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Alcohol and drug use

Reading time: 7-9 minutes 

This page deals with topics of substance abuse and addiction. 

Alcohol and drugs are substances that people consume for a number of reasons. A person might use them to get a temporary ‘high’ or to cope with negative feelings or events in their life. Some people might feel social pressure to use drugs, while others may just be curious and want to experience what they feel like.

Some drugs are legal (like alcohol and tobacco), while many others are illegal. There are also controlled substances, which are legal if you’ve been prescribed them by a doctor, but illegal if not.

All drugs, including alcohol, impact your mental health in some way. You may feel, act or interpret things differently when under the influence, and the effects can be long-term or short-term, pleasant or unpleasant. Even if you take the same drug more than once, you might not feel the same each time. Know the score has an A-Z list of different drugs and their potential effects and symptoms on their website.

There are various factors that can make drug use harmful. For example:

  • You may have a bad reaction
  • You don’t know what’s in them or the exact dosage
  • Drug use can lead to mental health problems in the long-run, like schizophrenia.
  • You may become dependent on drugs
  • Taking drugs to cope with a current mental health problem can be particularly problematic (this may be referred to as dual diagnosis – Mind goes into more detail about this).

What feelings can they lead to?

Taking any substance continuously, legal or otherwise, can rewire the body into believing that the substance is needed in order for it to function. When this happens, you may develop a dependency on drugs. This can interfere with your life in significant ways. In terms of your mental health, you may experience:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Sudden mood swings
  • Lack of motivation
  • Paranoia
  • Aggression or irritability
  • Negative feelings about life
  • Low self-esteem
  • Guilt
  • Memory loss
  • Lack of concentration
  • Drug-induced psychosis 
  • Suicidal thoughts

Drug abuse can disrupt other areas of your life too, which may also worsen your mental health and general wellbeing. Some of these include:

  • Money problems
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Trouble continuing with school, college or university
  • Difficulty maintaining a job
  • Impact on physical health, which can lead to long-term damage to organs and certain types of cancer
  • Housing problems, e.g. not being able to pay rent or being asked to leave your current home
  • Increased likelihood of having an accident
  • Criminal record, perhaps even imprisonment

There are lots of potential effects and symptoms of alcohol and drug use (much more than we can fit in here!) but we’ve included plenty of resources in our Support section below if you’d like to read some more. Bear in mind that everyone will have different experiences with drugs. While one person might struggle with several of the things that we’ve listed above, another person might experience just one.

What might help?

If you think that you’ve become dependent on drugs:

If you’re worried about your drug use, you might be feeling quite scared about the potential consequences that it might be having on your mind and body. It can be even more difficult when you want to stop but don’t know how. The important thing to remember is that support is out there and you’re not alone. Thousands of people have overcome drug dependencies and now lead happy, healthier lives.

Talk to someone. You might find it very hard to open up about your relationship with drugs out of fear of judgment. However, it can be helpful to tell someone that you trust about what you’re going through. They may be able to offer support, either by helping you to seek professional treatment or to be there when you’re struggling to cope. If nothing else, letting someone else know can feel like a big relief. There are lots of helplines that you can call if you don’t feel comfortable telling someone that you know (see our Support section below).

See a GP. If you’re concerned that you might have a drug dependency, talking to a GP can be a good step in the right direction. Try to be as honest as possible about what you’re using, how much and how often. Your GP is not there to judge you – it’s their job to help you in your journey to recovery. They may discuss different therapies and medications with you or direct you to a drug and alcohol service. Depending on your situation, your GP might refer you to a specialist mental health team, especially if you have existing mental health conditions.

Find support in your area. You might find it helpful to access support near you without going to a GP. This could be in the form of a local drug and alcohol service or further resources and advice. The Frank website has a really useful search function, which allows you to find different support options where you live.

Join a support group. Listening to the experiences of other people can make you feel less alone and more hopeful about the future. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are good places to start – they hold hundreds of online meetings for people who are struggling with drug or alcohol dependency. You can also contact FRANK via phone, email or text to ask about support groups near you, or ask your GP.

If you want to cut down:

Even if you’re not dependent on drugs or alcohol, you may want to reduce the amount that you’re consuming to improve your mental and physical health. There are lots of things that might be able to help you:

  • Drink Aware provides loads of advice, tools and action plans to help you cut down on your drinking.
  • Recognise what leads you to drink or take drugs. Knowing your triggers can help you to plan ahead and come up with alternative things that you could do instead. For example, if you often find yourself drinking on a Friday evening after a stressful week, you could plan to have a pizza and movie night instead. If you’re not sure what your triggers are, it might be useful to keep a diary to keep track of when you take drugs or drink alcohol and any events that might have led to it.
  • Put aside any money that you save. Create a separate savings account. Whenever you decide not to buy drugs or alcohol, put the money that you would have spent into that account. You might be surprised at how much money you can save by reducing your intake!
  • Make small changes. Sometimes, taking smaller steps can be more effective in the long-run. You might find it difficult to significantly cut down on your drug or alcohol consumption at first, so try reducing it bit by bit. For example, you might try adding more mixer to your alcoholic beverage, or placing a stricter budget on your alcohol or drug spend.
  • Reduce your stress levels. If you’re often quite stressed or worried about things going on in your life, you might find yourself turning to drugs or alcohol for temporary relief. Trying a few techniques to ease your stress might help, like practising mindfulness or talking to someone about how you’re feeling. You can find more tips on our stress and anxiety page.

Where to go for more support

There’s a wealth of information and support out there for anyone who needs it:

  • FRANK provides information, advice and articles about drugs. They also have a free helpline, which you can call on 0300 123 6600. 
  • Antidote is a drug and alcohol support service aimed at the LGBTQ+ community. It offers counselling, free drop-in services, advice and more for those who want to talk about drug or alcohol issues.
  • Change Grow Live has lots of tips for cutting down on alcohol and drugs, as well as links to useful resources, treatment options and help for family and friends. They also have support services across the UK, which you can search for using their service finder tool. One of their services, Eclypse, is specifically aimed at young people under 25 who are living with drug or alcohol problems.
  • Achieve Young People’s Team is a Salford-based drug and alcohol service for anyone aged 21 or under. They offer confidential support and advice for young people who are affected by drugs and alcohol, as well as their families or carers. 
  • YoungMinds explores the effects of drugs and alcohol on your mental health and suggests ways to get support. Their free messenger service is available 24/7 if you’d like to chat to someone about what you’re going through via text.
  • Call Samaritans on 116 123 if things are getting too much for you or you’d just like to talk to someone. You can also send them an email at jo@samaritans.org.
  • Adfam offers support to anyone who is affected by a loved one’s drug or alcohol dependency. 

Seek support from 42nd We provide a number of face-to-face services, all of which offer something slightly different depending on what you want to get out of the support. Whilst we don't offer specialist support around alcohol or drug use, it may help to talk with someone. We provide a confidential, non-judgmental environment for you to talk about your experiences and feelings. However, we ask that you do not come to sessions under the influence of drugs or alcohol. You can also chat with one of our workers online via text - just register for ongoing online support via our online support portal. We also hold weekly drop-in sessions so that you can speak to a worker without an appointment. You can read about our services here.

By: Ruby Guyler 

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