In a recent scan of trending articles on news sites that I read daily, I came across a series of horrifying images, ones that made me feel physically ill. The article though had warned me that I might feel this way. At the top of the Business Insider article are words of caution: “Warning,” the article begins, “these images are disturbing.” The infographic posted below shows before and after photos of methamphetamine abusers, in addition to a bulleted description of what the substance, and a lack of drug rehab, will do to a person’s physical appearance.
Unlike the work of Roman Sakovich, which, while also depicting an addict before and after addiction, uses makeup to tell the story, the photographs released on Rehabs.com depict the real effects of a methamphetamine addiction. Like the narration of a horror story, alongside the photos is a description of these specific consequences: “Skin: Acne appears or worsens. Obsessive skin-picking often causes meth users’ faces to be covered in small sores and scarring – the result of a common sensory hallucination of bugs crawling beneath the skin.” A man’s face, that at 23-years-old was slightly tanned and youthful, is now gaunt, pallid, and blotchy with acne and scratches, at age 25.
The next bullet reads, “Facial Musculature and Fat: Meth, like other stimulants, suppresses appetite and can lead to undernourishment due to long periods without eating. Over time, the body begins consuming muscle tissue and facial fat, giving users a gaunt, hollowed-out appearance.” In only two years’ time, without receiving treatment for addiction, the young man in the first photographs tells the story of a quick, and steady downward spiral.
Scrolling down the page, and through the photographs, the physical affects of continual methamphetamine use are clear: decaying teeth, a sallow complexion, thinning hair. One woman is entirely unrecognizable, and her after-photo looks like a wax, and corpselike version of her former self.
The campaign, inspired by the work of a sheriff’s office in northwestern U.S., who in 2004 compiled mug shots of recidivist addicts and entitled it “Faces of Meth,” is nothing short of disturbing. It begs the question: can people be scared into not using? Is fright a treatment for addiction, or a way of preventing it? Or is careful articulation of the effects of substance abuse, rather than terrifying photographs, a more effective form of drug rehab?