A compiled guide to methamphetamine use for writing purposes.
I've covered a lot in this guide, but I've still missed things, I'm sure. If you have further questions or want to pose scenarios based on what you're writing, don't hesitate to ask in a comment. It's a sensitive subject, but I put this out there for learning purposes, and I'm not going to shy away from questions.
INTRODUCTION | WHAT IS METH? | SLANG | EFFECTS | OVERDOSE | HOW IS METH USED? | HOW DO ADDICTS LIVE? | THE RECOVERED ADDICT | GALLERY | CITES
There are lots of guides out there for different aspects of fic writing and subject matters,and I have to say that my preferred type are ones written by people who know what they're talking about because they've experienced it. With a lot of things, like time periods from which all the people from the time are no longer with us, that's a little hard. But with some things, like addiction, we can get that in dept, personal look at what it's like.
I cannot speak for all drug users, or even all meth addicts, but I think I know enough to be well qualified to speak on this subject. Unlike my last guide, Writing Fic for the 1920s, most of the following will be written by myself, except hard facts; all outside sources are cited and linked at the bottom of this guide. All personal experiences are mine and, should you want to use any of these personal experiences for a fic I have no problem with this as long as you ask first and credit.
Please note that this is not a guide on how to sell, acquire, or manufacture methamphetamine and you won't find any detailed information (especially on that last one) on how to do so. I am an addict, but I am also clean and sober, and have been for a good few years now. I wouldn't have it any other way. Meth ruined my life, and any positive comments on this lifestyle below are most likely sarcasm. I don't think this needs to be said, but I will anyway: This guide isn't going to be nice about it, so if you're easily upset you might want to rethink using meth abuse in your story, or skip this guide. If you're still with me, let's move on. Here's everything you never wanted to know about meth.
What is Meth?
Crystal methamphetamine is a colorless, odorless form of d-methamphetamine, a powerful and highly addictive synthetic (man-made) stimulant. Crystal methamphetamine typically resembles small fragments of glass or shiny blue-white "rocks" of various sizes. Like powdered methamphetamine (another form of d-methamphetamine), crystal methamphetamine is abused because of the long-lasting euphoric effects it produces. Crystal methamphetamine, however, typically has a higher purity level and may produce even longer-lasting and more intense physiological effects than the powdered form of the drug.
I have also seen meth rocks come in pink, cloudy white, a caramel/brown color, and grey-white. A lot of cooks use differing methods, which means that sometimes there is a variation in ingredients, hence the color variations. In my experience, blue meth (sometimes referred to as Smurf) and glass-like meth give you the strongest high. The harder it is to break apart, the worse it will probably be. A common rip-off scam for dealers who don't actually have anything to sell is to put rock salt chunks into a baggy (usually a colored one so it's harder to tell).
For this section, first, I will note anything I've heard used and have used myself; the nicknames and slang words change by area, and I'm from the Las Vegas, NV area (but have also been in drug crowds in Phoenix, AZ, where it was largely the same slang), then I'll post a full list compiled by another source.
|Let's get [high]||Where can I get [meth]||I like to [get high]||Other|
crystal (Do you know Crystal?)
hang with Crystal
|Cook: meth chemist
Poor Man's Cocaine
|* Denotes ones I have heard but weren't common in my area.
^ Denotes that PSAs, cops, support groups, NA/AA, nonusers, and parents are the people you'll hear using these terms.
# Also can be "truckers' coffee," since a lot of long haul drivers used to use meth to help keep them awake on their drives; may still be in practice, though I'm not sure.
Okay, here we're going to go through the most commonly seen effects first, then we'll go over how meth affected me, and some of the other junkies I knew. This might get a little gross.
Common Immediate Effects
- Increased energy and alertness
- Diarrhea and nausea
- Excessive sweating
- Loss of appetite, insomnia, tremors, jaw-clenching
- Agitation, irritability, talkativeness, panic, compulsive fascination with repetitive tasks, violence, confusion
- Increased libido
- Increased blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate, blood sugar levels, bronchodilation
- Constriction of the walls of the arteries
- In pregnant and nursing women, methamphetamine crosses the placenta and is secreted in breast milk
Being high on meth (the first few hours) is a lot like having ten of your most driven moments in life hit you at once. You make plans you'll never carry out, have goals with high expectations, and think you can achieve things you probably can't (or, at least, don't stand a chance of achieving when you're high). The thing about a lot of these effects is that you don't even notice them happening. For instance, whenever I was high I would not notice the need for drink or food, sleep and, often time, the need to move out of the position I was sitting in. At more than one point I would sit cross-legged on the floor, hunched over a piece of paper drawing for upwards of two hours without moving anything but my arms and hands. Afterward it would take a good few minutes to get my back and legs to straighten back out.
I'd often feel like I was being extremely productive, thinking I was doing loads of things when, in reality, all I'd done was rearrange the same shelf or table fifteen times. The inside of my mouth was always chewed up. Then there was the picking. Picking is common with heavy meth users. Sometimes it's confusion (feeling pimples or seeing blackheads where there are none, or feeling a crawling/buzzing sensation in your skin) and sometimes it's just restlessness. This is why you sometimes can spot a meth user just by seeing scabs, sores, red marks, or bruises on the face, neck and arms.
Effects Associated with Chronic Use
- Tolerance (needing more of the drug to get the same effect)
- Drug craving
- Temporary weight loss
- Withdrawal symptoms including depression and anhedonia
- "Meth Mouth" where teeth rapidly decay and fall out
- Drug-related psychosis (may last for months or years after drug use is discontinued)
Remember how I said this might get a little gross? Yeah, I wasn't talking about the picking. That's nasty, sure, but once you've committed yourself to meth as a lifestyle (and, trust me, when you're addicted to meth there's no room for anything else in your life) it only gets worse. I'm going to skip tolerance, since that's self explanatory. Drug cravings vary immensely from drug to drug. With meth, the surest sign that you need more is fatigue. The longest I've ever stayed awake on meth was probably about five days. The longest I've slept while coming down from it was about three. Effects mention irritation, and that's also a sign of craving. There's also usually a manic stage where I'd go through every baggy in the apartment trying to find residue and then try and smoke all the pipes clean of their residue. After that, you usually resort to stupid shit to get money for more. If you can't get more, please pass GO and enter Withdrawal.
Withdrawal, I can't talk much about. I forced myself to sleep through most of mine so that I wouldn't flip shit. That in itself, though, is a sign of depression. Anhedonia is defined as "the inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable, e.g. hobbies, exercise, social interaction or sexual activity." It's been years since I've used, and I sometimes still feel this.
Before I started using I was roughly 115lb (I'm 5'1"). During the course of my constant using I fluctuated between 100lb and 80lb. Meth users tend to gain a grey quality to their skin and look a little like a human sponge that's badly in need of a good soak. This is because we never remember to stay hydrated. Okay, some of us do, but it's more likely that we don't. Another effect from chronic use is skipped or nonexistent menstrual cycles. When getting ready to write this guide, I was trying to remember how often I had my period when I was using, and I realized I didn't. At all. not once in about a year. I used for longer than that, but my final, and heaviest, stint is the one I'm looking to the most for this.
Meth mouth is probably the only thing here that I'm actually uncomfortable talking about, but I will. If I ever need to tell my daughter how bad drugs are, all I have to do is open my mouth and prove it. I'm not missing any teeth, but decay has started, and parts of my teeth have come off. I doubt any of you will be wanting to use meth mouth in your writing, but if you do you should probably do a Google image search on it. If you have a weak stomach, don't. The photos that come up are all very advanced stages of decay and rot and it's pretty disgusting. My mouth isn't nearly as bad as some of those photos, but it's bad enough that I never open my mouth in public.
Effects of Overdose
- Brain damage
- Sensation of flesh crawling (formication)
- Paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, tension headache
- Muscle breakdown (rhabdomyolysis) which can lead to kidney damage or failure
- Death due to stroke, cardiac arrest or elevated body temperature (hyperthermia)
Overdosing is something I've done a lot. Why? Because usually you don't even notice you're ODing. Some meth users will say it's impossible to die from an overdose (I've heard it a lot). That isn't true. You can OD and not die is what they mean, and it's common. Personally, I have never seen someone die from an overdose. I myself have (obviously) not died from an overdose, and I've ODed over ten times. So, let's talk about non-lethal ODing.
You can get the crawling sensation in your skin even if you're not ODing, so that's not really the best description in the case of an overdose. Light to moderate tingling is somewhat common, or oversensitive skin. When you're overdosing though, it'll feel more like spiders in your skin, wriggling around like little bastards.
Paranoia is, again, common in all areas of meth use. It's what makes meth users such untrustworthy people most of the time --they don't trust you. They're not bad people, usually, but they all think everyone is just out to screw them, and that causes a big circle jerk of secret accusations and blaming and assumptions. It's a lot of fun. Not. You can get hallucinations from meth use one of two ways: Being up for more than two days or overdosing. You're starting to see why defining a non-lethal overdose is kind of hard, right? Half the time a meth user can't even remember how long they've been up, let alone compare it to legal insanity due to sleep deprivation versus the likelihood of an overdose.
What's it like to have meth-induced hallucinations? Well, on one of my overdoses (I can count most of my ODs because they'd usually occur when binging after not having anything for a few days) I sat at a desk for about four hours while my roommates (we were all addicts) were out gambling. There was a shadow man standing about three feet away from me the entire time, and I refused to move while he was there. My roommates came home and I was still there, holding a cigarette that was burned down to the filter. The shadow man was still there too, and stayed for the rest of the night.
How is Meth Used?
The three primary ways you'll see meth being used is by crushing it and snorting it (or eating it), smoking it in a glass pipe or quag (the equivalent of a bong), or shooting it up. You can also, apparently, insert it anally or in your urethra, but I've never seen that or heard of it, so it's probably not common. Actually, I'm just gonna say it: Guys, please don't have your character put meth in their ass, okay?
When snorting, the concept is basically what the movies show you. You crush the meth into a powder, line it up, and snort. I usually used my ID to do it by laying the flat of it on the meth and pressing, then using the edge to line it up. Straws are optional, but they do make it easier. A variation is crushing it while it's still in the baggy and having a powder ready to go; then you'd normally either stick a straw in for a quick snort or use a pen cap (the kind with the pocket clip) to dig some out and snort it off the end.
As well, there will always be the after-effect of the drug liquefying and dripping down the back of your throat. It's gross but generally doesn't put users off in any way since it's so short lived. Think of it like shooting nasal clearing spray up your nose, but with a stronger, more eye-watering chemical taste. [Thank you to my anon for reminding me of this!]
Smoking was my main area. There are two kinds of pipes you'd use for this. An "oil burner" you'd buy at a smoke shop (usually about $1.99) and a ghetto rig, involving the pain-in-the-ass process of MacGyvering a hollowed light bulb and rubber tubing together. Keep in mind that almost no one will opt for a ghetto rig if they're over 18 and able to buy at a smoke shop. Not even if they've got no money and broke their last pipe. It's easier to bum two dollars in change from strangers or go to the pawn shop. What do these "oil burners" look like? If you're picturing a long glass cylinder like a crack pipe, you're wrong. They can be used, from what I hear, but I've never seen it done. A meth pipe has a stem and a bowl, which is a hollow glass sphere with a hole on top. You can either use a pen cap to put meth in the top hole, or to slide it down the stem. Both are common, though through the top hole (if it's big enough) is the less messy way. If your shards aren't grainy/powdery, and are chunks, you can just do it with your fingers or by sticking the stem in the baggy to scoop it in. Quags, or meth bongs, can either be bought or made out of a pipe and a water bottle, and is used exactly like a regular bong.
Shooting up is scary. Or, at least, the first couple of times it is. Personally, I'm terrified of syringes. I've kicked nurses before trying to get away from them; I've also shot up meth three times. That alone should tell you how addiction changes you when you're trying to get high. The first time I shot up I was hanging out with a guy I'd met on MySpace (have your laugh; it was over five years ago). I had no clue what part of town I was in, when I'd be back at my place, or what his name was. He shared a house with a couple of heroin addicts, which was weird (that will be explained in the next section). He got the needle ready for me (after he made sure I saw him take it right out of a brand new package), tied off my upper arm, and injected it for me. I looked away the whole time because of my thing with needles.
Here's what happened in the ten seconds after the needle was out: I stood up and it was like I got hit by the speed train. The room tilted and got hotter, my skin crawled, and I puked in my purse. Then I laughed. Shooting as opposed to smoking or snorting is, for one thing, a lot (A LOT) harder hitting and intense. I was up for about three days and didn't realize it. It had felt like about one. I went into a psychosis. He put me to bed and turned the lights out and I remember the room crawling with shadow monsters, trying to get at me. I also remember watching Gilligan's Island, but I think that was real.
How Do Addicts Live?
This is a tough one, because I don't want to accidentally out anyone I used to live with, no matter how horrible they were to me. If you're an American, I'm guessing you know of the Budget Suites chain. If not, Budget Suites is a nation-wide chain of extended-stay hotels. Which is, they're intended for people who need a room for longer than a night or two. They have a bedroom, living room, kitchenette, and bathroom, and are generally like very small, pre-furnished apartments. They are also the ideal environment for meth users and dealers to live, because of the pay-by-the-week/month/day-we-don't-care way that Budget Suites is run. Plus, as an added bonus, when you inevitably get kicked out there's no furniture to move, because it's not yours! That being said, if you ever need to stay at a BS for legitimate reasons, they're usually very clean, and I've never felt unsafe at one (when sober).
Some meth addicts have very clean and organized places, since we really can't stop doing shit, others don't. You can go either way on that, really. Our place was generally very clean, if packed with too much crap. It was a one bedroom with four people and a cat, so space was tight. Fun Fact: Meth users fancy themselves inventors a lot of times. We had customized gear, customized storage for that gear, etc. More on this in a bit. We're also notoriously good at hiding shit. We used to call our roommate, D, Squirrely sometimes, because she would always squirrel away a little bit of meth for when we ran out, and then bust it out right when we needed it. Everyone jokingly called me Mom because, even though I was the youngest there, I was the cook (food, not meth) and the house-cleaner.
When it was me, T and our roommates, D&D, things never got too heated. That's not to say things were good; girl D used to steal our truck on a weekly basis, and everyone thought everyone else was stealing from each other. There was a lot of secretive shit talking going on because we were all so completely paranoid. It was really, really stressful. I almost liked it better, later, when T and I lived alone.
One week D took our truck and didn't come back. We knew where she was, though, so T finally wound up going to get it with his spare key since we were getting kicked out (no truck, no way to get money for rent or drugs). He brought it back, we packed up, and left. Then we spent that winter living in the truck with my cats. By the end of the winter the truck had over ten nearly-undetectable hiding spots for drugs and tap lights "installed" so we could have light at night without killing the battery. We spent our nights in a carpool parking lot off the highway and our days either stealing from Walmart for drug money or donating plasma for drug money.
If you think being the most paranoid person alive and living with more people just like you in a tiny apartment was bad? Try two of those people living in a truck. T and I would get into physical fights constantly. Clawing at each other, ripping each other's hair out. I usually went for his eyes since he had a big size advantage. At one point he opened the door behind me and pushed me out. Another time, when we were driving somewhere, he stopped in the middle of the street and got out of the truck and walked away, leaving me stranded with no clue how to drive.
After that winter T got a job and we moved to another, cheaper, extended-stay hotel. The violent relationship followed us. At one point he tried to strangle me, so I broke a lamp over his head. They're really not joking when they say some effects of meth are agitation and violence.
[NEW] I had thought of exactly how I wanted to word this, and so I thought I'd written it. Turns out that was all in my head, so here we go. Interaction within the meth using community. If you're a member of Glee fandom, which is hands down one of the most vicious in regards to shipwars (Klaine vs Kum vs Hevans), or LOST (Skate vs Jate), then you will understand very well this aspect of the guide. Meth users are a little like a fandom in one respect. Think of smokers and shooters as the two biggest ships in the "fandom" that is meth addiction. Shooters hate smokers and smokers hate shooters. Why? For reasons just about as fucking stupid as the reasons for hating another actual fandom ship. You'll hear someone who shoots up say something like, "I hate smokers. They're lying rats who'll do anything for drugs." But then you could turn around and hear that exact same reason from a smoker for hating meth users who shoot up. All the other "reasons" are generally of the same vein. The only "shipwar" more adamant than this would be meth users vs. heroin users, all very much the same principle. C'mon, guys. We're all killing our bodies and destroying our lives. Can't we just get along?
Personally, I never understood the hating based on how/what you use. I thought it was stupid when applied to drugs, and I find it stupid when applied to fandom ships now.
The Recovered Addict
All of these sections are based on personal experience, and this one is no different. Every addict is different. One thing to always keep in mind is this: You can get clean and stay clean for the rest of your life, but you will always be an addict. That will never change, and the best way to help yourself get better is to accept that and move on. It's like the Serenity Prayer says: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference." Except I use it in a non-religious way.
I am not going to start waxing poetic about AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) or NA (Narcotics Anonymous), because I have only been to a couple of meetings. Some people say that the meetings are what all addicts need, and I disagree. Being an atheist, it was a very irritating environment for me, and only made things worse. I hate AA and I will never go to another meeting. What an addict always needs is support, but not all addicts need a support group.
Fun Semi-Fact: AA is where addicts go to get clean and NA is where addicts go to find drugs.
Hard Fact: If meetings are what you think will work for you, and you are not an alcoholic, go to AA anyway; they will happily accept you.
Why does someone relapse? That's a question I hear a lot. I haven't relapsed in a very long time, but I don't kid myself that I'm some sort of super woman. I do what I can and, even now, it's still a struggle on some days. Can you make someone get clean? No. Can you make someone relapse? No. But you can certainly make the decision to go back to drugs easier to make. When an addict is in crisis, handle it carefully. You never know what might help set them off. The fact of the matter is, there's usually no real reason for relapse, just excuses. Someone lost a job or got a divorce or had an argument. Favorite show got canceled. It's hard to tell when or why an addict could relapse. But one thing to keep in mind is that, if it's there, there's a good chance an addict will use again, even if they're strong willed. It's really that easy to slip.
Depressing, right? That's the life of an addict. Depressing. Okay, here's a ray of sunshine: I've been clean for five years. I have a beautiful three-year-old daughter and a pretty decent life, even if I'm broke all the time. Sometimes I think about drugs, and I have meth-related dreams at least once a month. Random things remind me of drugs. Burnt glass, certain smokes, some noises and smells. But I'm clean and I'm happy (most of the time), and I think I'd rather be dead than be a junkie now that I have a kid.
*Click for full pictures
Crystal Meth Facts
Crystal Methamphetamine Fast Facts
Anhedonia on Wikipedia
This guide's been done for a little while now, but I'm just getting around to posting it. I know there was some interest in seeing a guide on the '30s like the one I did on the '20s, so I'll be working on that next! I may do a shorter guide on tattoos later, since that's another subject I can speak on based on tons of experience. I could also compile stuff on stripping and strip clubs, if anyone wants me to. Just let me know!