As a family member, friend or carer, dealing with a loved one’s methamphetamine addiction can be difficult territory – what do you say? How do you respond? What can you do?
We got the chance to chat with Rita Brien and Naomi Crafti from BreakThrough, a community information organisation dedicated to informing others on ice.
Q: Tell us a bit more about what BreakThrough is all about
A: BreakThrough: Ice education for families is a free community information session for anyone who might be concerned about a loved one who is using methamphetamine (ice). It has a unique focus on helping family members, partners and friends to understand and respond to someone affected by ice and providing links to appropriate support networks.
The program is a joint venture between Turning Point, Self Help Addiction Resource Centre (SHARC) and The Bouverie Centre. It was funded by the Department of Health and Human Services, Victoria in recognition that family members can often feel isolated and uninformed when a loved one is experiencing problems with alcohol or drug use. BreakThrough facilitators travel around Victoria, presenting to a range of metropolitan and regional audiences. Our website lists the current scheduled sessions: https://www.breakthroughforfamilies.com/attend.
Organisations, health services and community groups can request for a session to be hosted locally, almost anywhere in Victoria –they just need to get in touch!
Q:What does the BreakThrough program content contain?
A: The program covers facts about methamphetamine and its effects on the brain and body, which helps dispel some of the myths presented in the media and creates an understanding of what is going on for someone affected by ice. It also focuses on strategies for discussing drug use with loved ones, understanding relationship dynamics and responding to challenging situations. Most importantly, though, it provides people with pathways for accessing support for themselves and the whole family.
Feedback from participants suggests that BreakThrough can help people realise they are not alone, increase confidence when dealing with a loved one’s ice use and provide a sense of hope for themselves and their loved ones.
Q: Are there any major changing demographics when it comes to ice addiction?
A: Like most drugs, people who use methamphetamines are generally younger (under 40 years of age) and most likely to be male. It is important to note that population-level methamphetamine rates have been declining since the 1990s and in 2016, only 1.4% of Australians reported ice use in the past 12 months (approx. 70,000 people).
We also know that only 20% of these people use methamphetamine daily or weekly, but for these people, the personal, health and social harms experienced are more likely because of two factors:
1) the increased strength and purity of ice that makes it more toxic in lower doses; and
2) the nature of how ice-intoxication presents
For these 14,000 Australians, one in three may report experiencing an episode of psychosis in their lifetime. It is worth noting that in remote areas and marginalised communities, rates of drug use is often higher and the associated harms can be more obvious and alarming.
Q: What are the major steps families can take in supporting a loved one with an addiction?
A: Family members are often so concerned about “fixing” a loved one and holding everything together for everyone else, that they often overlook opportunities to seek support for themselves. Knowing how to respond to someone affected by ice can be incredibly challenging, especially when people feel guilt, shame, isolated and unable to talk about what is going on for them – so the first thing is to connecting with others and sharing their experiences. As parents, partners, siblings and children of someone experiencing a drug or alcohol problem, we may feel selfish engaging in self-care, but how can we expect to help or support others if we are unable to take proper care of ourselves?
Organisations like SHARC have programs like Family Drug Help who provide counselling, support and education programs that are run by people who have lived experience of problematic drug use in their own families. Linking in with services like this and people who understand your problem is such an empowering first step.
Q: What do you think is the biggest misconception about addiction?
A: That there is an on/off switch to addiction and people are making conscious and moral choices to engage in harmful behaviour. Addiction is much more complicated than this and people with serious drug and alcohol problems often experiencing concurrent social and/or mental health issues which can lead to shame, guilt and marginalisation. It is a common misperception that if someone can just stop using drugs, even briefly, that they are well on the way to recovery. Sadly, this is not the case. There is no single way to overcome addiction. Checking into detox or rehab does not suddenly ‘cure’ someone of underlying biological, psychological and social problems.
If we think about how difficult it can be to stop smoking and remove the value judgement often attached to illicit drugs because they are illegal, then it can be easier to understand addiction from the individual’s perspective and provide support. People need to be ready and willing to change their own behaviour but they also must believe in their ability to succeed. This requires a lot of planning, commitment and support from those around us.