• Crystal meth acts on the brain and can become quickly addictive to some users. (Getty)Source: Getty
Is it fair to accept - without question - the statement that 'if you try ice once, you’re hooked'?
Michaela Morgan

6 Dec 2017 - 12:15 PM  UPDATED 8 Dec 2017 - 4:56 PM

One of the most controversial drugs in modern society, ice, is also one of the most addictive. It’s often said that just one hit is enough to get you hooked. But how true is this statement?

Director of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, Professor Maree Teesson confirms the addictive nature of crystal methamphetamine (ice). She explains that the stimulant drug is addictive because it triggers the release of dopamine and noradrenaline in the brain. 

“They are the chemicals in your brain that lead to euphoria. Ice actually increases the amount of those neurochemicals in your brain,” she says in the SBS online video The Truth About Ice.

“Everything in the end just revolved around how I was going to get ice, how I was going to use it and then how I was going to find the ways and means to get more."

“Unfortunately, what happens is, while it increases in the first instance, after a while, they [the neurochemicals] start to deplete.

“And the only way you can start to feel normal is when you’re on ice,” says Teesson.

According to the online resource Cracks In The Ice, regularly using crystal meth can damage or even destroy the dopamine receptors in the brain, “sometimes to a point where users no longer feel normal without having ice in their system”.

The founder of Real Drug Talk, Jack Nagle, says when he first started using ice he was “shocked that it was so good but it didn’t stay like that for very long”.

“Everything in the end just revolved around how I was going to get ice,” Nagle adds, “how I was going to use it and then how I was going to find the ways and means to get more.

The truth about addiction
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.

Ice use in Australia

Despite the drug’s deserved reputation as being intensely addictive, Is it fair to accept - without question - the statement that 'if you try ice once, you’re hooked'?

The 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey found that one-in-70 Australians had used methamphetamines (including ice) in the past year (2015-2016).

Of that figure, 20.4 per cent were using methamphetamines daily or weekly, while 44 per cent had used it only once or twice. 10.6 per cent had used methamphetamines once a month and 24.7 per cent had used every few months.

“[It is] definitely very possible to recover from addiction."

“If you look at how many of them [Australians] are using it weekly, or daily, it’s about one in five of those one in 70. So not all of them.

“For me, those figures that say, ‘If you’ve used ice once, you’re hooked’, isn’t really the way people are experiencing ice,” says Teesson.

Recovering from ice addiction

Teesson says it there is life after drug addiction, if people get the right support. 

“[It is] definitely very possible to recover from addiction".

“It won’t necessarily happen in a short period of time, it may take a period of intensive treatment and it may take a high level of commitment from the individual and their family and their friends.”

Ice addiction: How accurate are the stereotypes you believe?
Stick thin, sunken eyes, blistered sores, violent rages; how accurate our perceptions of ice addicts? We get the facts from a drug expert.

For Nagle, speaking to someone who had recovered from addiction themselves was what helped him to make a breakthrough.

“…It allowed me to get to the place where then I could do the work with them professionally to work on my underlying issues and whatever else was going on in my life which then, eventually helped me to get clean and turn it around,” Nagle says.

The senior operations manager of Health at St Vincent de Paul, David Kelly says that although ice addiction can have a devastating impact on someone’s life, it’s still possible to make a full recovery. 

“It can be quite harmful for a person, physically and mentally,” Kelly says.

“But I certainly think it’s absolutely possible to stop using the drug in a harmful way and get on with the rest of your life.”

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.

If you or someone you know is in need support, please:

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.

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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