Facts & help
The Victorian Government has established a new ice help line. For people concerned about their own ice use, families struggling to cope and health professionals looking for advice, help is now only a phone call away.
Ice is a highly addictive, illegal drug in the amphetamine family.
It's also known as crystal methamphetamine and its street names; crystal meth, glass, shards, puff, shabu and tina. It's manufactured illegally by mixing some common pharmaceutical drugs with a variety of dangerous chemicals such as acetone, bleach, battery acid, and engine coolant.
Because ice is unregulated, it is impossible to know exactly what is in it.
Ice activates three different responses in the brain:
- It triggers the release of dopamine, associated with the ‘feel-good response in the brain. The amount of dopamine released after taking ice can be 1000 times higher than normal levels.
- It triggers the release of noradrenaline, which is responsible for the ‘fight or ﬂight’ response.
- It affects serotonin levels, which help to regulate sleep, mood, appetite and impulse control.
Ice causes an unpredictable imbalance of these chemicals.
After the effects of ice have worn off, the body can't restore its dopamine levels to the amount required for everyday functioning. This results in a very intense low, sometimes referred to as a ‘comedown’, which can last for days.
If the brain is continually forced to produce more dopamine, it becomes ‘worn out’, meaning the intense lows become more permanent.
The more a person uses ice, the more likely they are to experience the damaging effects of ice on their health, relationships and future.
Ice forces the brain to work harder to produce dopamine, associated with a ‘feel good’ response. After the effects have worn off, the brain struggles to restore dopamine levels.
Some users become agitated, moody and anxious, and generally feel less pleasure from everyday activities. They can also have a hard time sleeping and may feel very tired for extended periods of time.
Ice is also associated with a number of mental health issues, including:
- Chronic insomnia
- Anxiety (including panic attacks)
- Severe depression
People with existing mental health issues may ﬁnd their symptoms increase when they’re using ice and/ or for a long period afterwards.
Ice affects serotonin levels which help regulate appetite. Appetite suppression can lead to issues with malnutrition. Ice can also raise glucose levels, damaging kidney and liver function over time. Ice reduces the supply of saliva to the mouth. Users also tend to clench and grind their teeth, leading to dental problems like excessive wear or broken teeth. Heavy or long-term users have an increased risk of stroke, seizures and heart problems.
The sleep deprivation, intense lows and increased levels of aggression associated with ice use can have a signiﬁcant impact on family and friends, for example arguments and verbal abuse. Because of this, ice users can become socially isolated.
As someone’s ice use increases, these conﬂicts can become more regular. Some people may even lie to loved ones or deny they have a problem, increasing stress on their relationships.
Frequent ice users often find themselves increasingly associating with other users, dropping out of employment, education or their normal social activities.
When a person is affected by ice, their behaviour and mood changes, and it's difﬁcult to sleep. After it wears off, it’s common to experience an intense low - a ‘comedown’.
Increased level of aggression
Because ice forces the brain into ‘fight or ﬂight’ mode, it can make some people aggressive or violent, particularly heavy users or users experiencing long periods without sleep.
Ice users can often appear highly agitated and can become aggressive.
Using ice can lead to serious sleep deprivation that wreaks havoc with a person's moods, anxiety levels, and can lead to symptoms of psychosis. This can have a signiﬁcant impact on family and friends leading to conﬂict and isolation.
Ice is known to impair judgment and can lead to engagement in risky behaviour for example, unsafe sex, increasing the risk of contracting HIV and other blood borne viruses.
After the effects of ice have worn off, the body can't restore its levels of ‘feel good’ emotions it needs to cope with the everyday. This results in an intense low that affects mood, energy levels and motivation. This is often referred to as the ‘comedown.’
Addiction or dependence
For some people, ice use escalates quickly - from occasional use to physical and psychological dependence.
Like other addictive drugs, ice affects the reward centre in the brain giving users a high. Ice is a strong drug that is usually smoked, giving users a particularly strong high. It's this high that hooks many users and can lead to addiction.
Because it's so strong, the intense lows experienced after the drug has worn off can also be stronger. These lows can trigger a desire for more of the drug.
As ice use increases, it's more likely that a person will experience damaging effects on their health, relationships and future.
The first step
While treating ice or other drug issues can be difficult, it's possible. The first step for someone struggling with ice use is to understand and accept the need to change.
Many ice users are in a state of denial about how badly their use is affecting their lives and the lives of those around them. Some users may believe that their use is ‘under control’. Admitting to a problem is very difficult and many find it hard to be honest about their issues with ice, even with themselves.
More information for families and friends concerned about a loved one is available at Coping with ice - a guide for family and friends.
The recovery journey
Recovery is a term used to describe someone’s journey after they've decided to seek help and actively address their drug issues.
There are many options available for treatment. Individuals need to work out which treatment works for them. This can change over time and many people will try different treatment at different times during their recovery journey. People will often require the support of family and friends to seek and begin treatment.
Most commonly people will engage in one or more of the following treatments:
- Withdrawal / detoxiﬁcation
- Residential rehabilitation
- Community based services, including counselling and support groups.
More information and advice for people struggling with their ice use, and their family and friends is available under Support services.