August 29, 2013 | by Michael Radkowsky
Crystal catch-22

Dear Michael,

I’ve been with Karl for three years and we’ve always partied occasionally, mainly with crystal meth. Our using has always seemed under control — we don’t do it every week and it’s been easy to have fun sometimes and still maintain our successful lives.

I’ve gotten concerned lately for a few reasons. We’re using more often — every weekend — and it’s started to affect my workweek. A few times recently, I’ve called in sick on Mondays after a weekend of partying. Also, I think our sex life is being affected.  We never seem to have sex anymore unless we’re high and usually with a third person.  The sex is really hot but I’d like to have some times where we’re not high and it’s just us.  Yet when I’ve tried to initiate sober sex, Karl isn’t interested and also, I can’t get aroused, which worries me.

I’ve suggested to Karl that we reduce our use. He says we don’t have a problem.  How do couples handle this sort of thing? I don’t see how I can stop on my own without really messing up our relationship, but Karl has made it clear he doesn’t want to stop.

Michael replies:

Many people who use crystal meth recreationally find themselves in the same situation as you and Karl. At first it feels great and you believe you have it under control.  Then it starts to impact your life, perhaps in seemingly small ways at first, but then more and more. As the situation starts to spin out of control, you and your partner may wind up in two very different places.

There are a couple of angles from which to look at your dilemma.

First, what are the consequences if you don’t stop on your own? While Karl says that the two of you don’t have a problem, you are clear that you do. As you are finding, crystal meth use escalates over time because meth is such an addictive drug. And as use escalates, the consequences grow more severe. You could very easily lose your savings, your home, your friends, your health and even your life.

Second, you are concerned about messing up your relationship if you stop using.  But what sort of relationship can you have if you continue to use? Because crystal meth sabotages your ability to stay grounded in reality, you can’t possibly have the dedication, focus, commitment or connection necessary to participate in your relationship if you are using.

Third, you cannot get your partner to stop using if he does not want to stop. So you are facing a difficult decision: either continue to use with Karl or stop using and face the consequences of this decision. It’s very difficult for one person to stay clean in a relationship when the other person is using, so stopping while Karl continues to use might ultimately lead to your ending the relationship. It’s also possible that your sobriety might influence Karl to get clean too, but you certainly cannot bet on that. I’ve seen many couples struggle mightily when the partners are in different places on whether to stop.

Finally, your experience that sex has become impossible unless you’re high is extremely common among crystal meth users. Meth makes sex seem fantastic — though it is unreal and unnatural — and re-wires your arousal threshold so you can only perform when you’re high. Sex and drugs become fused and soon only fetishized, compulsive sex is appealing. As a result, sober sex will hold no interest for you; it may not even seem possible. The only solution for this is to stop using, so that your brain has the opportunity to re-wire itself over time back to a normal arousal threshold. Many recovering addicts struggle for years to get over the sex-drug fusion and to re-learn how to find sober sex appealing. The sooner you stop, the more possibility you will have to restore a normal, healthy sex life.

You’ve got some tough decisions to make. If you continue to use, it’s likely that your use will continue to escalate. If you stop using, your life is likely to improve in some ways, but you may lose your relationship. It’s also true that you can’t have much of a relationship if you keep using.

Please know that while crystal meth is a difficult drug to get off of, it is absolutely possible to do so, but finding strong support is crucial. If you want to stop using, I recommend you start by attending a Crystal Meth Anonymous meeting to learn more about how the recovery program could help you. I’ve seen many people literally save their lives by taking this step. Good luck.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

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