Crystal meth is part of life for large numbers of gay men, especially those in the club scene. Studies done by the CDC found that about 10% of gay men in large urban areas have used methamphetamine (a.k.a. crystal, Tina); one study in San Francisco put the number of gay men who had used meth at 40%.
It’s easy to understand why the drug is so popular. Tweaking activates the central nervous system, producing an intense rush. Guys who are using meth feel great, at least at first. Shy men are more outgoing. People struggling with depression feel their blues go away (temporarily). Methamphetamine reduces both hunger and fatigue; users seem to have the energy to dance all night – and maybe go home and clean their condos afterwards.
Some people use crystal occasionally with no apparent problems. Sure, they may feel awful afterwards, and yes, they are breaking the law by buying the stuff. They may get sketched out and a bit paranoid. And they may spend money they don’t have. Or have bareback sex, something they would never do when sober. OK, so maybe those actually are problems, but often aren’t serious long-term consequences.
Others aren’t so lucky.
The sense of power and well-being that comes from crystal can lead people to make reckless choices. One of the more devastating is unprotected sex. Crystal use has been associated with dramatic increases in the rate of HIV transmission.
If some men turn into sex machines on crystal, other guys experience trouble maintaining an erection. That has led some party animals to use Viagra or other ED drugs to keep it up while they are out with Tina. That combination is potentially fatal for men with hidden cardiac problems. (Check with your doctor.) And the combination of tweaking and a Viagra-enhanced erection often leads men into trouble.
Weekend bingeing on Tina can deplete the brain of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood. There’s a bit of a lag effect; it often hits most intensely a day or two after the binge ends, causing the phenomenon known as “Suicide Tuesday.” The high has worn off. The brain’s chemistry is out of whack, and the body is exhausted from the weekend. The effect is worse for some people than others.
Many men decide the answer is more Tina. What starts out as a weekend party favor has slipped its way into the work week. Besides, they find their performance at the office is better, at least at first. They feel more efficient and more confident. So they use a little more. Before they know it, dependency is born.
Becoming dependent on meth is hell. The long-term effects are horrendous for both physical and mental health. Methamphetamine injures the immune system and depletes the body of nutrients, making people more prone to illness. Depending on how it’s used, it can damage the lungs, liver and kidneys. Snorting (bumping) or smoking is more dangerous than popping a pill; booty bumps or injections are more dangerous still and can put the user at risk for HIV. Then there’s the effect on the psyche. Users become anxious (due to the stimulant effect on the nervous system) and depressed (when the brain becomes depleted of serotonin). The anxiety can worsen into isolation and paranoia. An unpredictable factor is that some people have the sort of allergic reaction that causes them to become truly addicted.
Unprotected sex while tweaking should raise a big red flag. If you find yourself doing things while using that would be too dangerous for you to do while sober, you’ve got a problem. It’s a matter of respect: your self-respect and concern for the guy you’re hooking up with.
Meth use in gay men is often associated with compulsive sexuality, which can create a host of health, relationship and self-esteem problems.
While some men party without having many problems, others get in over their heads before they know it. A lot of guys assume that the problem is will power: know when you’ve had enough, and cut back if your life is getting out of control. That’s reasonable advice for some people, but methamphetamine is strong stuff and potentially dangerous. For some men will power isn’t enough to regain control. If life is really getting crazy, know when to get help. Addiction isn’t moral weakness, it’s a health problem.
Crystal Meth Anonymous is a good place to start; go to www.crystalmeth.org.
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