Doctor prescribes power of Christ to beat meth addiction
|A UMNS photo by Henrietta Giles
Dr. Mary Holley addresses a church group warning them of the dangers of methamphetamine.
June 26, 2006
By Danette Clifton*
MORGAN CITY, Ala. (UMNS) — “No one is immune? no family, no church, no community,” Mary Holley warns.
Holley is addressing a church group about the danger of
methamphetamine. She knows firsthand the effects methamphetamine has on
the user, his or her family and the community. In 2000, her younger
brother, Jim, died after years of methamphetamine addiction. As a
practicing obstetrician/gynecologist, Holley increasingly saw the drug’s
effects in her patients and their babies.
So in 2002, Holley, a member of Guntersville (Ala.) First United Methodist Church, founded “Mothers Against Meth-Amphetamine.”
“After he died, I started looking into it as a physician, as a
scientist,” she says. “What is this drug that destroyed his life in just
two years? What I found out appalls me.
“Science knows how methamphetamine works,” she says. “We know what it
does to the chemistry in the brain. But nobody was translating this
stuff into plain English so everybody else can understand.”
Holley’s efforts started as a series of editorials she wrote to local
newspapers in nearby Arab and Albertville, Ala. As she discussed the
effects of addiction, she also included an invitation to experience the
healing power of Jesus Christ in each editorial. Soon Holley was being
asked to teach drug education classes for the county and city jails as
well as juvenile probation programs. Individuals also contacted her for
help and information.
Now retired from medical practice, Holley has produced booklets and
pamphlets about methamphetamine and its effects, along with videos used
in public schools, prisons and rehabilitation centers. She recently
published a book, Crystal Meth: They Call it Ice.
Holley also speaks to churches and civic groups and encourages them
to be more aware and active in offering help and hope to addicts,
families and communities affected by the drug. That’s why she’s speaking
in Morgan City, a small town with such a big addiction problem that
some people refer to it as “meth mountain.”
For seminar participant Olivia Smith, Holley brings an important
message for the local church to hear. “I think it’s good to do it in a
church environment because everyone is so comfortable with each other,”
As Holley has produced more materials and addressed more groups, her
organization, Mothers Against Meth-Amphetamine, has grown to 100
One of the most active of those chapters is in Polk County, Florida.
The chapter serves close to 900 people a month from community education
to support groups for recovering methamphetamine addicts and their loved
Libbie Combee, 42, started the chapter after learning about Holley’s
program from her son, Jason, who is in prison because of his addiction
“The day I picked up the phone to have my son arrested was the
hardest decision I’d ever made but I knew the cycle had to be broken in
my family and the cycle had to be broken starting with me.”
|A UMNS Web-only photo courtesy of Libbe Combee
Libbie Combee visits her son, Jason Leland, at the Polk Correctional Institution.
Combee says addiction runs in families. This mom knew from experience
only tough love would work. She, herself, was once a methamphetamine
addict but has been clean for 12 years. Combee’s personal understanding
of the dynamics of addiction has helped her share Holley’s ministry with
those in need.
“What I have seen is the families prolong the process of the loved
ones recovery because families enable, families rescue, and families
won’t get out of the way for God to rescue.”
Holly, a 29-year-old recovering addict and mother of two little
girls, asked that her last name not be used. She agrees that families
can complicate the recovery process.
Holly came to the Florida Mama Chapter with a $50 a day
methamphetamine habit that had become a dark family secret no one wanted
to talk about. For years her parents had given her money to feed her
children because her own paychecks were feeding her habit.
"After a while you end up using people and using people to the point they don't want to help you anymore," Holly says.
For Holly the breaking point was the pending breakup of her marriage.
She has been clean for four months and is now working to mend her
relationship with her husband and her children.
Holly has tried to quit many times before but says Dr. Holley's
program has given her hope for long term success. "It feels different
this time. I'm not alone. It's not a secret anymore."
Methamphetamine use is growing in the United States and worldwide.
According to the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 11.7
million Americans ages 12 and older reported trying methamphetamine at
least once, representing 4.9 percent of the population ages 12 and
Holley explains that because of meth’s strong chemical effects on the brain, one use is enough to become addicted.
“Use it once, you will do it again,” she says. “You did not choose it, it chose you.”
Methamphetamine, developed in the last century, was originally used
in nasal decongestants. Now it is being manufactured in clandestine
laboratories known as meth labs, using ingredients purchased in local
stores, such as over-the-counter cold medicines containing ephedrine or
pseudoephedrine. Other chemicals used to make crystal meth are also
available as household items such as rubbing alcohol, lithium from
batteries, red phosphorus from matchbooks, salt and drain cleaner.
Meth labs are being set up in homes, barns, even in the trunks of
cars, and they are popping up in both urban and rural settings.
The drug’s effects
The first effects of methamphetamine are increased alertness and
energy. Holley explains that this high can last 12 to 20 hours and the
user may “feel invincible.” As the high goes away, the user experiences a
crash. This can last from one to two weeks. During the crash, users
often experience irritability and the unbearable sense that “nothing
feels good.” The only thing that can make the crash go away is using
Crystal methamphetamine damages and overwhelms the pathways in the
brain, Holley says. It causes the brain to flood these synapses with
dopamine — a neotransmitter that affects the processes controlling
movement, emotional response and ability to experience pleasure and pain
— at 100 times the normal concentration. She compares this to one brain
cell yelling at another brain cell for 20 hours.
“You yell for 20 hours, you get hoarse,” she says. “This is what happens to cell A.”
This breakdown in the normal communication of brain cells can cause
loss of control of cravings and temper, mood swings and panic attacks.
Some people even develop anxiety disorders and experience
hallucinations, paranoia and loss of muscle control. Other effects of
meth use include depression, sexual dysfunction and the deterioration of
tooth enamel leading to tooth loss.
Holley says the brain needs a year to 18 months of complete
abstinence from methamphetamine to heal. However, she says, some
ingredients commonly used to cook crystal meth, such as battery acid,
cannot be absorbed by the body. As a result, meth use often leaves
lasting effects, such as holes in the brain or acid burns on the skin.
Methamphetamine users aren’t the only victims of the drug, Holley
says. The families of users and the community are also affected. While
parents are high on crystal meth, children are often abandoned and not
cared for, she says.
A user’s family can help through tough love, Holley says. Her
experience in talking to addicts and former addicts has shown her that
most people don’t want to get off meth until “it hurts worse to keep
using,” she says. “That’s when they’ll stop.”
So she instructs the family and friends of meth users: “No matter how
ugly it gets don’t stop praying for that child.” But she also warns,
“They will break your heart.”
Holley says 50 percent of the people she talks to who are addicted
are good people who went to the wrong party, made the wrong friends or
were just looking for a quick way to find energy to make it through
another shift at work. She says the other 50 percent she meets are
wounded people who have experienced pain in their lives and want an
Hope through Jesus
No matter how or why a person gets addicted, Holley offers the same hope and help: Jesus Christ.
Although the spiritual aspect is not included in her public school
curriculum, in other teaching situations, Holley freely offers to power
of healing of Jesus Christ for addicts.
She labels methamphetamine use as a form of idolatry and urges
addicts to “put God back in the center of your life. You are more than
the sum of your brain cells.”
She says Christ gives strength for any temptation. “He (Jesus)
forgives. You will love him and you will live for him and you will die
for him. That’s what it takes to get off crystal.”
This night, as she leads the group in a closing prayer, she says,
“Lord ? this drug is more than we can handle but not more than you can
That is the ultimate message Holley seeks to spread through MAMA. More info on Mothers Against Meth-Amphetamine can be found at www.MAMAsite.net.
*Clifton is director of communications for the United Methodist
Church’s North Alabama Annual (regional) Conference. Lilla Marigza, a
freelance producer in Nashville, Tenn., contributed to this report.
News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or firstname.lastname@example.org.