Info and events Mental Health Support Looking after your mental health How using drugs and alcohol can affect your mental health. Why do people use drugs and alcohol Where can I get help? Are you drinking too much? Why do people use drugs and alcohol? There are many reasons why people use drugs and alcohol: this can include pressure to ‘fit in’ with friends, or as a way to boost – or calm - one’s mood. Alcohol and drugs are often addictive, though – this can be either a physical addiction, where your body ‘needs’ the substance, or a psychological addiction, where your mind craves the associated ‘feel-good factor’ it receives. For many people, what might have started as experimentation can quickly become a devastating addiction. What’s the harm? There are risks associated with taking any substance. With illegal drugs it is due to the fact that these are often mass-produced and shipped across the world. At multiple points along the way these substances are ‘cut’ – that is, a portion of the substance is replaced with something similar to hide the missing ingredients – so that those distributing it can sell more, and gain a higher profit. For example, only a small proportion of a drug like cocaine might actually contain that substance, with the rest made up of fillers such as laundry powder, laxatives, paracetamol, amphetamines, etc. Drugs are also mixed with similar-coloured ingredients, to make it impossible to tell just by looking at them what you’re really buying. As a result there is a risk of overdose, as it is possible to buy a particularly strong variant without realising and end up taking the same amount as you usually would of a weaker version. How the substance is taken as well as what the drug is itself matters Injecting This is the most risky method, as there are risks of contracting hepatitis or HIV, as well as long term damage, such as collapsed veins. There is also a high risk of overdose associated with injecting. Smoking This carries the same risks as for those who smoke cigarettes - for example, with cancer of the lungs, mouth, or throat; heart disease, stroke and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Snorting This damages the cartilage (the hard part in the nose), and the septum (the cartilage that separates the nose into two nostrils) can begin to rot away due to long-term use, causing severe pain. A less well known risk of snorting substances is the risk of contracting hepatitis; in the same way as individuals who share needles to inject are at risk of this, so too can those who share straws or other implements to snort a substance be vulnerable to contracting a blood-borne virus. Ingesting or swallowing This also carries certain risks. For example, alcohol, as well as causing harm to the liver, increases the risk of cancer in the mouth, throat and larynx (the voicebox). The overall type of substance being used also has an impact on users. Drugs that cause a ‘high’ - such as cocaine, ecstasy, and amphetamines - have a ‘comedown’ effect; in other words, after the high has faded the person’s mood tends to drop. For this reason, people might decide to take more of the substance, and quickly develop an addiction as they try to boost their mood and fight the comedown. Alternatively, substances taken with the intention of slowing down and relaxing, such as heroin, Diazepam and alcohol, can be just as harmful. Users may also keep using the substance to try and feel an artificial sense of calmness. It can also become a way of escaping from emotional or physical pain, and so a dependency can develop if it is used to help with sleeping or relaxing. Because these drugs work by slowing down the heart and breathing, there is a risk of accidental overdose which can lead to coma or, in some cases, can even be fatal. Where can I get help? For anyone affected by an addiction to drugs or alcohol it is important to seek help; some substances, such as alcohol, can be dangerous to stop using suddenly, as the body has become dependent and the impact of ceasing usage can be fatal. Your GP can refer you to your local Community Addictions Team within your local NHS Trust – this is also a good place to start as your GP can also assess and discuss the impact the drug(s) and/or alcohol are having on your physical and mental health. Are you drinking too much? Many people don’t always know how much alcohol they drink and whether their drinking could have any impact on their health. Our alcohol self-assessment can help you identify if the amount you drink could be putting your health at serious risk. CHECK HOW HEALTHY YOUR DRINKING IS WITH THIS QUICK QUIZ. Download factsheet Useful Links Finding an addiction service for you You can locate details of the Extern's Drug and Alcohol services which may be near you here.