Now that AMC’s top hit series Breaking Bad is winding down to its final episodes, people are talking about whether they want to see Walt White dead by his own hand, blown away by someone else, or reach out for a chance at reform. Why has this show about methamphetamine use in New Mexico captivated so many fans? Is there something in each of us that’s breaking bad?
Walt White is played by Bryan Cranston, only the second actor to win three consecutive Emmys (Bill Cosby was the first, in I Spy), a school teacher with a multitude of problems. His low pay means he has to moonlight at a carwash, where his students make fun of him. His wife has little interest in their sex life, his son has cerebral palsy, and then he learns he has inoperable lung cancer. Inspired when his DEA brother-in-law is tracking down a meth dealer, White decides to raise the money to pay for his cancer treatment and ensure financial security for his family by cooking meth.
White’s actions pull the viewer in so many different directions. Is it the need for money that drives White into the meth business, or is he breaking bad because he just cannot stand his middle-class, middle-aged life anymore? Maybe the cancer is just the catalyst to send him over the edge on his search for some meaning in his life. When a former friend offers him the money to pay for treatment plus any job he wants in his business empire, Walt turns it down and keeps cooking meth.
There may not be another television show in which the main character is presented in such a positive manner, someone with whom people identify and sympathize, who then goes so wrong. Why does a man in America need to work two jobs and still not have enough to support his family? Are the inadequacies of the American health care system so overwhelming that a man must turn to crime to pay for treatment? The story lines put White at crossroad after crossroad, with choices for good versus bad unmistakable, and he continually chooses bad.
For people who give in to the temptation of methamphetamine use, it’s a different kind of breaking bad, a real-life compulsion, but it’s still all bad, all the same, all the time. The compulsion results from a continual triggering of those sensors for pleasure we all have in our brains until the meth addiction overtakes everything.
The typical meth user develops a relationship with his drug that’s stronger than his relationships with his loved ones. He develops paranoia and psychosis. His nasal passages degenerate from snorting meth. From shooting up, he risks infections such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Sexual dysfunction becomes typical. Meth mouth means horrible, quick tooth decay, because meth users do not produce enough saliva to rinse the bacteria out of their mouths; they drink sugary beverages to counter constant thirst and eat too many sweets. The skin breaks out, and the person regularly feels overheated. This latter symptom is related to increases in blood pressure, and there is also damage to small blood vessels within the brain. The person is persistently itchy, feels jumpy, cannot sleep, feels simultaneously clammy and sweaty, and develops tremors. Ultimately, methamphetamine use can lead to tachycardia, heart attack, and stroke.
Now the end of the series is upon us, and few people want to see White achieve any kind of redemption. He doesn’t use meth, but you might say he is addicted to the process of making it. It’s the one thing, after all, that he’s been really good at. Maybe it’s just his pride that keeps him going bad.
Do you know someone who’s addicted to methamphetamine use? Call your local residential drug treatment center to find out how that person can get help, before it’s too late.