It might be difficult to know what to do if you are worried about someone who is using meth. It can be particularly concerning if they are using meth and not telling you.
People use meth for different reasons and in a variety of patterns:
- Many people, often adolescents and youth, try drugs once or twice out of curiosity and don't keep using it.
- Some people use meth for specific purposes such as to: stay awake (e.g. long-distance drivers); improve concentration (e.g. students); reduce weight; enhance endurance (e.g. for sporting events); or to boost energy for other activities.
- Some people use meth from time to time for enjoyment, to socialise at parties, clubs, dance parties etc.
- Others use moderate to high doses in an on-off pattern ('binge' use).
- Some people use meth weekly, several times weekly or even daily. Regular users are more likely to be dependent on meth, have great difficulty cutting down or stopping, and have problems with their physical and mental health.
Not every person who uses meth is dependent, so it's important to acknowledge this when you raise the issue with your friend or family member.
Things to consider before raising a concern
Helping someone who is not ready to change their behaviour is challenging, especially when the decision to get help is ultimately theirs. If you do approach a person you are concerned about, there are several things you might want to consider before doing so;
Find out as much as you can about meth and its effects (both desired and undesired) so you can understand the issues and be better equipped for a meaningful discussion. This site provides information about different aspects of meth use, as well as links to sites that provide more detailed information.
Choose a good time to talk
Meth can create paranoia and aggression in people who have been using for a significant period of time. Choose a time to approach the topic when the person appears to be calm. Be aware that the person may be in denial or resistant to addressing the issue and you won't be able to force them to open up or seek treatment. If they become too defensive or agitated, it might be best to end the conversation and try again another time.
Keep your emotions in check
Make sure that you're prepared to raise the issue without becoming emotional or judging the person that you're trying to help. This can be very hard to do. If you stay calm then they might stay calm as well. Rehearse what you'll say until you feel confident that you can stay calm and focused. You don't want your best intentions to end up closing the door on future conversations.
Discuss issues openly
Be specific about your concerns, listen without criticising or judging, and try to understand what's happening for the person you care about. If the person's meth use is impacting on you, negotiate an agreement that suits everyone and be clear about your own needs. This might be particularly difficult to do so it's worth speaking to a counsellor first, or, other families with a lived experience of a similar situation - see 'Help for families and friends' below.
Speak to a counsellor
It may help you to get personalised information or advice before you talk to the person you care about. Counsellors can help you figure out the best way to approach the person and ways to communicate. This site provides contact information for organisations that offer confidential telephone, face-to-face, or online help for people who are worried about someone's use of meth and other drugs - see 'Help for families and friends' below.
Meth intoxication - what to look for...
Signs of methamphetamine intoxication vary according to the amount of methamphetamine (and other drugs) taken and can include the following:
- rapid or pressured speech (fast, loud and difficult-to-interrupt speech), or jumping from one topic to another
- restlessness, agitation, pacing
- repetitive movements
- impulsivity or recklessness
- clenched jaw, teeth grinding (bruxism)
- suspiciousness or paranoia
- large (dilated) pupils
- anger, irritability, hostility, particularly if it is out of character.
Responding to an intoxicated person
The aims when responding to a person who is intoxicated are to maintain a calm environment to reduce the chance that the person will become angry or hostile and to promote a positive, helpful interaction. Remember that an intoxicated person has impaired judgment and will probably see the interaction differently to you.
What you should do
- If other people are present, try to steer the intoxicated person to an area that is less stimulating while ensuring that you both have an easily accessible exit
- Maintain a calm, nonjudgmental, respectful approach
- Listen, and respond as promptly as possible, to needs or requests - I hear what you are saying, so let me see what I can do to help
- Allow the person more personal space than usual
- Use clear communication — short sentences, repetition, and ask for clarification if you are unsure what is said. (I really want to help, but I’m not sure what you need. Please tell me again.)
- Move around with the intoxicated person to continue communication if necessary
- Have written information available for the person to take away
- Provide opportunistic, relevant, brief interventions if you are able.
What you should avoid
- Do not argue with the person and do not use ‘no’ messages. If you cannot provide what they are asking for, be clear about what you can provide
- Do not take the person’s behaviour or any criticisms personally
- Do not ask a lot of questions — ask only what is necessary to respond to the situation, as the person will have low tolerance for frustration or questioning
- Do not undertake a lengthy discussion or try to counsel the person.
Meth overdose - what to look for...
Meth overdose, like all stimulant overdose, is a medical emergency and if untreated can lead to heart attack, stroke, and dangerous overheating. Signs of possible overdose include:
- hot, flushed or very sweaty skin which can mean very high fever
- severe headache
- chest pain
- difficulty breathing
- mental confusion
- unsteady walking
- severe agitation or panic
- rigid muscles, tremors, fierce jerking movements of the limbs
Remember signs of overdose as the 4 Hs:
- Have a fit.
First Aid for Meth Overdose
DIAL 000 AND CALL AN AMBULANCE IMMEDIATELY
- Reduce stimulation - Move the person to a quiet, safe place away from people, noise, light and heat
- Cool the body.
- If unconscious - place the person on his or her side to make sure that breathing is not obstructed
- If muscle spasms or fits occur - remove anything from around the person that could cause injury. Don't sit on the person or restrain in any way
- Reassure - stay with the person until the ambulance arrives, keep calm, and give lots of reassurance.
Help for families and friends
There are family drug help support services around Australia that offer 24 hour telephone helplines where you can speak to other family members with a lived experience of supporting someone with a drug problem. They also provide counselling, organise support group meetings, run education programs and have online fact sheets and help material available for download. Prominent services include;
Our services are also available and free to family members - chat live to a counsellor, send an email or join our community forum to get support from others. The range of services we offer can be found in our 'How we can help' page.
Drug and alcohol treatment services also provide counselling and education programs for families. We can help you find a service, or, you can phone a 24 hour helpline service in your State. Again, see our 'How we can help' page.