Helping a loved one to reduce or stop using crystal methamphetamine (ice) is not easy. But one man, who helped his brother’s recovery, says it is worth it. Shane believes keeping an open mind and having access to support services were crucial in supporting his brother John through recovery. If you or a loved one wants to reduce or stop using ice, help is available, and recovery is possible.
*Names have been changed for privacy.
Brothers, Shane and John grew up close.
“I am two years older,” says Shane, “but we seem like twins.
“When I went to uni, I developed a drinking problem. Our father drank heavily, so no one ever said anything except John. He got me back on track.”
A few years later, John developed his own addiction. But it wasn’t alcohol that got a hold of him, it was ice.
“I started using ice at parties because friends used it quite casually without any obvious consequences,” John remembers.
“It didn’t seem a big deal. I started out as a social user if there’s such a thing. Only on weekends at first, but then it began to take over my life.
“Originally, it was a fun thing to do. The drug put me in party mode. But then, I began turning to it whenever I felt stressed and finally, whether I was stressed or not. It became a habit, part of my daily life.”
According to the Queensland Health Ice Help website, people use ice for a variety of reasons, including to manage difficult thoughts, feelings and emotions. Some people may be at greater risk of dependence on ice, or of experiencing harm from ice, because of the way they use it or other things going on in their lives.
John told Shane he was gay a few days after he turned 15.
“It made absolutely no difference to me,” said Shane, “ Our parents took a while, but for John and me, nothing changed.”
Clinical Director of Metro North Hospital and Health Service’s Alcohol and Other Drug Service, Dr Jeremy Hayllar said that published research from the Youth Team at the service showed a higher prevalence of drug use in LGBTIQ+ youth than the general Australian youth population.
“Nearly a quarter of those responding to the research questionnaire had used stimulants, compared with around 2% of the general population. Strikingly, almost all respondents reported experiencing homophobia, and over half said this impacted on their use of substances. They were more likely therefore to smoke, drink alcohol at hazardous levels and use illicit substances.”
“Stigma — already an issue in those with substance use problems — is magnified when these problems affect people from the LGBTIQ+ community. While substances may appear to offer a way out for those who are distressed, or an easy solution for those seeking enjoyment, the effects are usually short term. The lows that follow the high will increase the distress further.
“Those who have a background of trauma are particularly susceptible to developing substance use disorders where control over the use of a substance is lost or impaired. Treatments are available and treatment providers must be sensitive to the particular needs of LGTBIQ+ patients.”
Shane said he began to suspect his brother had a drug problem when relatives complained about him borrowing money.
“No one ever said out loud what the real problem was, but they stopped inviting him to family occasions. I suddenly realised I wasn’t the only one he was borrowing from and not repaying.”
John had not noticed how his ice use was affecting his relationships.
“I didn’t realise how much I was borrowing or that people would discuss it. But then I started finding out about family get-togethers after they happened. It hurt and I put it down to homophobia. Some of my close relatives, people I loved and who loved me, still couldn’t accept my sexuality.
“They were never nasty or critical, but I remembered things they said about gays before I came out and noticed that afterwards, they always avoided the subject. It affected my self-esteem and stopped me seeing that they did, in their own way, care for me, despite their disapproval.”
FACTS, NOT FOLK WISDOM
Shane took his time before asking his brother about his drug use.
“I knew nothing about ice. I never paid much attention to news articles on it because it never affected me or my loved ones. Suddenly, it did. Because the news and media usually present people who use ice as horrible people, something I knew wasn’t true as my brother was not, I wanted to learn as much as I could before I spoke to him.
“I talked about the issue a lot with my wife and friends. Some suggested he needed to hit rock bottom. Others thought spirituality or sport would fix everything.
“My wife is a nurse. She pointed out we needed facts, not folk wisdom, and we would need help. We read everything we could about other people’s experiences and then approached a support service. Only then, I asked my brother if he needed help.”
“I did need help,” said John, “I had no idea how to escape the mess I was in or if it was even possible.
“That terrible feeling that I couldn’t get through a day without using the drug. It affected my work and the only friends I had left were fellow ice users.
“I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me when Shane and I first talked. He was the last person I wanted to know about my addiction. I told him I thought my low self-esteem over my sexuality created the problem. But he didn’t criticise me. He just asked if he could help.
“He said, ‘Dad is a recovered alcoholic, and I had a drinking problem. You can beat this’.”
Initially, John engaged in a residential rehabilitation treatment program where he didn’t use. But he experienced a lapse soon after he was out.
“I went to a party, had a few drinks, someone handed me a pipe, and I didn’t even think about it. But the next morning, I thought, ‘This has got to stop’. I rang Shane and told him what happened.”
It was three years before we could all be reasonably sure it was all over.
“Despite the setbacks, treatment worked. It was in the rehabilitation program where John first realised he could recover. Treatment showed him there was light at the end of the tunnel.”
John and Shane realised they needed a multi-layered approach to address John’s dependency.
“We learned to keep heading for our goal, and not regard a slip-up as the end of the road. I think the combination of rehabilitation, along with professional, family and peer support all contributed to John’s recovery.
“He started going to a psychologist which helped address his self-esteem and other issues. And, probably because Dad had success previously with Alcoholics Anonymous, he went to Narcotics Anonymous.”
SUPPORT IN RECOVERY
John said the support of other people recovering from ice was invaluable.
“No one else will ever completely understand why you crave the drug so much. So, I attribute my recovery to the time in rehab, my wonderful psychologist, the support of other people in recovery, and my brother who probably saved my life.
“I put him and my family through hell. I can’t believe they stuck by me, and as the rest of the family saw I was serious about not using ice, they helped too.”
“There were many long nights, sitting on the beach, watching the waves roll in and planning the way ahead,” said Shane.
John valued that listening ear and the time spent with Shane on the beach.
“I found having a sounding board helped me understand my issues better – just having someone to be open with and talk through what I was learning about myself. When I needed to find the words to explain things to someone else, I understood the issues better myself.”
Shane said the effort involved in helping John recover from his addiction to ice was all worth it.
“I have my brother, my best mate, my little twin back”
Help is available, and recovery is possible.
People who use ice can and do recover.
If you’re concerned about your own or someone else’s drug use, contact Adis (24/7 drug and alcohol support) an anonymous and confidential service on 1800 177 833 or visit adis.health.qld.gov.au. Family Drug Support also provides help for people impacted by the alcohol or other drug use of a family member. Phone 24 hours, 7 days a week on 1300 368 186 or visit Family Drug Support. Alternatively, visit ICE HELP for information.
QNews thanks Queensland Health’s Ice Help campaign for their partnership on this article.