His blue Hawaiian shirt and white tennis shoes weren't exactly the typical attire for a Ph.D., but then, Dr. Cardwell Nuckols wasn't giving typical advice.
Nuckols, president of American Enterprise Solutions in Apopka, Fla., spoke on new methods to treat methamphetamine addicts at a Tuesday afternoon session of the School on Alcoholism and Other Drug Dependencies at the University of Utah. With the recent increase in meth use in Utah, he had a captive audience.According to statistics from the Utah State Division of Substance Abuse, Utah ranks third in the nation for meth lab busts. There has also been a 781 percent increase in statewide admissions for meth abuse over the past four years.
Nuckols said addiction to meth (commonly called crystal, crank or ice) requires different treatment than alcohol or heroine addiction.
"We almost need to have our own way to teach (addicts) about their illness," he said. "Trying to compare meth to alcohol and heroine just doesn't stack up."
Nuckols said meth stimulates a pleasure center in the brain, giving users a feeling of extreme peace and pleasure.
"It's sort of like Ferris Bueller on his day off, it's the fun center," he said.
After the first use, however, Nuckols said, meth users eventually become addicted "chasing that high."
"The problem is you have to do more of it and you get more dependent on it and the side effects get worse," he said. "At a certain point they cross the line and you look in their eyes and someone else is driving the ship."
When that happens, Nuckols said, addicts become paranoid, suffer from delusions, and basically become like a schizophrenic. During serious binges, addicts sometimes won't sleep or eat for days.
When that happens, "you have a scenario for some pretty bizarre behavior," Nuckols said, including violent crimes.
Nuckols said treatment becomes difficult because addicts feel they are misunderstood by those trying to help and cannot find a substitute for the stimulus meth once provided.
So Nuckols suggested offering new stimulus.
He's taken addicts sky diving, or made them write a "Dear John" letter to the drug.
"Some of them would be very poetic," Nuckols said. "As they would read them sometimes they'd choke up a little bit."
Other times he would sit in the middle of the addicts and talk to them as if he were the drug.
"You can't live without me," he would tell them. "I've never abandoned you."
Having a group of addicts act out scenarios where cravings occur is what Nuckols said his patients seem to enjoy the most.
Such positive reinforcement from fellow addicts often provides them with the feeling of belonging and fulfillment they need to overcome their meth demons.
"You're talking about a drug that they'll sell their kids for," Nuckols said. "Somehow people have to find something that sustains them. If you can understand the addiction and the addict you pretty much have what you need to help them."