Here’s What Drug Support Services Are Really Like Behind The Scenes

This article originally appeared in VICE Australia.

Content warning: this article touches on themes of self-harm and suicide.

Crystal methamphetamine (ice) is categorised by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) as the drug that most significantly impacts communities in Queensland. Nationally, methamphetamine use declined from 3.4% in 2001 to 1.3% in 2019. However, ice continues to contribute to significant health and social harms, with the rate of ice-related deaths in Queensland increasing by 144% since 1997.

But ice use doesn’t end on the Queensland border. It affects every part of Australia, from the cities to the suburbs, and for those affected by drug use, things can feel hopeless. While help services exist across the country, many feel unease at the prospect of going to a rehab centre – portrayed in society as cold, sterile facilities. Some may fear the stigma of judgement, or the relinquishing of freedom. But are these fears warranted?

We sat down with Mikey, who has lived experience of drug use, and Jason Stace, a support service worker, to find out what it’s really like behind the scenes of drug help support services. Both Mikey and Jason have extensive experience with the Lives Lived Well Specialist Centre in Queensland’s Burleigh Heads.

Jason Stace, Program Coordinator

PTV: Hey Jason, can you tell me a little about Lives Lived Well (LLW) and what your role is there?

Jason: Lives Lived Well is a Non-Government Organisation (NGO) of about 500 staff providing a number of services across the community in NSW and QLD, predominantly Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD), mental health and gambling support programs. We are a leading AOD support provider and have approximately 10 residential facilities.

I manage one of the residential facilities, specialising in AOD treatment. I help the day-to-day running of the facility, support the staff in formulating appropriate clinical treatment and interventions to suit the individual and setting.

What inspired you to pursue this kind of work?

I have always been someone who likes to help other people. The main reason I stay working in AOD services is the results and outcomes for people are generational. I have seen people who have known nothing but multi-generational AOD use, neglect and hardship, change in such a way that sees their children break the addiction cycle in its full capacity.

I imagine it can be pretty rewarding seeing people turn their lives around, and playing such an active role in that positive turn.

I have seen many great outcomes and lots of lives finding purpose – one, in particular, was a client in the grip of drug dependence for well over a decade. Major declining health, severe isolation, depression, numerous overdoses and a lot of financial, family and legal issues, together with no history of education. That person went on to recover, study, work in the medical field, became a doctor and is now a leading surgeon. A person now very happy, healthy and who continues to have purpose.

That is incredible. How do you deal with the inevitable emotional turmoil that comes with your role?

I was on the frontline for many years and that’s where we predominantly see and feel the emotional challenges. When I was directly delivering these roles, I managed it well. I practised regular self-care like good eating, sleeping, exercising, meditation, taking time to myself – things like that.

Do you find people come in with preconceived ideas and misconceptions about what treatment is like?

Yes, residential treatment tends to be less like a day spa – some think this is the case coming in – and more like a responsible community of people, staff-led and largely supported. On the other hand, some may think they’re going to get locked away in a clinic-type setting with psychs and doctors trying to change them. Some might be worried that if they come, everyone will find out about it, or some may be worried rehab is full of “bad” people.

The reality is that residentials are not a psych ward: it’s extremely confidential, a safe space to reflect, become vulnerable and embrace treatment. And people generally make lifelong friends here as they connect through the struggle and triumph of recovery. This is a unique thing in society.

What do you think it is that draws people to start using ice?

The traditional view of AOD dependency across the board is largely due to environmental factors. People grow up in generational abuse, dysfunctional families and use ice and other drugs as a way to cope with their life, and they develop behaviours along with this as survival mechanisms. This view is still regarded, and evidence-based.

However, others whose lives don’t fit this traditional view can often use it to relax and relieve stress, or to relieve boredom, to be part of a group, experiment out of a sense of curiosity and excitement and or even rebellion. One thing proven is that ice is very addictive.

Where would you recommend people start if they are trying to get help or help a loved one who needs it?

The internet has loads of options to make a start, and these enquiries are quick and easy and not overly intrusive. This also suits our current generation being raised on devices to communicate, and it’s less confronting. You can actually get counselling virtually on the phone without even meeting anyone these days. Help is out there.

Mikey*, recovered ice user

PTV: Hey Mikey, can you tell me about your history with ice and the moment you decided it was time to seek help?

Mikey: I’m a 33-year-old recovering ice addict, and I’ve now been in recovery for two years and six months. I was at the height of my addiction for five years and was hooked from the very first time I had tried it. The power that ice had over me made it the only thing I wanted to do and the only thing I could think about. At the time I was developing an addiction, I had everything I thought I wanted. I was running a very successful business which was making me a lot of money, I had a steady relationship with my then-girlfriend, owned a unit and a good car. However, the pull of ice made me prioritise getting my next fix over all of that. I began to realise that ice completely controlled me.

The first time I used ice, I experienced a state of pure euphoria and ecstasy. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Each subsequent time using, the high began to diminish until I found myself chasing a feeling that I could never again achieve – so I needed more and more. And I used more and more. In this state of constantly chasing the unattainable, I began to experience the ugly side of addiction. I found that I was unable to work and started to develop drug-induced psychoses. I lied and cheated and stole – all to feed my addiction.

It got to a point where I ended up in a place of crippling depression where I resorted to self-harm. My thoughts revolved around the best and easiest way to end the pain that I was going through. My main thought was how can I finish this? Suicide it seemed, was the only option.

It was then that I felt like I had two choices. I seek help for my addiction after several already failed attempts, or death. I had hit rock bottom. I had had enough and wanted it all to stop. I was homeless and couldn’t stop using every day, but I knew a rehab centre would offer me the help I needed.

I’m glad you found the help you needed. How did using a drug help service aid in your recovery?

It helped in a number of ways. I was physically and mentally bankrupt when entering the residence. For the first time in months, I slept in the comfort of a room with a bed in stable accommodation. I started to eat properly again and developed a normal routine. I was in a safe environment and knew that whenever I felt like using, I had a safe space where I could sit with the thought and reach out for support from other like-minded people and workers who could get me through.

I also developed tools that could help me live a life without ice. Things like taking each day at a time and focussing on getting through in small increments rather than looking at the bigger picture which could be overwhelming. Because of the nature of rehab in which you are isolated and kept from outside stressors and triggers, I was able to focus on my recovery and my recovery alone.

I found that the biggest help for me in my recovery was the rehab service introducing me to recovery meetings in the community. They connected me to other people, also in recovery, who today still inspire me and show me the way to live a life without ice. Without the rehab service, I would not have been introduced to this sober community and it is this that has been pivotal in keeping me from using every single day.

What is a big misconception people might have about accessing help for those experiencing problems with their use of ice?

I think a big misconception people have is that they’ll be judged or that they will lose anonymity. There is a huge stigma surrounding ice addiction and I was definitely afraid to tell anyone that it was something I was struggling with.

I also felt that rehab would take away my freedoms and would feel like being in jail – I had this belief before I participated in my last treatment – however, in reality, it was the total opposite. I actually really enjoyed rehab for the most part and had moments that were a lot of fun. I still enjoyed doing hobbies that I love like surfing, walking in nature and being active. It was a lot more freedom than I was expecting. I was even able to work as a labourer while I was in treatment.

That’s great to hear. What was the hardest part of your recovery?

The first 60 days, my head was a mess. My emotions were up and down and the craving to get high was intense and non-stop. I found it hard to let go of all that I had lost and be in the present time. After the initial two months, things started to get easier and my mental health started to improve. It was incredibly hard but thanks to the services that I had around me, I got through it all and have built an amazing life today.

What kept you strong in those first two months, and what motivates you to continue to stay strong in recovery?

For me, ice addiction is a mental, physical and spiritual disease. So in order for me to stay strong in recovery, I like to focus on these three aspects of my life. For my mental health, I take part in daily meditations and keep up a good daily routine. To keep on top of my physical health I ensure that I am eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep. In my spiritual health, I connect to my higher power that I have found through my 12-step program. By focussing on these aspects of my life, I find that my recovery is stronger than my addiction and that keeps me on a positive path.

I am motivated to stay in recovery as I have a healthy fear of what can happen if I ever pick up again. Today I live a life that is too valuable to me to lose over ice. I have money in the bank, a car, a roof over my head, food in the fridge, a beautiful girlfriend, amazing family and friends… and for once in my life I no longer hate myself. I wouldn’t have any of this if I started using ice again. I feel human again. I have re-learned what it is to feel.

Have you been able to use your lived experience to help others in your recovery?

Yes, I have been able to use my experience to help. It is vital to my recovery. I volunteer once a week at the same rehab service that helped me. I take the time in these sessions to talk to the residents and listen to their stories. I share my own experiences and give strength and hope to those that are struggling. I find that I have a special connection with these people as there is nothing like a recovering addict helping another addict.

A lot of this work is through texts and calls, checking in on others and being open and there to listen in a time of need. I have also on occasion spoken in front of groups at institutions, rehabs and detox clinics. I try to give people hope when they are at their lowest point. Hope that they have a chance at reaching recovery and in turn happiness.

Through the program I learnt to be selfless and to help others, people who were once just like me. In this, I have found great joy and satisfaction. It has boosted my self-esteem and given me purpose. I am now achieving things in my life that I never thought possible.

Do you have any final words of advice for anyone looking for help right now?

With the right help and support and dedication, recovery is possible. If I can get off ice, then anyone can.

*Mikey’s name has been changed to protect his identity.

If you’re 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. Family Drug Support also provides help for people impacted by the alcohol or other drug use of a family member. Phone 24 hours, 7 days a week on 1300 368 186. Alternatively, visit for information.