Monster Drug

What’s Behind The Enduring Allure Of Crystal Meth For Gay Men?

Recovering addict Michael Crumpler
Recovering addict Michael Crumpler

We all know meth is bad news, but with use rising among gays in large cities and the proven fact that it’s the most damaging drug for people with HIV, why are people still using it?

That’s the question writer Matthew Rodriguez explores in “After Party,” his fine piece in Poz magazine about gay men trying to put their lives together after meth addiction. The feature is shocking and sad, but ultimately uplifting as Rodriguez dives into the surrogate community created by addicts in recovery:

Some of the people are openly gay; some do not disclose their orientation. They are of different races, ethnicities and social classes. They almost all wear jeans, and they are all here to overcome an addiction to crystal meth. A familiar face walks into the room and takes the seat to my immediate right.

His name is Tommy, and today marks his 123rd day without crystal meth. I met Tommy for the first time on his 97th day away from meth, and again on his 104th day. He began using meth when he was diagnosed with HIV at age 20. He’s now 29.

Tommy is just one of many men sucked in by the allure of the drug. Why is meth so powerful? It’s all about the dopamine:

Dopamine produces a positive reaction to every-day occurrences that keep us alive. When we eat or drink, our body gives us dopamine. In fact, studies show that eating food releases about 150 units of dopamine. Sex (without drugs) releases 200 units, nicotine results in 250, and cocaine clocks in at 350. In comparison, crystal meth unleashes a whopping 1,100 units of dopamine.

While the face of meth users is overwhelmingly white, black gay men are also at risk for addiction. One of these men is Michael Crumpler (pictured above), who shared his story with Poz.

Crumpler, who is black, says that the identity of the people with the meth played a significant role in his decision to try the drug. “If a black person, a cousin, had offered it to me, I would never have done it. But I was in this socialized space with white guys who seemed to have their shit together, who seemed like guys that stepped right out of a porn video.” Because he first encountered meth in this environment, he says, “it masqueraded itself as being OK.”

Poz also assesses the drug’s role in fueling the AIDS epidemic, and how ACT UP activists are springing into action to fight the uptick in meth use among gay men:

AIDS activists have already held several teach-ins on the topic and formed a working group to raise awareness about this burgeoning epidemic. A priority for the group is to work with hospitals and ensure protocols are in place for dealing with the multifaceted reality of meth addiction.

“Members have been talking about it being a problem since the ’90s, but people are struggling a lot more than they used to,” says ACT UP’s Brandon Cuicchi, adding that the problem tends to stay underground, in part, because people have so much trouble kicking the habit.

We’ve barely skimmed the surface of the piece, which is quite good. We definitely encourage you to read it in its entirety here.