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Drugs, alcohol and mental health

Drugs and alcohol change the way your brain and body work. They change the balance of chemicals that help your brain to think, feel, create and make decisions.

If you’re going through a tough time, it can be tempting to use drugs and alcohol as a coping strategy. However, these are addictive substances that can cause symptoms of depression and/or anxiety or make an existing problem worse, while making recovery much harder. Some people with depression and/or anxiety can also develop problems with drugs and alcohol, which may also need treatment.

Changing drug and alcohol habits can take time, but with support and perseverance you will notice positive changes in your mental and physical wellbeing.

Drugs, alcohol and your mind

Drugs and alcohol affect the the chemical messaging processes in your brain, so it’s difficult to predict how you will respond to them. Everyone is different. Every drug is different. And with illegal drugs you never quite know exactly what’s in them.

Some people use drugs or alcohol because they think they will make them feel better, but they can actually leave you feeling worse – anxious and agitated, or flat, unmotivated and moody. Your sense of reality can be affected too.

These reactions may be short term but they can still affect the way you think, make decisions and behave. There is a risk that while intoxicated you might act in ways that are out of character and that you later regret; you might act aggressively, take unnecessary risks or attempt to hurt yourself. Regular use can create health problems, affect your relationships with your friends and family, as well as causing potential problems for you at home or work.

Types of drugs and alcohol

There are three main types of drugs – depressants, stimulants and hallucinogens. They all cause your mind and body to react in different ways.

Depressants slow your body down; your breathing and heart rate can slow down, you can experience nausea and vomiting, and your ability to think and react to what is happening around you can be affected. Alcohol, heroin, cannabis, sedatives and inhalants are all depressants.

Cannabis can cause depression, acute panic attacks or ongoing anxiety and paranoia, even in people who have never previously shown signs of having a mental health condition. There is no known ‘safe’ level of cannabis use.

Stimulants speed your body up. They increase your heart rate, body temperature and blood pressure. People using stimulants can feel an increase in confidence, motivation and energy, and a decrease in the need for sleep.

Hallucinogens affect your sense of time and your emotional state, and can cause you to experience auditory or visual hallucinations (hearing or seeing things that aren’t there). Many people experience unpleasant or scary changes to their reality as a result of using hallucinogens.

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