.net, which edits all references to “PnP” and even the word “party” out of users’ profiles.
Frustrated, a gay tweaker might head out to any of Phoenix’s gay dance clubs, where it’s easy to spot the “circuit boys,” who travel in packs with supplies of meth, Ecstasy, and poppers from party to party.
The circuit boys will usually wait around until closing time to organize a very exclusive after-hours party where a dozen or more gay men will gather to snort or slam meth, and then begin having unprotected sex, often in groups.
If they don’t find their way into a meth party, there’s always a gay bathhouse. At the bathhouses, men wait inside their private rooms as horny tweakers search for prospective partners and dance music pumps through the PA system.
Patrick Kelly, the owner of The Chute (a central Phoenix bathhouse) and a member of the Phoenix City Council’s crystal meth task force spearheaded by councilmen Tom Simplot and Dave Siebert, knows his bathhouse is a tweaker haven. But, he says, he’s done everything he can to eliminate its presence, posting anti-meth signs, kicking out drug users, and keeping a three-ring binder of more than 200 names of those who’ve been 86′ed.
“I’m so tired of people blaming me for their HIV and their drug addictions. I’m not the one responsible for that,” Kelly says. “I’m not the reason they got AIDS or hooked on meth. It’s their own behavior. There’s only so much policing I can do.”
Local law enforcement officials, like Phoenix police meth-lab supervisor Sherrard, know that meth is a huge problem in the gay community, and, he says, they know where to find it. But, he admits, police are doing little to address it. Sherrard tells New Times that police don’t want to be seen as “bashing the gay community” by targeting gay bathhouses or dance clubs. “That’s the last thing we need,” he says, “to be seen as if we’re harassing gays.”
“I think the biggest reason we don’t bust the gay community,” says Detective Matt Shay, who works with Sherrard in Phoenix PD’s Drug Enforcement Bureau, “is that the gay community pretty much keeps it to themselves.”
And, in the gay community, meth is such a touchy subject, according to Steve Schimmel, an advertising manager for Echo magazine, Phoenix’s most-circulated gay publication. Earlier this year, Echo ran a tongue-in-cheek anti-meth ad in consecutive issues, paid for by an AIDS-advocacy Web site based in New York.
The ad said:
“Buy crystal, get HIV for free.”
“I’m sure we offended plenty of people,” Schimmel says. “But you know what? I don’t care. This is a huge problem. We need to get in people’s faces.”
A similar tactic worked in San Francisco, according to Jason Riggs, spokesman for the Stop AIDS Project there. The organization, in conjunction with a citywide effort modeled after other public health campaigns in Chicago, Boston and New York, began a series of similar efforts that included anti-meth posters and meth-and-HIV seminars after a Stop AIDS study in 2004 showed that 18 percent of San Francisco’s gay and bisexual population were current meth users.
Just a year later, in the midst of the Stop AIDS “Crystal Clear” poster campaign, a survey of 4,200 gay and bisexual men showed that the number of those using meth had decreased to 10 percent.
Riggs says that his organization has been pre-emptively targeting gay men who are at the “highest risk” of using meth, before they actually do.
“We can’t worry about the men who are already addicted to meth,” Riggs says. “We have to let the treatment and recovery programs deal with them.”
Bruce Porter, the state’s HIV coordinator, says that, despite the agency’s failure to address the dire public health concerns that arise from the combination of unprotected sex and meth use, it’s only a matter of time before public funds are devoted to some type of educational awareness campaign.
But until that happens, Scott says meth will continue to ravage the gay community.
“Meth has set us back 10 to 20 years,” he says. “We want gay marriage? We have no idea what commitment is.”
Theresa’s content, she says, even though she knows it’s unlikely she’ll ever be able to have children because of the dozen abortions she had as a meth addict.
“I’m getting older anyway,” she says. “I think it’s too late for me even if I could get pregnant.”
Feldman, the counselor for Planned Parenthood of Central and Northern Arizona, says he sees women like Theresa with increased frequency.
“We had a young lady come in about six months ago who had already had three kids taken into foster care,” Feldman says. “She came in and had the procedure started. We put the cervical dilators into her cervix [a procedure required for pregnancies past the first trimester] and asked her to come back the next day.
“Well, she had been smoking all morning when she came back. We tried to manage her, to keep her in the clinic long enough for her vital signs to return to normal for surgery. But when we tried to get her undressed for the doctor, she refused. Her brain wasn’t working right because she was all meth’ed up. So we convinced her that the dilators had to come out. She called me about two weeks later and asked if we would still see her, and I said no. That’s a very rare occurrence, but given her drug history, we didn’t figure the risk to ourselves was appropriate.”
It’s a risk that’s not going away. Far from it.
“About four years ago, we would have gone a month without seeing a meth user come to us for an abortion,” Feldman says. “Now, we’re lucky if we go a week.”
Randy, the ex-tweaker now in recovery and working as a process server, hasn’t had sex since he got clean two and a half years ago. He’s had opportunities, he says, although he hasn’t really been dating. Instead, he’s focused on playing it straight as a process server, going to his 12-step meetings and getting closer to God.
“It hasn’t been as difficult as you might think,” he says. “I’m really working hard on my program. I’m trying to learn how to be friends with women.
“And besides, I’ve still got my hand!”
Sex has a way of kick-starting a meth relapse, according to Carol Ross, a licensed counselor who works with alcohol and drug addicts and specializes in sex addiction and trauma at Sierra Tucson, a high-end treatment center in the Sonoran Desert just north of Tucson.
“All those addictions need to be treated,” says Ross, who’s been at Sierra Tucson for 17 years, “because what tends to happen is that the patient will relapse because of other issues. They tend not to be able to disassociate the sex from methamphetamine use.”
Ralph Earle, a sex-addiction expert who runs Psychological Counseling Services in Scottsdale, agrees.
“Patients will say that the only time they act out on their sex addiction is when it’s in combination with crystal meth. The two of them go together. When they’re sober, they’re much more careful than when they use meth and cross that line into inappropriate sexual behavior.
“The meth user who is also a sex addict is either incredibly, highly motivated to make a change or there’s nothing we can do in therapy,” Earle says. “There has to be a reason the patient has enough motivation to come to us. They have to hit the bottom.”
Randy did just that on that summer night long ago.
Now, Randy wants what Theresa has. She’s in a committed, monogamous relationship, and is learning what is and isn’t “appropriate sexual behavior” on a daily basis.
“What I want sex to be is a communion,” Randy says. “I worry that I’ll never feel an emotional attachment again.
“I worry that sex will be just,” he pauses, “nothing.”
Crystal Methamphetamine: The Other Sexual Addiction
Cross and Co-Occurring Addictions
Individuals who are cross-addicted are people who switch from one addiction to another—for instance, Suzanne stops drinking alcohol, then gains 40 pounds in three months, replacing booze with compulsive eating. People with co-occurring addictions struggle with multiple addictions at the same time—for instance, Eric smokes pot morning, noon, and night, and also plays video games for eight to ten hours each day.
Cross and co-occurring disorders are especially common with sex addicts. In one survey of male sex addicts, 87 percent of respondents reported that they regularly abused either addictive substances or other addictive behaviors. Considerable anecdotal evidence suggests that for a majority of sex addicts with a co-occurring addiction the secondary drug of choice is crystal methamphetamine. Sex addicts also use cocaine, crack cocaine, and almost any other stimulant—but crystal meth is usually cheaper and more readily available.
Consider Brad, a married, 38-year-old lawyer:
I grew up in a painful, empty, abusive middle-class home where work was a much bigger priority than home for my smart, funny, angry, alcoholic father. Whenever my brothers or I got in trouble, Dad would whip off his belt before asking questions, especially when he was drinking. And he drank a lot.
I learned early on how to look good, how to lie and manipulate my way out of trouble, and most of all how to stay under the radar. I left home as soon as I could and got into a good college, followed by law school. Law school is when I first tried meth, initially to help me stay awake and study. It worked, too, because I graduated cum laude. Immediately after law school I married Grace and took a job with a well-regarded firm.
What Grace and my new firm didn’t know (because no one did) was that I was living a double life. In early adolescence I would sneak booze from my Dad’s stash, and I spent most evenings alone in my room getting buzzed while perusing and masturbating to Playboy. This became a pattern I used to relax and sleep, and it continued into adult life.
By my twenties, Internet porn and “dating” websites replaced magazines and videos, and crystal meth became my substance of choice. By the time I made junior partner at 29 (the youngest ever at my firm) I had established an escalating pattern of telling Grace that I was “going out of town for work,” which really meant holing up in some hotel with a big baggie of meth, getting high, and masturbating to porn until the drugs ran out. Eventually I replaced the porn with prostitutes—especially those women willing to come to my room meth in hand.
Our son Jamie was about three years old when a routine medical exam revealed that Grace had a long-standing, undiscovered STD. That’s how she found out about my cheating. I convinced everyone around me that the problem was drugs (related to the past), that the sex only happened when I was high (mostly true), and didn’t happen very often (a total lie).
To appease Grace I entered a high-end drug and alcohol treatment center. In six weeks of intensive (and expensive) treatment no one ever asked about my lifelong pairing of substances and sexual acting out. And I never volunteered that information, either. I left there chemically sober, but without a clue about handling all the sexual problems and related secrets that I continued to keep.
I didn’t realize that I was a drug and sex addict until one of my inevitable meth relapses (all related to sex) landed me (along with my professional license) in jail for doing drugs with prostitutes. It was only when facing the loss of my marriage and career that I became willing to address both of my addictions.
What is Crystal Meth?
Crystal meth (crystalized methamphetamine) is a synthetic version of adrenaline, a naturally occurring hormone the body produces in small amounts when reacting to immediate stress. Adrenaline increases energy and alertness when we need a short burst to escape immediate danger.
The main difference between crystal meth and adrenaline is adrenaline clears out of our systems quickly, whereas methamphetamine sticks around for six to eight hours. Known on the street as meth, crystal, crank, tweak, speed, ice, ice cream, Tina, tweedy, etc., methamphetamine is sold legally (with a prescription) in tablet form as Desoxyn—FDA approved for the treatment of ADHD and obesity.
More often, though, it’s cooked in makeshift labs and sold illegally as a powder or rock. The powder form can be snorted, smoked, eaten, or dissolved and injected; the rock form is usually smoked. Meth binges are known as “tweaking.” When tweaked, addicts stay awake for days or even weeks at a time. Sometimes episodes don’t end until the user is arrested or hospitalized for psychotic behavior, or the user’s body is no longer able to function and “crashes” of its own accord.
Often called “the sex drug,” meth is the preferred “party favor” for anonymous Internet and smart-phone hookups. Like all stimulants, meth use evokes profound feelings of euphoria, intensity, and power in the user, along with the drive to obsessively do whatever activity that person wishes to engage in, including having sex.
In fact, users say the drug allows them to be sexual for an entire day with or without orgasm—even two or three days—without sleeping, eating, or coming down, especially when Viagra or Cialis is along for the ride.
One recovering meth and sex addict in treatment at the Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles stated, “When I do crystal meth, the sex just goes on forever.”
Another noted, “There’s no love, no caring, no emotion involved. I don’t care who they are, or even what their names are. I just want sex, sex and more sex.”
Crack May Be Whack, but Meth…
Crystal meth is undoubtedly among the most troublesome illicit drugs currently en vogue, and for sex addicts the dangers extend beyond the usual problems associated with crystal meth abuse. First and foremost, when a user is intoxicated and disinhibited by a stimulant as powerful as meth, safe sex practices are out the window—especially for individuals accustomed to having multiple anonymous partners for hours at a time.
Because of this, the risk of contracting or transmitting HIV, hepatitis, and other STDs increases significantly. Moreover, meth use combined with sex often leads to abuse of other drugs—for instance, to counteract “crystal dick” (meth induced impotence) many men take Viagra, Cialis, or another erectile dysfunction treatment. And meth users of both genders often rely on sleeping pills, nighttime cold medicines, pot, and other “downers” to come off their high and get some sleep because meth can keep users awake for days—long after the enjoyable effects have worn off.
Furthermore, ingesting meth (or any other stimulant) causes the user’s brain to release large amounts of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of pleasure. Over time, repeated meth use (especially when that use is bolstered by the “natural” high of sex) both depletes the body’s stores of dopamine and destroys the wiring of dopamine receptors.
Eventually meth addicts are unable to experience any simple human pleasure without being high—a condition known as anhedonia. Not surprisingly, sex-meth addicts often report having a very difficult time enjoying healthy intimacy and healthy sexual activity once sober. For these individuals it can take a year or more for the brain’s dopamine levels to normalize. Occasionally, this sexual/intimacy-related anhedonia can be semi-permanent.
And of course sex-meth addicts also experience the usual problems associated directly with meth addiction. Anhedonia, described above, results in an ever deepening cycle of use and depression, and an increasing unwillingness to participate in life. Relationships disintegrate, jobs are lost. Children of crashing meth addicts are left to fend for themselves for days on end. When tweaking, meth addicts generally exhibit poor judgment and engage in dangerous, hyperactive behavior. Many commit petty or violent crimes.
Long-time users often develop symptoms of psychosis including paranoia, aggression, hallucinations and delusions. Meth addicts may experience serious physical health problems such as anorexia, convulsions, stroke, and cardiac collapse, any of which can be fatal. They may also develop “meth mouth,” a condition of severe tooth decay and tooth loss caused by the constant dry mouth and teeth grinding associated with stimulant drug use.
Meth dries out the skin as well, leading many addicts to believe they are infested with “meth lice,” causing them to frantically scratch their face, arms, and legs with their fingernails—a behavior known as “picking.” Picking sometimes results in serious self-inflicted wounds and infection.
Treatment for Cross or Co-Occurring Meth and Sex Addiction
Drug and alcohol addictions are critical problems which nearly always have to be eliminated before the issues underlying behavioral and fantasy-based addictions such as sex can be addressed. After all, drugs and alcohol are disinhibiting. They weaken a person’s judgment to the point where that person cannot remain committed to other boundaries he or she may have previously set, such as not having certain kinds of sex.
Unless the individual abusing drugs and/or alcohol gets sober from those substances, it is unlikely that he or she will be able to eliminate problematic sexual behavior for very long. It is also important that treatment specialists help sex-meth addicts understand that sex in the future will not be nearly as intense or exciting as what they’re used to. The sex-meth addict will need adjust his or her expectations regarding the “rewards” of sexual activity, otherwise that person is likely to be disappointed and return to the addictive behaviors, both chemical and sexual, in an attempt to recreate past pleasures.
An exception to the rule of “getting chemically sober first” applies to sex-meth addicts who have so fused drug and sex addiction that they cannot remain chemically sober because of their sexual acting out, and they cannot remain sexually sober because of their substance abuse. For these individuals, relapse with one addiction nearly always leads to quick relapse with the other. In such cases, substance abuse and sexual acting out need to be dealt with at the same time in order to stay sober on either front.
Recognizing this, there are now treatment facilities that specialize in addressing cross and co-occurring disorders simultaneously. Chief among these treatment centers are the gender-separate co-occurring disorders programs at The Ranch, located in Tennessee. Numerous residents at The Ranch present with sex and drug problems that are so intricately intertwined there is no hope of lasting sobriety without addressing both issues at once. Through treatment tailored specifically to the needs of each patient, the chances for long-term recovery are greatly increased.
Methamphetamine and Sex – Mothers Against Methamphetamine
Rhinos in Africa were almost decimated by poachers who were harvesting their horns as a purported aphrodisiac for the Asian market. Of course rhino horns are not really effective in increasing sexual desire, it is just a placebo effect, but it has cost thousands of rhinos their lives.
But now, in the form of an illegal drug, we finally have a real aphrodisiac. Methamphetamine. And it is costing many of our children, spouses and parents their lives as they become enslaved to the sexually stimulating properties of methamphetamine. The power methamphetamine has over their lives is strongly related to its sexual affects.
Methamphetamine causes an incredible appetite for sex. It increases desire for sex, and in the short term increases performance as ejaculation is delayed and the experience lasts longer. Inhibitions are decreased and opportunities are expanded in the sex for dope economy that arises as a subculture in our communities.
After longer term use however, sexual performance is dependent on the intoxicated state. As neural changes occur in the pleasure centers of the brain, addicts are not able to have sex unless they are high. They may have the desire, but they are unable to perform sexually unless they are intoxicated. And that will keep them using methamphetamine for a long, long time.
With continued use of methamphetamine, in association with prolonged and frequent sexual activity, sexual performance is greatly impaired by methamphetamine. This condition is known as “Crystal Dick” in the parlance of the street, and is associated with continued desire for sex, but inability to maintain an erection. Addicts commonly employ Viagra or other erectile dysfunction treatments to maintain sexual performance, but in time these too become ineffective.
Adolescent sexual activity is especially associated with methamphetamine use. Teens who use methamphetamine are 11 X more likely to have had sexual intercourse, 8 X more likely to have multiple partners and 6 X times more likely to have sex before age 13 than those who do not use meth (Springer 2007). These levels of sexual activity are much higher than those associated with other drugs of abuse.
The risk of sexually transmitted disease is obvious. More than 90% of adult methamphetamine addicts carry at least one sexually transmitted disease. The risk of HIV transmission is vastly increased by concurrent methamphetamine abuse as addicts commonly fail to use condoms and often engage in anonymous sex. This is true in both homosexual and heterosexual populations (Schwarcz 2007 Purcell 2006).
The explosion of sexually transmitted disease affects the entire population, not just those who deliberately expose themselves to these diseases. The burden of HIV is particularly linked to the promiscuous behavior of methamphetamine addicted individuals. Our national preoccupation with sex has inevitably progressed to a national public health disaster.
Meth’s aphrodisiac effect explains its hold on addicts
At a recent task force meeting on the epidemic of methamphetamine use in Appalachia, Gov. Phil Bredesen winced when a federal prosecutor described the illegal drug as an aphrodisiac.
Doctors and government officials don’t like to talk much about it, but there is an obvious reason people get hooked on methamphetamine: sex.
Meth eventually destroys the sex drive, but for a short while it can boost sexual appetite and performance more powerfully than drugs such as cocaine, doctors say.
“Who wouldn’t want to use it? You lose weight and you have great sex,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Laymon said sarcastically at the meeting of the Tennessee task force.
For obvious reasons, government officials want to focus on the misery meth causes.
Use of the addictive drug can cause brain damage, violent behavior and hallucinations, and exposure to the potentially explosive vapors during the manufacture of meth can cause respiratory problems, headaches and nausea. In many gay clubs in New York City and elsewhere, meth is often injected, putting users and their partners at risk for HIV, hepatitis C and other sexually transmitted diseases.
As for why the drug has such a hold on people, Dr. Mary Holley, an obstetrician who runs a Mothers Against Methamphetamine ministry in Albertville, Ala., and has interviewed men and women addicted to meth, said sex is the No. 1 reason people use it.
“The effect of an IV hit of methamphetamine is the equivalent of 10 orgasms all on top of each other lasting for 30 minutes to an hour, with a feeling of arousal that lasts for another day and a half,” she said.
The effect doesn’t last long.
“After you have been using it about six months or so you can’t have sex unless you are high,” Holley said. “After you have been using it a little bit longer you can’t have sex even when you’re high. Nothing happens. It doesn’t work.”
Dr. John Standridge, an addiction specialist with the Council for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services in Chattanooga, said meth and other stimulants initially “rev up the dopamine nervous system in the brain. They rev it up and burn it out.”
A National Institute on Drug Abuse survey on drug use and health in 2002 found that 12.4 million Americans at least 12 years old — or about 5% of the population — had tried meth at least once in their lifetimes. In a measure of how serious the problem is in Appalachia, a total of 1,083 clandestine methamphetamine labs were cleaned up in Tennessee in 2003 — more than in any other state.
A meth task force appointed by Bredesen is recommending tougher penalties and expanded treatment for addicts.
Meth’s reputation as a sex drug is not unique.
“All substance abuse is frequently marketed as enhancing sex life or making you more attractive or a better social companion,” said John Walters, the drug czar for President Bush. But he added that buying meth as an aphrodisiac is “buying under false pretenses.”
“Hair falls out. Teeth fall out,” Walters said. “That’s not sexy.”