What is the ICE drug and how to beat ICE addiction?

ICE, which is also known as crystal meth, is a highly addictive drug that can increase the user’s risk of mental and physical damage when taken in any amount. While the user may initially experience short-term energy, euphoria and alertness, taking it in high doses leads to aggressive behaviour, psychosis and hallucinations. One report on ICE addiction highlights that the number of people using the drug in Australia has doubled since 2010. The same report found that over 1.3 million Australians over the age of 14 has taken ICE at some point in their lifetime, with 90,000 people using it on at least a monthly basis.

An overview of ICE addiction

ICE addiction is a user’s inability to go through the day without using ICE. As it’s a highly addictive substance, they’ll prioritise it above most other areas of their life. This may mean putting their loved ones at risk, engaging in criminal activity to access the drug, and taking it despite being aware of the physical and social consequences.

ICE is a more potent form of methamphetamine. Other street names people use for the drug include crank, crystal meth and crystal tea. From the moment a person takes ICE, they begin inflicting biological and psychological harm to their body. A report from the Canadian Medical Association has found that ICE alters the levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, causing the user to experience a high. At the same time, it increases their heart rate. Although some users may take the drug once and never return to it, others will continue to use it. They may do this because they want to chase the high they first experienced. Or, there could be underlying social factors pushing their need to escape from everyday life. This includes a history of depression, an unstable childhood and genetic factors.

Those who use ICE take the drug by placing it in a glass pipe and smoking it. A person who routinely must take ICE is suffering from a ‘substance-induced disorder’. This is a medical term used to describe those who display worrying behaviours or experience mental health conditions because of their substance abuse. For example, psychosis or anxiety. With the right support, however, a person who experiences substance-induced disorder due to ICE, can recover and return to a normal and healthy way of life.

What is ICE Addiction

While ICE addiction after just one use is rare, the more it is used, the greater the risk of developing dependency. Many factors will influence whether a person becomes addicted to ICE. Those who suffer from poor mental health or social isolation may rely on the drug to experience positive emotions. Additionally, there are genetic factors that influence this behaviour that science doesn’t yet understand. Some may also use the drug to cope with issues that are worrying them, such as a job loss or the breakdown of a relationship.

20% of meth users take the drug weekly or daily and 1.4% of Australians aged 14 or over admit to using some form of methamphetamine within the last 12 months. While ICE isn’t one of the most popular drugs in Australia, its use is on the rise. Because of this, it’s important to tackle addictions head on and stop the effect they’re having on users and their families.


Why is ICE addictive?

Daily, each person relies on a delicate balance of neurotransmitters to regulate how they feel and function. This includes dopamine, which plays a big role in reasoning, movements and happiness. It also includes serotonin, which many may know as a ‘happy’ hormone.

From the moment the user smokes it, an ICE addict will experience a boost in these hormones. This means they feel euphoric and driven. They’ll enjoy the world around them a lot more than usual and may feel as though they can do or achieve anything. The effects of the drugs may last eight to 24 hours. When they wear off, the user needs to function with a deficit of these neurotransmitters.

While some people who use ICE may accept the ill effects of coming down in the same way some people approach a hangover, others will decide to use the drug again to reach the euphoric state. After all, it’s an enjoyable state for them to experience. This can be the case when they don’t feel particularly happy most of the time. Each time they use ICE, the brain begins to respond by cutting back on its natural ability to produce these hormones. Eventually, the ICE addict will reach a stage where they need ICE simply to function.

If ICE addicts continue in this state, they may become dependent on the drug to the extent that areas of their brain controlling physical movements and reactions to everyday life cease to function. As such, early interventions are the best way to prevent a full-blown addiction and give their brain its best chance of recovery.


ICE Addiction Signs and Symptoms

Whether a person’s ICE addiction is obvious depends on their honesty, as well as which stage of the addiction they’re at. Some may do a good job of hiding their addiction by using the drug in secret. In contrast, others may engage in wild behaviour that indicates an addiction is present. Some of the signs and symptoms of ICE addiction that friends and family can look out for include:

  • Mood changes, including increased irritability and depression
  • An inability to stop using the drug, even for a day
  • Lying about the degree of their drug abuse to the ones they love
  • Being unable to keep a job, friends or a relationship
  • Weight loss, as the drug acts as an appetite suppressant
  • A tendency to act violently, especially when they can’t access the drug
  • Paranoia and hallucinations
  • Insomnia due to a chemical disruption in their brain
  • Skin sores
  • Engaging in risky behaviours, such as unsafe sex

It’s important to understand that not all of these symptoms are present in each user. It depends on how long they’ve been using the drug, as well as underlying health conditions. However, family and friends who spot such symptoms and believe they relate to ICE use, should help the user seek support for withdrawal as soon as possible.


Going from using ICE once to becoming a regular user

Not everyone who uses ICE once will go on to use it again, so how do some people become regular users while others walk away and never look back?

There’s a commonly held belief that ICE addictions form due to laziness or just character. From the outside, it may appear as though a person can just stop and take control of their habit without any consequences. Drug addiction is a brain disease and the more the brain changes with the drug, the more it makes the user crave it. Because the brain’s desire to continue using the drug is so strong, addicts find stopping alone extremely difficult. It’s worth remembering that the brain is what controls a person’s actions and behaviour. As such, an ICE addict needs support to battle against their brain and quit.


The link between ICE use and hepatitis or HIV/AIDS

One of the more worrying consequences of taking ICE is that the user increases their risk of contracting a blood borne virus. This includes hepatitis types B and C, as well as HIV/AIDS. One study suggests that this is because continuous use of the drug weakens their immune system, which means they’re less likely to combat their initial exposure to such viruses. Other factors include sharing needles with other ICE users and engaging in sexually risky behaviour. As ICE causes a person to feel uninhibited, they’re less likely to take care of themselves than those who don’t use the drug


ICE-Induced Psychosis

ICE-induced psychosis occurs when a person uses crystal meth for a long period of time. This is a mental state where they engage in psychotic behaviour, which can cause harm to themselves and those around them.

Someone who is experiencing crystal meth psychosis has paranoia, delusions and hallucinations they can’t control. These hallucinations involve all the senses, including their sight, hearing, smell, and visual sensations. For those who are around the ICE user when they experience this psychosis, it’s difficult to convince them what the reality around them is. A typical example of a psychotic episode is feeling as though bugs are crawling beneath the skin, causing the ICE user to try and remove them.

A lesser version of psychosis could include paranoid delusions, which the user’s brain may fuel by causing them to hear voices. These voices may leave them feeling as though people are out to get them. In more worrying cases, they may compel them to take actions they wouldn’t otherwise take.

These psychotic states may last for a period of hours or days. They occur because the brain’s varied areas are struggling to communicate with each other. Not every ICE user will experience ICE-induced psychosis. The earlier they benefit from withdrawal from the drug, the easier it is to prevent psychosis from occurring. In many cases, treating substance abuse psychosis involves removing the user from the drug and placing them in a calm environment.


How to Help Someone Get Off ICE

Treating an ICE addiction isn’t easy, but there are many options available to help the addict and their loved ones. Initially, an ICE user may downplay their ability to exist without the drug. Or, they’ll argue that withdrawal is harmful to them. They could also argue that they’re not ready to stop yet, but they will eventually. With quick medical help and the right support for the user and their loved ones, recovery is possible.

Someone suffering from ICE addiction has a range of treatment options to choose from. Due to the involvement of dopamine, this usually means medical interventions as well as psychological. In addition to medical support, they can benefit from counselling. Counselling may take place in different forms, including solo and group therapies.

When someone is addicted to ICE, they need to go through a withdrawal process. During this process, they may experience physical and emotional symptoms that are difficult to manage:

  • Craving the drug
  • Feeling depressed and/or anxious
  • Itchy eyes
  • A lack of energy
  • Fluctuating between severe insomnia and hypersomnia
  • An increase in appetite

It’s important to note that while some symptoms are acute, which means they last between one and two weeks, others last longer. Those with a severe crystal meth addiction may find that symptoms such as depression and anxiety last for months. This is because of the profound physical effects the drug has had on their bodies. As such, it’s important that they have the right support beyond their recovery programme.


Treatment options for a person with ICE addiction


During the detoxification process, someone withdrawing from an ICE addiction will need medications that support them through the physical side effects. Once this process finishes, they’ll learn how to identify the stresses and triggers that make them turn to ICE. Their support team will then help them form alternative coping mechanisms, which are healthier.

The detoxification process isn’t just about making sure someone stops physically taking the drug. It aims to ensure they withdraw from it on a long-term basis. With the right support, addicts become more comfortable with their “physical and mental self” and develop a stronger character that reduces the risk of returning to the drug.

ICE rehabilitation and living without the drug

Depending on the level of the user’s addiction, they can benefit from either an inpatient or an outpatient program. Outpatient programs suit those who can cope with everyday life while visiting the centre regularly, but due to the violent nature of ICE withdrawal and addiction, this is rare. In contrast, inpatient programs remove them from the environment where the drug is present and can last for one to three months in a specialist facility.

At Riverside Clinic in Melbourne, ICE addicts receive the support they need to withdraw from the drug permanently. The team at the clinic takes a holistic approach, which involves focusing on the spiritual, physical, social and emotional factors of the addict’s illness. Using a combination of one-to-one counselling, group therapies and training programs, the specialists at Riverside Clinic tackle ICE withdrawal head on and discharge patients with the tools they need to stay away from the drug forever.

For advice on recovering from an ICE addiction, contact the team at the Riverside Clinic in Melbourne on 03 9699 7529.