UKIAH, CALIF. — Elaine is attractive and articulate, a trained nurse and a mother of two. She is also a recovering methamphetamine addict, undergoing treatment in Women and Infants in Need of Drug-Free Opportunities (WINDO) program in Mendocino County, Calif. Hers is a cautionary - but unfortunately not atypical - account of a road to methamphetamine addiction. (Her name and certain details of her life have been altered for confidentiality.)
Elaine grew up as the daughter of a career military officer, a man she describes as a "raging alcoholic." Starting in high school, she became a "recreational" user of drugs, from booze and marijuana to "bennies," the mild amphetamines used as pep or diet pills.
Elaine got married and had two children, a boy and a girl. Her husband was also an occasional drug user. A few years ago, she was in a northern California college studying to be a nurse when a neighbor introduced her to methamphetamines.
"I knew right away that methamphetamine was my weakness because I liked it so much," Elaine recalls. "It gave me a feeling of being in control of myself."
Typical for many women, according to therapists, the drug seemed to enable her to cope with the multiple pressures of life.
"I used methamphetamines to clean house, to get my homework done, to cook for the weekend and get the kids ready for school," she says. "Then I couldn't stop."
Elaine eventually broke up with her husband. She sent her son to live with his father and took her young daughter with her to Ukiah. There she fell in with her sister, already a heavy meth user, and cousins who were also using the drug.
She became not only a serious addict but a dealer as well. Elaine describes a common pattern for meth addicts - neglect of ordinary life and growing violence.
"I was out of control," Elaine recounts. As is common for meth addicts, she would stay up sometimes for days at a time. She had brawls with her sister and others. Her appetite suppressed by the drug, Elaine eventually weighed only 90 pounds.
"Then I went to Reno and put a needle into my arm for the first time in my life," she says, referring to the practice of injecting the drug to get an even more powerful high. Her husband came and took their eight-year old daughter.
But the course of her life changed with a drug-related arrest. For three days and three nights she was sealed in the county lockup's "rubber room," reserved for violent prisoners.
She claims she was kept for hours at a time naked, with her arms handcuffed behind her back. "They came and laughed at me through the window," Elaine says.
Elaine was sent to prison for 16 months, much of it at a special facility for drug addicts from which she emerged last summer.
"I lost my children, my career, my self-respect, my dignity, my freedom and my sanity for a while," she says. "There is no lower you can go."
Elaine is on the road to recovery and reunited with her family. With a smile she says, "My daughter tells me she's really proud of me."