Pubdate: Tue, 18 Jun 2002
Source: ABC News (US Web)
Copyright: 2002 ABC News
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)


'It Takes Ahold of You'

June 18 - On the surface, Debra Breuklander was a hard-working mother of 
three, a nurse, with an immaculate home in a middle-class, Midwestern 
suburb. But she had a secret.

That secret - an addiction to the cheap and easily obtained drug 
methamphetamine - cost Breuklander everything, and it earned her a bunk for 
35 years in Iowa's Mitchellville Correctional Facility.

"It takes ahold of you and no matter what kind of super mom you want to be 
it will take you over," Breuklander told Good Morning America.

Sheigla Murphy, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Studies at the 
Institute for Scientific Analysis in San Francisco, says that 
methamphetamine - often called "meth" for short - is the drug du jour for 
some super moms who are trying to have it all.

"When they begin to use methamphetamine, they feel more energy, they feel 
more mastery, they feel like they can get it all done," Murphy said. "They 
can take care of their kids, they can do their job, sometimes two jobs. 
They can meet what is for many women today, an almost impossible ideal."

Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant that can be smoked, snorted 
or injected. Some women mix it with coffee, calling it "biker coffee." The 
drug produces a euphoria similar to cocaine, but lasts longer, and is made 
from common household ingredients. Studies have shown that it damages brain 
cells, and that the damage persists even months after people stop using it.

Also known by the names crank, ice, speed or crystal meth, it is a drug 
more commonly associated with teens at rave clubs. But in 1999, adult women 
using meth made up 47 percent of patients in substance abuse programs.

A Woman's Drug?

A woman's role of taking care of the children and working puts them at 
particular risk for trying the drug, Murphy said.

"Speed [one of the drug's nicknames] is a drug that people get into for 
functional utility," said Dr. Drew Pinsky, a substance abuse expert and an 
ABCNEWS' contributor. "Women today have unique circumstances. They're 
expected to be all things, all the time, and that's unrealistic. Not only 
are they juggling job and kids, but they are supposed to look good, and 
keep the weight off."

That was the case for 35-year-old Cindy Nichols, a divorced mom with two 
children. She is now a recovering methamphetamine addict who has been clean 
for seven years, and is working as a full-time counselor at a California 
recovery center.

Nichols, who had used meth in high school, really began using it in earnest 
after she got married and became a mother. It made her feel good, "like she 
could do or be anything," Nichols said. In addition, she was thin without 
ever having to work out because the drug kills hunger.

Now, Nichols looks back in horror at the things she would do while on the 
drug, believing that it actually made her a better, more focused and 
energetic mom. She worked at a family fitness center, and would baby-sit 
her own and other children while she was high, Nichols said. She also drove 
a car with her children as passengers while she was high on the drug.

Five years after the heavy use of meth started, Nichols was at the bottom 
of a long decline. She was divorced, on welfare, living with her two 
children in a single bedroom house, with a car that barely ran. Drug use 
was the main factor in her divorce. On Mother's Day, 1995, she finally woke 
up and decided, "I can't do this anymore," and that was when she decided to 
quit the habit, Nichols said.

The Price of Having It All

In Iowa, where Breuklander is incarcerated, 43 percent of women entering 
the prison system this year said meth was their drug of choice, compared to 
just 29 percent of men.

"You're supposed to have it all," Murphy said. "You're supposed to work at 
a job and take care of your family. And initially, women feel that 
methamphetamine helps them to achieve this."

Breuklander, a former nurse who was on disability because of back problems, 
said she got started on meth because of her financial troubles, and because 
her boyfriend was selling it. But no one would have known she was an addict 
by looking at her.

"I was continuing to function, which made me a functioning addict which to 
me made it even worse because I didn't see that I had a problem," 
Breuklander said.

Now she has turned her problem around, is clean and serves as a mentor to 
the nearly 100 women in the Iowa prison who have "been there, done that," 
and are paying for it.

Pinksy said that family and friends can look for various signs of 
methamphetamine addiction.

A key one is paranoia, a preoccupation with people close to them, such as 
family members or co-workers. Other signs include irritability, long 
periods of sleeplessness and increased motor activity (they can't sit still).

Methamphetamine can cause chest pain, high blood pressure and hypertension, 
according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Some experts have linked 
use of the drug by pregnant women to a host of problems, including 
stillbirths, premature births, cardiac defects and persistent cognitive and 
behavior problems.

Recovery from meth addiction or any other type can't be forced, and can 
only occur when the person is ready, Pinsky said. But staying clean is 
relatively easy for meth addicts, because it doesn't have withdrawal 
symptoms, other than for women craving the return to what they think is 
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