Two major reports released this week reveal the number of people overall using crystal methamphetamine (known popularly as ice) has declined over the past five years, but the people who are still using it tend to abuse the drug – especially intravenous drug users.
The reports reinforce earlier research from UNSW’s National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) that the number of people addicted to methamphetamine in Australia has tripled since 2011.
I quit crystal meth 18 months ago, while I don’t have all the answers, I would like to tell you how I did it.
First, let me explain a little bit about these two very important reports being released by NDARC.
Crystal Meth users are struggling to contain intake at ‘casual’ or ‘recreational’ levels
One of the NDARC reports samples a group of regular psycho-stimulant users. This report shows overall methamphetamine use is steadily declining from 2011 levels (we have powdered meth and crystallised meth – the latter is powdered meth turned into crystals and is thus purer) within this group. However, this report also shows that whilst less people within this group are using ice, those who continue... tend to use more and more of it.
The second report is based on a sample of more hard-core drug users – people who inject their drugs. For the third straight year crystallised meth use has increase by 6% amongst this group.
The takeaway from these reports appears pretty obvious: unlike most other stimulants, if you use crystallised meth you are likely to abuse it. But also secondly, since the drug began flooding the illicit drug market five years ago, its uptake and use has been gradually moving away from casual-recreational drug taking circles (like people who also take cocaine and MDMA) into groups who are more likely to be drug addicts (people who take or have been addicted to heroin).
Getting over crystal meth: Drug psychosis as a metaphor
I want to describe how drug-induced psychosis can explain why the user has become a drug addict. Take Stu Fenton, a 40-something former amphetamine addict whose drug use relentlessly took him into the psychotic delusion his sex life had been broadcast on televisions all over the world.
In his recovery, Fenton linked this sense of shame back to his sexuality self-loathing, which he began to see was the core of his 10-year drug addiction.
Other drug addicts have psychotic episodes related to guilt, unresolved work issues, unrequited love, hero complexes or other delusions of grandeur. They are usually self-centred and regressive.
In my case, crystal meth use brought on a vivid adolescence, that I, a journalist then aged 34, was going to be a rap star. The perfect anecdote to being disliked and bullied as a teenager, a desire to be admired rather than liked - a ruthless, deluded egomania to prove them all wrong.
These recurrent delusions therefore told me two things. Yes, okay, I did have a trauma which led to drug addiction because of the bullying I experienced. That in turn gave me anxiety and left me feeling like a social outcast. Over time, though, I was actually using this is an excuse. I was victimising. I had got over my teenage years and I had forgiven the people who bullied me. That trauma had become a justification for using. Ego was then the enemy not trauma.
In short, I needed to stop feeling sorry for myself and realise people go through far worse without becoming addicts. I needed to take responsibility, and once the psychotic fog cleared, I could then make a clear choice about whether to keep using.
The take-away: You can stop using crystal meth if you really, really want to, and there is help there too if you look for it.
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Too much ego: Try empathy and compassion instead
For a long time I did use drugs – especially amphetamines to both relieve anxiety and to boost my confidence. Over time, however, I used it for a different purpose: purely to enlarge my ego.
One of the reasons I think I became addicted to drugs is not because I had low self-esteem, but because my ego was too big – bigger than what I had actually achieved in life and I used drug-fuelled fantasy to fill this gap.
After several rehab attempts, Stu Fenton, now a drug counsellor, told me he started to experience “something greater than myself. Once I found that greater power it was like a life force, a higher intelligence, and it gave me a great sense of energy. It made me want to live life for the here and now." Over time he said he became "other-centred" instead of self-seeking.
Today, nearly 10 years clean, he told me part of the process has been abstaining from all things—he hasn’t had a drink of alcohol or smoked a cigarette since.
On crystal meth I was aggressive, self-absorbed and grandiose
Addicts, when we start to feel little ideas tearing at our egos: that we have failed at things, we have hurt others, we don’t always need to be working, we can’t always win, that we will die, that the world doesn’t revolve around us, and some things aren’t as meaningful or important as they seem – don’t repress or bury them. Addicts don't plaster those things over — they open those cracks, and see how the light goes in.
They should get professional help and advice. Most drug counsellors have had addictions themselves and some of them are best people I ever met on this earth.
It’s really up to you in the end.
Luke Williams is the author of Ice Age: A Journey into Crystal Meth Addiction, detailing his experiences with crystal meth while embedded with a drug dealer in Melbourne’s outer-suburbs.
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