Eighteen months ago, he was a hardworking, respectful and loving son with a steady girlfriend and a good job.
Today, the young man in his early 20s is unemployed, living from couch to car and, his mother can only guess, associating mostly with criminals and addicts.
The changes in the life of this young man are a result of the frightening new drug on our streets, ice or methamphetamine, also known as crystal meth.
The young man’s mother has spoken about the nightmare ice has wrought on her family in the hope that other parents may spot the signs of addiction in their children and be able to intervene before it’s too late.
She is also pushing for a crack-down on the number of ice-affected drivers on the road and lobbying for better access to rehab facilities for Shoalhaven users who have become addicted to this insidious drug.
The first changes in the behaviour of the normally quiet and friendly young man could probably only ever have been detected by a mother’s eye.
“I just noticed something different in him,” his mother said.
“He was not relaxed, he was a bit hurried. Then I noticed he wasn’t eating his evening meal.
“It stood out because it was happening night after night.
“He had always worked hard and been up early for work, so previously he would come home, have dinner and be in bed early.
“But he started staying out late at nights.
“Then there was a week where it looked like he hadn’t really slept much at all.
“When I asked him about it he would say he’d been staying out at a mate’s house.
“Sometimes a new face I didn’t know would turn up at the house, and he didn’t introduce me to them, which was most unusual.
“Then he started displaying compulsive behaviours and speaking really fast. I thought he was developing anxiety.”
Finally, she rang one of the friends he’d claimed to have been staying with.
The friend said her son hadn’t been there, and that he had started hanging out with different people outside of his usual group of close friends.
“Naively, I never thought about ice, even though I’d heard about how bad it was,” she said.
Finally, after weeks of sleepless nights and worry, her son opened up to her.
“He came in and sat down and said ‘Mum, I’ve been taking ice’.
“He was crying and very upset. He said he needed help.
“At the time I thought, OK, so we know now so we can do something about it.
“But once I knew it became apparent to me that he was taking it every day, in his car, at home or when he was out.
“I did a fair bit of research and realised the addictive nature of it. That really scared me. He told me he was taking it as soon as he got up in the morning. Every single cent of his pay was going on it.”
But finding help for her son proved to be much harder than she thought.
After two failed stints at rehab in Wollongong, she became convinced that a facility closer to home which allowed more contact with family may have been more successful for him.
The first time he was sent home for breaking two of the strict house rules of the facility.
On the second attempt, he was one day away from being allowed to have his first contact with family when he broke down and said he couldn’t cope anymore and left the facility.
“He’d never really been away from his family before, and he found himself the youngest one in there with hard core drug addicts. It was very tough.”
She also believes that his own disappointment in himself after every failed attempt refuelled his need to take the drug to erase the pain.
“He’ll talk sometimes about his disappointment in himself and how he wants to stop. He will talk for half an hour but then go out and get high.”
As he sank back into familiar patterns, his mother’s greatest fear was that he was driving under the influence of ice.
“There had been times when I found him asleep behind the wheel of his car,” she said.
The trauma of his addiction has reverberated throughout the whole family, with his mother in a constant state of anxiety about his future.
“I stopped being able to sleep. I was always worried about him.
“Would the police come knocking on my door because he was in an accident or had been found lying dead somewhere?
“I’m frightened he’s going to end up in jail. I’m frightened he’s going to kill himself.
“It got to the point where I was always cranky with other family members because I was always worried about him. I became depressed.”
Eighteen months since her son started using, she says she has no idea what the future holds, and her son’s personality has completely changed.
“He was a naive young man with a very big heart. He was used to a close family and mates he’d had from school.
“Now he has become very detached. He’s unemotional and dismissive.
“My son, who was a deeply caring, empathetic person has become someone who is very cold.
“I never thought I would be in this situation.
“I’m told it’s freely available and that ice wasn’t even in Shoalhaven four years ago, and now it’s everywhere.”
- KATHY SHARPE
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