• People living with drug or alcohol addictions are often considered a lost cause even though the path to recovery is possible with the right support. (E+/Getty)Source: E+/Getty
Myth: If you’re addicted to drugs you are a lost cause. Fact: If people battling an addiction get the right help, it’s very possible for them to make a full recovery.
Michaela Morgan

29 Nov 2017 - 1:15 AM  UPDATED 8 Dec 2017 - 4:46 PM

Jack Nagle used to be addicted to drugs. He tells SBS how he first started using alcohol, marijuana and prescription pills before he moved on to crystal methamphetamine— a highly addictive stimulant drug. 

“I progressed on to ice and it got bad quite quickly with the amount that I was using,” Nagle says in the SBS online video 'The Truth About Addiction'. “I just hit a very low [point] and became incredibly depressed and suicidal. I was just a shell of the person who I was.”  

Nagle says he moved on from being a recreational ice user to using ice full-time because he could “buy a lot less for a better effect” than other drugs like speed. But his tolerance for it soon built up and with time, he needed more and more. Within a few months of full-time use, he says, his ice addiction took over. 

"I knew that I needed to stop but despite all the severe consequences, I would keep using anyway.” 

“You just kind of accept almost, which is really sad in itself, that this is going to be your lot in life…and you kind of take it [being an addict] as your identity, I guess.” 

Nagle adds that he entered a frustrating cycle of addiction—knowing he needed help but continuing to binge on drugs. 

“For a long time, I didn’t want to be doing what I was doing,” he tells SBS. “I knew that I needed to stop but despite all the severe consequences, I would keep using anyway.” 

Nagle was addicted to ice for over a year. He reached out to his family for help after a “massive binge on ice” where he spent $7,000 on drugs in a matter of days.  

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He soon spent a month in rehabilitation. Nagle explains this was a crucial turning point in his journey to full health because it enabled him to receive support from professional drug and alcohol staff, who had previously lived with an addiction. 

“One guy told me his story and described the way he thought and felt when he was living with a drug addiction. He was able to share that really intimately with me and I’d never been able to talk to someone on that level. 

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“I felt understood…that was enough in that moment to shift my attitude and help me to stay there and get clean.” 

Nagle’s story of recovery is unique but not unimaginable. People who are addicted to drugs can recover and shake their addiction, with hard work, dedication and social support. 

“I felt understood…that was enough in that moment to shift my attitude and help me to stay there and get clean.”

“You almost need people to come at you with some love and support and then that helps—or it did for me—to break through my shame and allowed me then to ask for some help,“ Nagle, the founder of Real Drug Talk adds. 

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Shifting the stigma

Although support is what someone with an addiction needs to fully recover, research suggests that only one in four Australians living with a drug or alcohol addiction will be able to reach out for help. 

In 2015-2016, an estimated 134,000 (or one in 180) Australians sought treatment for drug and alcohol use, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 

Professor Maree Teeson, the director of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre says many Australians stereotype people using drugs as being a lost cause. 

“A lot of people of people strongly believe that if you’re an addict, or if you’re addicted to drugs or alcohol, that’s it, that your life is over,” she says. 

“What we should be doing is saying ‘OK how can we get people to ask for help and then get to that help earlier?’” 

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Teeson advises Australians wanting to help someone with an addiction to recognise that the person is separate from the addiction and the behaviour. “The first thing is that they’re people who are actually having trouble, perhaps, with drugs and alcohol. 

“[Addiction also] isn’t a life sentence. People can actually manage to get over it and live fabulous lives.” 

“People are incredibly resilient,” says Teeson. 

“With the right help and the right circumstances, they can make huge changes in their lives.” 

If you need support, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015 or visit Real Drug Talk

If you, or someone you know is in need of free, evidence-based help to manage their mood, alcohol, or drug use, please visit The Shade Project.

For more information about ice, access the online toolkit providing information and resources about crystal methamphetamine (including where and when to get help): Cracks in the Ice.

All six episodes of Struggle Street series two are available to view on SBS On Demand

Struggle Street series two is produced by KEO Films with funding support from Screen Australia and Film Victoria.

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