Alcohol & Drugs
Lots of people enjoy alcohol and drugs in moderation. If you’re worried about how much or how often you’re using alcohol or drugs, thinking about how much you consume is the first step.
Alcohol and drug use is a problem when:
- Carrying out your everyday life becomes difficult because of how much or how often you take them.
- You have uncontrollable or intense cravings to drink or take drugs
- You regret things you’ve done or said while drinking or taking drugs
- If you are struggling with alcohol or drugs, or just want to talk to someone, you can chat to the CALM helpline.
Drinking and taking drugs is associated with having a good time, perhaps socialising with friends, chilling out after a hard day, or celebrating an achievement. But sometimes our relationship with alcohol and drugs goes past ‘the good times’ and can begin to take a toll on our lives. That’s because alcohol and drugs are addictive substances that alter our mood and behaviour. And, because drink and drugs are associated with so many good things and in some cases are even part of our culture, it can be difficult to tell when things have got out of hand.
If you or someone you care about is struggling with alcohol or drugs, it’s good to talk. You can chat to the CALM helpline here between 5pm-midnight. It’s free, anonymous, confidential and non judgemental. You can find out more about drink and drug addiction here.
How do alcohol or drug problems feel?
It can feel embarrassing or even shameful to bring up our worries around drink or drugs, but there is nothing to be ashamed about. In England there are an estimated 586,780 dependent drinkers and it’s important to remember that there is support out there.
Alcohol and drug addiction don’t happen overnight – it might even feel as if they creep up on you. If you’re not sure about whether your relationship with alcohol or drugs is becoming problematic, take a look at some of the symptoms or signs below:
- Regularly drinking more than you intended to
- Binge drinking (Not drinking for a long period and then drinking excessively in a short period)
- Finding it hard to say no to an alcoholic drink
- Regularly drinking more than you intended to
- Missing an appointment or life event because of a drinking session or hangover
- Feeling the need to drink to relax
- Blacking out/forgetting what you did when drinking,
- Behaving in a way you regret when you are sober.
- Physical symptoms like
- An inability to say no to drugs
- Uncontrollable and compulsive cravings for a drug
- Continual drug use despite harmful repercussions
- Long-lasting changes in the brain/body
How can alcohol or drugs affect mental health?
Both alcohol and drugs have mood-altering effects, and while some short-lived feelings may be pleasurable, consistent use may have long-term and negative effects on mental wellbeing. Feelings may include:
- Lack of interest in things
- Suicidal thoughts
- Tiredness or irritability
- Change in attitude
- Secretive behaviour
Everyone’s experience is unique and you may be unsure whether or not your relationship with alcohol or drugs is damaging, but any concerns you have are valid reasons to seek support or advice.
What is addiction?
When we see images or storylines around addiction in the media, people are often shown negatively – but that isn’t the case. Anyone can become addicted to something and experiencing addiction does not make you a bad person.
And it’s not just substances that we can become addicted do. We can become addicted to anything – shopping, sex, coffee, sugar, the list is endless and not limited to alcohol and drugs. Addiction is defined as a compulsion to use a substance, or perform a certain behaviour in order to feel good or avoid feeling bad. Addictions come into two categories, physical and psychological.
Physical addiction happens when you continually use a substance until your body is no longer able to function without it. Changes in your body chemistry create a hunger for the substance that you feel you must continue feeding. When you don’t use this substance, you may suffer symptoms of withdrawal, such as body aches, nausea, mood swings and more.
Psychological addiction is when your brain gets hooked on a substance or behaviour because it makes you feel a certain way. This is an emotional or mental attachment and without the substance or behaviour, your emotions may spiral.
Anyone can become addicted to something, but there are often triggers which make us more susceptible. These may include trauma, abuse, stress, self-esteem issues, or difficulty at school or work. One misconception is that all addictions are severe, however there you can have a mild addiction.
Where can I find help?
- Talk to CALM from 5pm to midnight everyday. Our professional helpline workers are there to talk and to help you find ways to move forward. Calls and webchats are free, anonymous, non-judgemental and confidential.
- Outside of these hours, calls the Samaritans on 116 123
- Contact your GP for an appointment
Dealing with alcohol and drug issues
If you notice that your tolerance is increasing – you have to drink more to get the same effect or feeling – it might be worth taking stock of how much you’re drinking or using. Here’s some things to do or think about that might help:
- Talk to someone. Sharing your worries or stresses will help you look at things a little more clearly and help you find a way to move forward.
- Is there anything that is making you feel like you want to drink or use more? Perhaps work is stressful or a relationship is strained?
- If you try to cut back then slip up, don’t stress. Dealing with addiction is tough and we all fall off the wagon sometimes. The important thing is that you press reset and start again.
- Be safe. If you’re drinking or using drugs, try to do this in the safest environment and way possible.
- If completely cutting yourself off seems overwhelming, start by aiming for a couple of drink/drug free days a week. This will start to help your body rebalance and regenerate.
- Look at other ways to cope with your feelings i.e. exercise outdoors, art or socialising within a positive and helpful network
Tackling a drink or drug issue can be tricky and what works varies from person to person. Depending on how much you drink or use drugs, different things will work for you. If you speak to a GP or healthcare provider they may offer some of the following treatment options:
- Counselling – including self-help groups and talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- Detoxification – this involves a nurse or doctor supporting you to safely stop drinking; this can be done by helping you slowly cut down over time or by giving you medicines to prevent withdrawal symptoms
Talking about Alcohol & Drug Issues
Alcohol and drug issues can be tricky to navigate and the shame and stigma that often surrounds addiction can make it hard to talk about. You may be concerned for someone and not know how to bring it up. Here are some ways you can start a conversation:
“I think I might be drinking/using too much and am finding it difficult to quit on my own. I feel like I might need support getting help.”
“I want to be here for you and I feel like you may be struggling with (X). What can I do to support you?”
You're not alone
“I partied a lot, it wasn’t a great time. I was on the tail-end of a bender on Christmas Day morning, wrapping presents and taking drugs with my in-laws coming round. That wasn’t a good or healthy place –there were too many dark days, too much abuse and self-harm with alcohol and drugs, and destruction of relationships around me. I knew I needed to make change, so I started walking. I had this book, London’s Top 20 Walks. I thought to myself, if I can commit to this every weekend it’ll keep me out of the pub. Having that structure gave me something to be accountable to. I didn’t know that back then but I was getting a positive physical response, being out in nature, having time to myself, disconnecting from technology. I’ve never had a positive routine in my life and that’s what movement and exercise did for me. It gave me a space to think. It’s like going into therapy, you start to learn a lot about yourself because you spend time alone.”