It is common knowledge that methamphetamine use destroys the user, but what is less obvious is the disastrous effect is has on the children of users. In Children of Methamphetamine-Involved Families: The Case of Rural Illinois Wendy Haight, PhD, Terese Ostler, PhD, James Black, MD, PhD, and Linda Kingery, MSW, apply a case-based, mixed-methods approach that capitalizes on rich qualitative data, to examine parental methamphetamine misuse from a sociocultural perspective. In the excerpt below the authors look at children’s understanding of methamphetamine, to begin to assess how to best address their post traumatic symptoms and ease them back into normal relationships.
Children’s development following exposure to their parent’s methamphetamine misuse may be facilitated by an understanding of the illness that so disrupted their lives. We began our exploration of children’s understanding of methamphetamine misuse by considering the extent and accuracy of their basic information about methamphetamine. In response to our probe, “What is methamphetamine” (or “meth” or other slang term used by the child), 18 children (62%) accurately described some characteristics of methamphetamine, the consequences of misuse, and/or motivation for use. Fourteen children (48%) provided partial definitions. More specifically, nine children described it as “a drug,” and five qualified it as a “bad” drug. Two 13-year-olds further classified methamphetamine as similar to crack cocaine, but more intense, in the words of one, a “super stimulant.” Three children (10%) commented on its delivery via smoking, and one via sniffing. Four children (14%) described its physical characteristics (e.g., “it smells bad,” “it’s a white powdery stuff,” and it “usually is in crystal form”). Four children described production, “It’s a drug that people make.”
Fifteen children (52%) discussed the consequences of methamphetamine misuse. Fourteen children (48%) described negative psychological or behavioral consequences to the user. Seven children (24%) described aggressive behavior. Users became “mean,” “aggravated,” “fought a lot,” “hit kids,” and just wanted to “hit somebody.” Six children (21%) described changes in energy level. Users “stay up for a really long time,” “never sleep,” and are “all hyper.” Six children (21%) described unusual behavior. Users “went wacko,” and were “weird.” 14-year-old Andy provided a narrative account illustrating his mother’s methamphetamine-induced psychosis:
She would see stuff that wasn’t there. I had this gator golf toy…I’d bring it out, I’d play with it. She’d say, “Put it away, it’s a real gator.” Or she’d say, “You should throw it outside,” thinking it’s some animal. And I’d have all these [stuffed] animals, and she’s thinking they’re alive and attacking her and everything.
In contrast, 13-year-old Brad, also a child of parents with long-term histories of substance misuse, insisted that his parents and other people at his house just “acted normal.”
Four children (14%) expressed concerns abut the physical consequences of methamphetamine misuse to their parents including rotten teeth, cancer, and death. Three children explicitly discussed social consequences. Methamphetamine can get users “into trouble,” and has implications for their children. Children’s lives are “destroyed,” or they “get taken away. It’s hard on children.”
Six children (21%) spontaneously speculated on why people misuse methamphetamine. Three children (10%) discussed social pressure. Their parents were introduced to methamphetamine by an intimate partner (spouse or paramour), or they did it to “fit in” with a group. Two young girls, aged 9 and 10, speculated that their parents “picked meth” over them because they “cared more” about the drug. One astute 13-year-old girl explained that her father is involved with methamphetamine to “get some pain relief…the pain he feels inside,” and also to “make money.”