What you should know about ice
If you think someone you love is using ice, one of the first steps you can take is to learn about the drug and its effects.
Ice effects each person differently but there are signs and symptoms to look out for.
Ice is a form of methamphetamine. It looks like crystals or a coarse crystal-like powder. It's usually colourless or white.
You might hear it being called:
- crystal methamphetamine
- crystal meth
Ice is the purest form of methamphetamine available. It can be swallowed, snorted, smoked or injected.
Ice and other forms of methamphetamine belong to the 'stimulant' class of drugs.
Taking ice speeds up the signals between the brain and the body, making users feel more alert and more active.
Some people feel that taking ice can help them in their daily lives. This makes ice more addictive than other types of methamphetamine.
Amphetamine, ecstasy, and cocaine are also stimulants.
For many people, using ice is another way of trying to get that 'feel good' feeling. They may use ice for the same reasons as other people might drink alcohol or take other drugs - such as to relax or fit in to their social group.
Unfortunately, some people become dependent on ice. They can find themselves spending more time using or recovering from the effects of using ice. It's no longer about having fun, relaxing or partying.
Some people may also use ice to self-medicate to help manage difficult thoughts, feelings, emotions, or mental health concerns.
While using ice may feel like it gives some short-term relief, it can often make problems worse in the long term as:
- mental health issues may get worse during and after use
- using ice can cause relationship issues, financial problems, legal problems, and have an impact on study or work
- dependence makes it harder to stop
- some people may feel more shame and feel negative about themselves.
Ice affects each person differently. It depends on the person's build, headspace, tolerance and any medication they're taking, along with the environment they're using it in.
Ice is a stimulant drug, which means it increases brain activity and intensifies the messages between the brain and the body.
It affects the brain by releasing:
- dopamine, which is the 'feel good' response and causes the feeling of being high
- noradrenaline, which is responsible for a 'fight or flight' response and makes a person feel alert and awake
- serotonin, which impacts impulse control, appetite, mood and sleep patterns.
Ice acts quickly and can make a person feel:
- like they want to have sex (increased libido)
- like they've lost their appetite
- like their mouth is dry
- confident and good about themselves
- like their heart is racing
- hot and sweaty
- like they need to grind their teeth
- fidgety and itchy.
Too much ice use lowers a person's appetite which can lead to malnutrition. It also decreases saliva in the mouth, and makes a person clench their jaw and grind their teeth.
What do I look out for?
A person taking drugs may start behaving differently and change the way they think, act and behave.
These changes may include:
- dilated (enlarged) pupils
- increased energy
- aggressive behaviour
- complaints of stomach cramps, blurred vision, headaches or dizziness
- exhaustion, fatigue or insomnia
- irritability and moodiness
- reduced appetite or other changes to eating patterns
- anxiety symptoms such as panic attacks, dizziness, sweating, dry mouth, muscle aches, headaches and nausea
- problems with money, friends, relationships or the law.
It's important to remember that ice can affect different people in different ways, and that these symptoms alone do not mean someone is using ice.
Ice can be taken in a few different ways but the most common is using a small pipe that's made out of glass. It can also be swallowed, snorted, injected.
Many people who use ice have few obvious signs that they are using the drug. Some symptoms of common mental health conditions can also appear similar to the symptoms of ice use. If you suspect that a loved one might be using ice, trying talking with them and share your concerns.
Relationships and ice
Ice use can affect family and friends in many ways, including emotionally, financially, and physically. You may be feeling anxious, angry and helpless.
Making the first step to talk to someone about drug use is never easy, but with love and professional support you can help guide your loved one on the road to recovery.
Sometimes ice use can change the way your friend or family member thinks, acts and behaves which can have an impact on relationships.
People who use ice can have trouble maintaining personal relationships and may also be having problems with work, money, mental health and the law.
They may also have physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms if they stop using the drug. These symptoms can lead to the person wanting to keep using ice to feel good again. They may start spending more time getting, using or recovering from the effects of ice.
Be there to listen and support your friend or loved one. Try not to judge their choices and remind them of all the positive reasons to get help. As a parent, friend or family member, learning that someone you love is using ice may make you feel angry, ashamed or hopeless. These are normal responses, and this is when you should speak to a professional.
If you think someone you love is using ice Adis 24/7 Alcohol and Drug Support provides free and confidential 24-hour, 7 day a week support. This service is for people in Queensland who are concerned about their own or someone else's use of alcohol or other drugs.
You can call Adis on 1800 177 833 and talk to a professional counsellor. They provide respectful, non-judgemental, compassionate, and culturally sensitive care.
Adis counsellors can also provide treatment options for your loved one and support for you.
It's best to seek support or help from a professional if you think a loved one is using ice.
Making the first step to talk to someone about drug use is never easy. Anyone that's struggling with ice use will need your love and support.
If someone is asking for help, one of your first concerns should be for their safety and the safety of anyone in their care. It's also helpful to remember that not all people who use ice develop an addiction.
Our services and support page has information about organisations with experienced professionals who can help you and others affected by ice use.
How do I talk to someone about their ice use?
- Wait until they're in a good frame of mind before you talk to them about using ice.
- Let them know you'll be there when they're ready to talk.
- Have a conversation that avoids conflict or blame, and offer to work with them to move forward.
- Let them know you're here to help and support them if they're willing to let you.
Remember that your friend or loved one may not be ready for help, so if the conversation doesn’t go as well as you hoped, don’t give up. Maybe try again another time. It’s important they know you’re there for them when they're ready to get help.
How do I make sure that I'm OK?
When you're helping someone to recover from ice or drug use, it's important that you also feel well supported.
You can do this by:
- reaching out to friends and being honest about what's going on in your life
- connecting with people that you can trust to help share your worries and frustrations
- getting enjoyment out of your pastimes and hobbies and use them to keep a good routine
- doing things that make you happy like catching up with friends, exercising and eating out
- keeping a regular sleep routine, eating well and seeing your GP if you are feeling down or are finding it hard to cope.
You and your family can get help to cope with the challenges of supporting someone you care about recover from ice.
If your loved one becomes violent, aggressive or appears to be suffering from psychosis, make sure that everyone is safe and call Triple Zero (000).
Keeping your loved one safe during addiction
If someone you love is using ice there are some things you can be aware of to help keep them safe.
Mixing other drugs and signs of an overdose are important to be aware of if a loved one is using ice.
People use ice for many different reasons. When a person uses ice, they increase their risk of harm. If someone you know is using it, there are some things that will reduce these risks.
Ice and other drugs don't mix
Taking other drugs while using ice can be dangerous and can cause further strain on the user's body. The effects of mixing drugs can be unpredictable and increases their risk of overdose and death. People react differently to mixes and doses. What might be okay for one person one time, might be harmful the next time or to somebody else.
Mixing changes the effects of both the ice and the medication. Ice can disguise the effects of the medication such as anti-anxiety medication, increasing the risk of overdose and death.
Cannabis can make a person feel paranoid or anxious. Ice can do that too. Mixing ice and cannabis may add to those feelings of paranoia.
Alcohol is a depressant which means that it slows down the functioning of the brain and body. It can add a lot of extra pressure to their system, especially their heart. When mixed with ice use, this could lead to a stroke.
If you think someone you care about has overdosed and they're in danger, do what you can to keep them safe. Make sure that anyone that's with them or in their care is safe as well.
Some signs of an overdose may include:
- severe headaches
- chest pain
- rapid heart rate
- rapid increase in body temperature
- irregular breathing
- extreme anxiety
- loss of consciousness.
What to do in an emergency?
If someone is experiencing signs of an overdose, or if a person has collapsed or lost consciousness call Triple Zero (000) and ask for 'ambulance'.
You should start CPR if a person:
- is unconscious
- isn’t responding to you
- isn’t breathing or is breathing abnormally.
The Health Direct website has detailed instructions, including a video showing how to perform CPR.
Recovery can be hard but it’s worth it.
We have services and support to help you, your family and friends while you’re learning how to support your loved one and themselves during recovery.
People who use ice can and do recover, but it also helps to be realistic about how long recovery can take. If you’re supporting someone's recovery it's important to encourage them to stick with it, learn from each step and to try again if they have a slip up.
Withdrawal symptoms can start when a person stops using ice. Their body and brain is used to ice being in their system, so when they stop taking it, they'll feel pretty bad. This can lead the person wanting to use ice again to feel good.
There are physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms. These can be mild, moderate or severe, and can take between a week and a month to disappear.
Withdrawal symptoms can include:
- an increased appetite
- aches and pains
- being irritable
- tiredness and exhaustion
- interrupted sleep and nightmares
- aggression, depression, paranoia and anxiety.
There are different ways to help people recovering from ice and those that are supporting them.
Some of these options include:
- residential rehabilitation
- out-patient counselling.
People struggling to break free from an ice use often feel as if they're facing their challenges alone. However, drug use and recovery affects friends and families as well as the person who has decided to seek treatment. That's why family support plays such a vital role in recovery.
Supporting someone or finding out someone is using ice can be difficult for families and friends. If you've only recently found out that a friend or family member is using methamphetamine try not to panic.
Getting help and wanting to stop using ice is a great first step. Quitting can be hard, but recovery from ice is possible.
Quitting ice looks different for everyone, but there are a range of treatment options including withdrawal management and detoxification, counselling and rehabilitation programs. There are also support groups that can support you and your loved one.
Being free from addiction can be a long process and needs to be taken one day at a time. It can be helpful to remind your loved one of this too.
Do what you can to help them stick to their treatment and recovery. The longer they stay with their program, the better chance they have of stopping.
There will be times of doubt and times when they'll want to use ice again.
Help them stay focused by reminding them:
- that success may be as simple as achieving a drug free day, eating well, or exercising
- that distractions are a good tool for taking their mind off withdrawal symptoms
- why they decided to stop using ice
- that these hard times are temporary, and it'll get easier with time
- how far they've come, and that recovery is possible.
Practical tips to help someone stay in recovery
- Maintain a good sleep routine by not staying up all night and sleeping all day.
- Have a shower or warm non-alcoholic beverage.
- Practise meditation or relaxation exercises to help with sleeping.
- Eat a balanced diet and stay well hydrated.
- Speak to a GP about getting a mental health plan.
- Walk as much as possible and get some exercise.
- Take a class or try a new hobby.
- Recognise and praise positive changes, no matter how small.
Supporting someone's recovery from ice can be difficult and at times stressful, so it’s important to look after yourself.
It's not unusual to feel worried, anxious or vulnerable when supporting someone through recovery. You don’t have to do this alone. There is support and services available and organisations that can help you work through these issues as a family.
Our support service page has a list of anonymous and confidential services, including professional counsellors, that can help you.
Real life recovery and hope
Meet Sonetta, Lea-Anne and Lynda and listen to their stories of recovery and support.
'You're the key and that's the hard bit. Recovery is possible, I’ve seen it.'
'There is recovery from ice. It is possible. She's proof.'
'Recovery is hard but worthwhile. My children have their father back and I have my husband.'
Last updated: 30 March 2021
Last updated: October 2021