Australia has the highest number of meth users in the English-speaking world, or in any other country for that matter.
The National Drug Strategy Household Survey reports that around 7% of the population—1.3 million Australians—have used the drug. This is far higher compared to only 0.4% of Americans who have reportedly used ice.
The Guardian notes that with at least 8 tonnes of ice consumed between 2016 and 2017, methamphetamine remains the drug of choice in this country, more than all the other drugs combined. The highest consumption was detected in Adelaide and regional Western Australia.
Youth are especially vulnerable to ice, as statistics show that approximately 1.4% of Australians aged 14 years and over have used meth in the last year alone.
If you or someone you know is battling ice addiction, it helps to understand the nature of the addiction and the resources available for support.
An Overview of Ice Addiction
Ice is an extremely powerful stimulant that has the opposite effect of depressants like heroin and cannabis. It is a synthetic drug that attracts many with promising euphoria, alertness and confidence at a relatively cheap price.
One of the most popular illicit drugs in the country, ice is extremely dangerous, as it is highly addictive and brings physical and mental damage when taken in any amount.
Ice addiction happens when an individual is no longer able to function without taking the drug. For some, it can trigger psychological disturbances or aggressive behaviour. Taking it will inevitably damage the brain, causing impairment to the person’s memory, attention and motor skills.
While people are well aware of the dangers of ice, the powerful effect of the drug makes it hard to pull away from using it. Most people who are in active addiction to the drug prioritise it above other areas of their lives, which can mean anything from committing crime to putting their family at risk and jeopardising everything they have worked for.
Because of the proliferation of ice addiction, the National Ice Task Force considers the impact of the drug on families and society as disproportionately bigger than other drugs.
What Is Ice Addiction?
Ice, unlike heroin, rarely becomes addictive after one use. However, the more frequently it is used, the greater the risk of dependence on the drug.
Of course, addiction is a health issue as much as it is a social issue. Factors like social isolation, a history of depression, genetic factors, and poor mental health can cause a person to rely on the drug to feel good about themselves.
Those who use ice take it by placing it in a glass pipe and smoking it. When the substance is smoked, the effects can be felt almost immediately. Ice can also be injected, which takes just 15 to 30 seconds for it to come into effect. Sniffing the drug takes 3 to 5 minutes, while swallowing takes the longest at around 15 to 20 minutes.
Street names for ice include ‘crystal meth’, ‘crystal’, ‘glass’, ‘shard’, ‘P’ and ‘shabu’.
A person who has developed a dependence on ice can suffer from a substance-induced disorder, a medical term used to describe those who develop worrying behaviours and experience mental health conditions, such as anxiety and psychosis, because of their drug misuse.
TIME reports that the huge demand from Australia has led to a spike in production of the drug in neighbouring Asian countries like China and Thailand. The abundant supply has made the drug highly affordable. A ‘point’ of ice (one-tenth of a gram) can be bought for $40 in some rural towns.
One point of meth can last for a couple of days, depending on the purity level.
Clearly, ice is an economical and potent drug, which makes it that much harder to avoid or to overcome.
Why Is Ice Addictive?
Ice is a synthetically produced substance, a poison that first acts as a stimulant, but then proceeds to systemically destroy the body.
While ice is not as potent after first time use as other drugs, like heroin, many are drawn to the effect it can give. The high produces desirable feelings, like an intense sense of joy, confidence and sustained periods of wakefulness. These effects are experienced immediately, with each successive intake carried out as an attempt to relive that first experience.
Ice is addictive because it directly impacts your body’s release of hormones like dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine regulates reasoning, movements and happiness. Serotonin, meanwhile, also elicits pleasure.
From the moment a person smokes ice, these hormones are instantly bolstered. Neurological studies show that ice can increase dopamine levels by as much as 1,000%.
They get a sense of euphoria and drive. They suddenly enjoy the environment around them and feel like they can achieve anything. These effects last from 8 to 24 hours, but when the effects wear off, the person will suddenly experience a deficit of these neurotransmitters and be compelled to use it again and in most cases to be able to function.
People who feel depressed, have low family support or don’t feel particularly happy when they are not using are particularly vulnerable.
Continued use of ice deteriorates the brain’s natural ability to produce ‘happy’ hormones. Eventually, the person will need a hit of ice to simply get through the day. They may feel that they need ice to go about daily activities like working, studying, socialising and even just interacting with other people.
This state of dependence can damage areas of the brain that control physical movements and reactions to everyday life.
While it’s difficult to precisely estimate how addictive ice is, what’s clear is that it can trigger a pattern that can lead to addiction. This is why helping those who misuse the substance early can prevent life-threatening consequences and get them on the road to recovery.
Ice Addiction Signs and Symptoms
People who are using ice exhibit some obvious physical signs, but, depending on what stage of addiction they are at, not all signs may show in everyone. Further, if they are good at hiding their misuse, it can be hard to know for sure.
If you suspect that someone is engaged in the risky use of ice, here are some signs to watch out for:
- Reduced appetite and weight loss
- Frequent outbursts or mood swings
- Elevated blood pressure
- Dilated pupils
- Tooth decay and tooth loss
- Insomnia and unusual sleeping patterns, like being awake for days or weeks at a time
- Paranoia and hallucinations
- Twitching, facial tics, jerky movements, constant talking and other odd mannerisms
- Picking at skin or hair
- Engaging in risky behaviours
- Violent behaviour when unable to access the drug
One key symptom of ice addiction is ‘tweaking’, which refers to the phase in which an individual reaches the end of a drug binge. As the person struggles to deal with the crash, they experience intense cravings.
Those who experience tweaking can have several symptoms. These include feeling bugs crawl under the skin, being unable to sleep for days, having hallucinations and being in a psychotic state. It’s a dangerous state, as the person can easily hurt themselves or others.
Going from Using Ice Once to Using It Regularly
Addiction is a disease that intensifies the more a person takes the drug. While not everyone who uses ice becomes addicted, there are certain pre-conditions that can result in addiction. Previous drug use, depression and isolation are contributing factors to ice addiction.
Keep in mind that the brain controls one’s actions and behaviours. When the brain changes due to the drug’s effects, it can be extremely hard to battle the cravings and quit.
The Link Between Ice Use and Hepatitis or HIV/AIDS
One of the more serious consequences of taking ice is the risk of contracting blood-transmitted diseases, including Hepatitis B and C, and HIV/AIDS. One likely reason is that the drug makes a person lose their inhibitions and engage in risky sexual behaviour. Frequent sharing of drug paraphernalia can also make the person vulnerable to blood-borne viruses.
Ice-induced psychosis occurs with long-term misuse of the drug. It’s a condition characterised by paranoid delusions, hallucinations and bizarre, often violent, behaviour. Those suffering from addiction to ice can cause serious harm to themselves and those around them, as they can no longer control their actions.
A typical example of a psychotic episode is feeling bugs crawling underneath the skin, causing the individual to try and peel off their skin.
Psychotic states may last from hours to days. They happen because different parts of the brain are damaged and struggling to communicate with each other.
While not everyone who uses ice will experience psychosis, high doses and long-term use of ice can cause the condition. Symptoms will disappear a few days after going off the drug, which is why someone who’s addicted to it must immediately get the necessary help.
How to Help Someone Get Off Ice
Treating ice addiction is extremely hard, especially if the person downplays the addiction. They may argue that they’re not yet ready to stop, or claim that they’re not really addicted. Loved ones should access medical help and support options in order to address the person’s dependence.
Giving up ice after long-term use is challenging because the body has become accustomed to it. They will definitely undergo withdrawal symptoms that could last weeks or even months, depending on how damaged the system is.
A person in withdrawal may experience symptoms such as:
- Extreme craving for ice
- Increased appetite
- Confusion and irritability
- Aches and pains
- Fluctuating between insomnia and hypersomnia
- Lack of energy
- Anxiety, depression and paranoia
- Itchy eyes
It’s important to note that while some symptoms are acute and last only weeks, others may last longer. The profound physical impact of the drug will depend on one’s body constitution, length of drug misuse and other factors. Regardless, it’s crucial that they have the right support during and after their recovery program.
Treatment Options for a Person with Ice Addiction
Detoxification is an important medical process that can help a person struggling with ice addiction overcome the withdrawal symptoms as safely as possible.
Research has shown that withdrawal symptoms occur in a relatively predictable cycle; symptoms first appear 24 hours after the last intake, and the peak is at 7 to 10 days after quitting. They then start to reduce within 14 to 20 days of abstinence.
Detoxification involves assessment and screening for other medical conditions. The person’s healthcare practitioner will recommend medications that can ease the withdrawal symptoms and minimise complications.
Once ice is completely out of their system, they can begin working on how to maintain recovery. Treatment methods include behavioural therapy, medication and support groups. The goal of treatment is to help a person in recovery lead a healthy life without meth. In some cases, more than one method is used at the same time.
Ice Rehabilitation and Living Without the Drug
Depending on the person’s needs, there are residential or outpatient programs for individuals in recovery. Outpatient programs suit those who can start coping without the drug while in their regular environment, although with the highly addictive and damaging nature of ice, this option is rare. residential programs may be more helpful, as the person is removed from the environment where the addiction started, and they can begin a new path under the care and supervision of professionals.
At DayHab Private Hospital in Melbourne, clients recovering from ice addiction receive the appropriate medical and emotional support to become substance-free. The team uses a holistic approach to address the illness. Addressing different facets of the client’s addiction can help them tackle withdrawal immediately and sustain a substance-free life.