This article is created in partnership with Queensland Health’s Ice Help campaign. Recovery is possible and help is available. To find anonymous and confidential help for you or a loved one, visit qld.gov.au/icehelp
This article discusses mental health issues. If you or a loved one need help, call the 24-hour Lifeline Australia crisis hotline on 13 11 14 or reach out to Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.
Kerry Fraser is a Kiwi expat living in Brisbane. He’s 53 years old, a father, musician and social worker. Kerry sees himself as a typical white, western male, and “an ice addict in recovery.”
Kerry, a drummer, had been active in the Auckland music scene since early adulthood. Heavy drinking and drug use were par for the course in this environment, but Kerry had been experimenting with substances from a young age.
“I always used, but it never got in the way of me doing what I had to do in terms of keeping my life glued together,” he says, speaking to Rolling Stone Australia from his home in Brisbane.
Once he reached his late-30s, however, Kerry’s mental health was at an all-time low. “I had a few falls from grace, a few life struggles,” he says. So when crystal methamphetamine—commonly referred to as ice—showed up on the Auckland music scene, Kerry was in the headspace to give it a go.
Kerry was aware of the dangers of ice as a strong and highly-addictive stimulant drug—as well as the social stigma. But if anything, this made it more alluring. “It felt really risky and exciting and dangerous,” he says.
When he started, Kerry was hiding his ice use from those closest to him. But within six months, it became obvious he was no longer in control.
“Ice started to dictate the terms of my life,” he says. “It went from only on the weekends to during the week, then, before you know it, it’s a daily thing—as often as I could.”
The risks of ice use are manifold. Ice is the purest form of methamphetamine available in Australia. According to QLD Health’s Ice Help website, ice is usually four to eight times stronger than powdered methamphetamine, known as speed.
Ice releases dopamine, which gives rise to feelings of pleasure and confidence. Dopamine plays a unique role in the body. As the ‘chemical messenger’ for feelings of satisfaction, activities that result in dopamine release often form our strongest habits. Ice also releases noradrenaline, which activates the fight or flight response, leading to increased alertness and energy.
But even among casual users, ice can provoke aggressive or violent behaviour, fatigue, and feelings of anxiety and paranoia. Long term users will often run into financial problems and grow entirely dependent on the drug, chasing an elusive sense of fulfilment.
Regular ice users are also prone to “ice psychosis”, the symptoms of which include “paranoid delusions and hallucinations”according to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation. Users with a history of mental illness can be particularly vulnerable to ice psychosis. Research suggests that up to 30% of people who experience it go on to develop a long term mental illness such as schizophrenia. Broadly speaking, psychosis is experienced when a person loses their grip on reality—making it all the more challenging for a family member or loved one to reach out and offer support.
Kerry’s ice use quickly started to put stress on his close personal relationships. “I went through a relationship break-up and got the proceeds of the house sale, and that money went really fast,” he says. “I ended up living in my car during that time.”
It also interfered with his professional and social obligations. “I had joined quite a good band and I was working with them for about three and a half years, and the decline of my life unfolded in front of them,” he says.
“I got a call one day and the guy said, ‘Look mate, me and the guys have been talking and, basically, we just don’t like working with you anymore.’ And that had never happened to me, ever.”
Kerry wasn’t indifferent to the chaos unfolding around him. He tried to stop using ice on a number of occasions, but quitting without expert assistance is no easy task—the body must get used to functioning without ice; all while the user fights off intense cravings and a mixture of exhaustion, irritability, and sleeplessness.
Dr. Nicole Lee, director of the alcohol and other drug consultancy, 360Edge, suggests it takes an average of five years before ice users seek treatment. Many users describe barriers towards seeking treatment, from social stigmas to simply not knowing where to begin. For Kerry, the primary force preventing him from getting help was feelings of shame.
“The biggest fear of my using was that people would find out I was using ice,” he says. “The answer to all of that guilt, shame and self-stigmatisation is to use more drugs.”
The self-stigmatisation Kerry mentions is arguably underpinned by how society represents—and misunderstands—drug use. Oftentimes, it is portrayed as the province of corrupt and destructive individuals. But Dr Jeremy Hayllar, of Brisbane’s Metro North Mental Health, strongly refutes this, explaining that ice dependence stems from an urgent desire to fill a void, which is frequently connected to significant trauma in one’s past.
“The general stereotype of an ice user is a scrawny criminal, no teeth, would rob his own mother, hangs out with all kinds of low-lives, prone to violence,” says Kerry. “But I was just going through a time in my life where everything had gotten too hard.”
He continues: “I never, ever intended to be living out of my car, blowing all of my savings, behaving the way that I did. I just wanted some relief from life.”
The Road to Recovery
Kerry has now been clean for close to a decade. Since entering recovery, he’s completed a university degree and taken up work as an alcohol and drug community caseworker. Kerry and his partner moved from Auckland to Brisbane five years ago, trailing behind Kerry’s close friend, Allan, who played an integral role in Kerry’s recovery.
So what triggered the turnaround? After five years of ice use, Kerry’s greatest fear—that everyone he loved would find out he was an ice user—came to pass.
“I was in a relationship at the time with somebody that didn’t know I was using and she found out,” he says. “She told the mother of my children and the mother of my children told my brother and it went on like that.”
Despite the damage caused by having his secret exposed—which included his ex-partner denying Kerry the right to see his children—Kerry realised he could no longer blame other people for his problems.
“I got kicked out and the first thing I did was go and score,” he says. “I used what I had left and the sun was coming up and I just suddenly went, ‘I’m done. I just can’t do this anymore.’ And I just knew in my soul that I was truly done.”
Kerry’s vow of abstinence was significant, but it was merely the beginning of an ongoing and often challenging journey in recovery. After a few months clean, Kerry started attending Narcotics Anonymous meetings and committed himself to the fellowship’s 12 step program of recovery.
“When I went to my first meeting, I saw a sense of hope,” says Kerry. “It was the first time I’d seen hope in ages and I just knew this is where I had to be.”
It was here that Kerry met Allan, a recovering alcohol and drug user who’d been clean for ten years at the time of their meeting. Kerry chose Allan as his sponsor.
“I remember the state of mind he was in when I first met him,” says Allan. “There was a bit of excitement in him around wanting to get his life back on track, but there was a deep unhappiness about him at that time.”
The sponsor-sponsee relationship is a core tenet of 12 step programs. Narcotics Anonymous Australia emphasises the arrangement’s centrality to recovery, explaining that “the therapeutic value of one addict helping another is without parallel.”
Being a sponsor isn’t about providing instruction, but about creating “alternative ways for people to live their lives or think about how to do things,” says Allan. One of the most important lessons Allan learned in recovery—and a precept he shared with Kerry—is that connection is the opposite of addiction.
“When addicts are under emotional pressure, financial pressure, life pressure, the first thing they want to do is take drugs to escape,” says Allan. “So there’s usually a number of regular phone calls, which are about how to get through particular situations clean.” As users find new ways to navigate society without using ice, they lean on their sponsors for support in rebuilding their lives; an unjudging ear to vent and relate to. The importance of this relationship underscores an important truth: recovery is a journey that does not need to be walked alone.
12 step programs place special emphasis on the principles of honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness. In fact, the official NA literature indicates that indifference to these principles will almost certainly result in failure.
Kerry’s prevailing sobriety is, in many ways, rooted in the empathetic bond he formed with Allan. “Allan was the first time I’d developed a really honest, one-on-one relationship with another guy, and learning how to be vulnerable and honest and not have it be about a macho pissing competition,” he says. “To lay all that stuff bare was very important.”
“We just have a really good, honest, open relationship,” says Kerry. Allan agrees: “I’m not his sponsor anymore, but he’s certainly one of my close friends.”
For Allan, witnessing Kerry’s recovery fills him with pride. “It’s been awesome to watch Kerry get his life back and know that I’ve played a part in that happening,” he says. “It’s unbelievable—that’s one of the gifts that I get from helping people.”
People who use ice can and do recover. If you are concerned about your own or someone else’s drug use, contact the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS), a free 24-hour 7-day anonymous and confidential service on 1800 177 833 to speak to one of their counsellors.