Ice addicts and their family members are being urged to be unashamed of the addiction, and seek professional help.
That’s one of the key messages being promoted by South Pacific Private hospital in their community education workshops about the drug.
The hospital, on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, specialises in treating addictions, and is working hard to counter Australia’s ice epidemic.
What Is The Ice Epidemic?
Methampethamines are “uppers” or stimulant drugs that have existed in Australia for many years, in other forms such as speed, crack and diet pills.
According to Prime Minister Tony Abbott, addiction to the more recent form known as ice, or crystal methamphetamine, is the worst drug problem our nation has ever faced – with around 200,000 Australians using the drug each year.
The Australian Crime Commission in March released its first public report into ice, saying that the drug is linked to high levels of organised crime, as well as burglaries and violent assaults.
And in April Tony Abbott launched a national task force to combat the drug.
How Ice Affects Users
Steve Stokes, a program director at South Pacific Private who will deliver tonight’s community talk, said that ice addiction caused a dramatic, artificial high in the user.
“Ice changes peoples’ behaviour,” he said. “Opioids like heroin slow people down but ice does the opposite.”
“In a healthy brain, chemicals are released through the day to balance us neurochemically and give us a peaceful experience of life. One of these is dopamine, which is for example when we see a nice sunset or have a nice meal with friends.
“What ice and other methamphetamines do is to elevate and overstimulate the way the brain releases dopamine.
“So the experience that results from using ice, is outrageous levels of euphoria.
“As a result the brain decides it doesn’t need to create those chemicals itself. So users end up feeling so bad as they come down because no dopamine is being released.
“It affects the brain so rapidly.”
When the user comes off the drug, they can experience cravings, feelings of emptiness, rage, hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, and intense itching, according to the website Drug-Free World.
The drug is also linked to confusion, insomnia, aggression, theft and violence, and possible long-term effects including anxiety, black rotting teeth known as meth-mouth, and even brain damage.
Crystal Meth Is Crossing Traditional Boundaries
Mr Stokes said crystal methamphetamine addiction was not limited to any particular demographic.
“Traditionally, people who have experienced developmental (childhood) trauma have a high relationship with drug addiction,” he said.
“But with ice we are seeing highly functional, normal people, even CEO’s, ending up addicted and drive their Ferraris to treatment.
“Another issue is that ice is not only being manufactured by drug cartels but in peoples’ homes locally, so the problem is affecting people everywhere from cities to regional towns.
“It crosses a lot of lines.”
“And it is often linked to other stimulating addictions such as sex addiction, pornographic imagery and cyber relationships. Treatment often includes looking at those issues.”
An Addiction Affects The Whole Family
Addictions don’t just affect the drug user, but their whole family, according to Mr Stokes.
“As a person gets addicted they experience increasing levels of powerlessness and impacts on their lifestyle,” he said.
“We also see family members, because they love, end up enabling the affected individual – by paying fines, lying to bosses, and denying the problem.
“There is an increase in relationship issues and domestic violence, caused by the high levels of distress with Ice when coming down.”
He said families need to stop rescuing the addict.
“Once the family stops supporting the user, by not providing money, or taking out an AVO, life gets unmanageable very quickly and the user is forced to face the issue,” he said.
Advice for Families Affected By Drugs
If you have a drug addicted person in your family, it’s crucial to still work at being in relationship with them, while still looking after yourself, said Mr Stokes.
“Go and get support for yourself,” he said. “Get informed about the drug and the addiction. Go to someone such as your family GP who can advise you what steps to take. GPs are the first port of call.”
He said that in his talks with family members he works to normalise the experience of seeking help or therapy.
“Don’t feel shame,” he said.
“Often people disconnect and go underground when there is this kind of stress in the family.
“But as humans we are regularly humbled by what we need help for.”
How Can Ice Addiction Be Treated?
At South Pacific Private, treatment for a person with crystal methamphetamine addiction starts with a detox, which gives the patient relief from symptoms.
After this the patient is given time to rest, which may take a day or more.
They then begin the hospital’s 21-day inpatient program, which includes psychotherapy, looking at developmental traumas and mental health issues, as well as workshops, group therapy and 12-step meetings.
The three-week program is followed by long term abstinence based after-care, and patients are encouraged to enter a 12-step fellowship or support group such as Crystalmeth Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.
Real Recovery Is Possible
Mr Stokes is living proof that recovery is not just possible, but probable. He is himself a recovered addict, who has been sober for 29 years after an addiction to speed in the 1980s.
After recovery he went through tertiary study to become a mental health and addictions counsellor.
He said there was a difference between abstinence and recovery.
“Abstinence doesn’t equal recovery, it just means the person has stopped using the drug for a period of time,” he said.
“Recovery is when a person looks at all the factors that led to the addiction and addresses those properly, so that they no longer have a need to turn to the drug.”
According to a recent survey called Australian Life In Recovery, many people have successfully kicked their addictions and have been clean for years, even decades.
“The statistics are showing that people have been living in recovery [from methamphetamine addiction] for many, many years,” he said.
“People can really get well.”
For full details on South Pacific Private’s community information workshops, see their upcoming events web page.