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A guide for young people Drugs and alcohol

You might take drugs or drink alcohol for lots of different reasons. It might be to fit in with a group, to see what it's like or to deal with a stressful situation in your life. Find out how drugs and alcohol can effect your mental health and what to do if you need support.

Drugs, alcohol and you

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You might take drugs for all kinds of different reasons. You might do it to fit in with a group, or because you want to try something new and find out what it’s like. Or it could be to deal with family problems, or cope with difficult experiences you’ve had.

Maybe you’ve been offered drugs, or you know other people who use them. If so, it’s a good idea to know the facts about drugs and alcohol, how they can affect your mental health, and where to go if you ever want help and advice.

If you choose to take illegal drugs, please remember it can lead to a criminal conviction which could end up affecting things in your future, like getting a job. And if you’re under 18, it’s against the law to buy (or try to buy) alcohol, or to drink alcohol in licensed premises like restaurants, pubs, bars and clubs.

Drugs, alcohol and mental health

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There are quite a few ways that drugs and alcohol can have an effect on your mental health.

Some people use alcohol or drugs as a way of dealing with difficult feelings and emotions. These feelings could come from stressful, upsetting or abusive experiences you’ve had. Or they might be linked to a mental health problem. But alcohol and drugs can make bad emotions feel even worse and this can have a negative impact on your mental health.

You might reach a point where you feel like the drug is in control of you, rather than the other way around. Maybe you’re using it in private, away from friends, and your life revolves around getting more of it. If so, you could be getting addicted, and addiction can often be linked with mental health problems.

There's also a risk that using drugs could make a mental health condition worse – or make you more likely to develop one. There’s a strong link between cannabis use and paranoia and psychosis. Other drugs such as LSD and magic mushrooms can make you physically very ill, cause you to hallucinate or have flashbacks, or even kill you.

If you have a mental health problem that affects your judgement, you might be more likely to take drugs and engage in taking other types of risks. If you’re going to take drugs, it’s important to know what effect different types of drugs have on your body, and speak to your GP about how it could affect any mental health medications you are taking.

Getting help

If you’re worried at all about your drug or alcohol use, it can help to talk to someone you trust about it. That could be a friend, parent, teacher or counsellor. You can also contact a helpline service who can help you with how you're feeling.

You should also see your GP if you are worried about the impact of drugs and alcohol on your mental health and wellbeing, particularly if:

  • you feel like your drug or alcohol use is no longer under your control, and that you cannot cope without it
  • you get withdrawal symptoms when you don’t take it
  • you think you might be a risk to yourself or other people - for example, if you have unexplained cuts and bruises, or blackouts, confusion and difficulty remembering what happened while drinking or on drugs
  • you are feeling secretive and ashamed about what you are doing
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Speaking to your GP might feel very difficult, but they will have heard from many other young people like you who are going through something similar, and they won’t judge you - they just want to help. Being honest takes a lot of bravery, but you can do it, and you will get through it.

You might find it helpful to write your thoughts down before you go to your GP to help you feel more confident.

If you really don’t want to tell anyone what you’re using and how often, you could focus on letting them know the effect your drug or alcohol use is having on your life and the problems it is causing you.

You can also find lots of reliable information online about drug use and places to find support. The FRANK website is a really good place to start.

Talk to Frank

You might also find helpful...

If you are finding it tough to reach out for support or you're not sure how to speak to your GP, we have information and advice that can help you get through this.

Where to get help

See below for a list of organisations and helpline services that have information to support you.

  • YoungMinds Textline

    Text YM to 85258

    Provides free, 24/7 text support for young people across the UK experiencing a mental health crisis.

    All texts are answered by trained volunteers, with support from experienced clinical supervisors.

    Texts are free from EE, O2, Vodafone, 3, Virgin Mobile, BT Mobile, GiffGaff, Tesco Mobile and Telecom Plus.

    Texts can be anonymous, but if the volunteer believes you are at immediate risk of harm, they may share your details with people who can provide support.

    Opening times:
    24/7
  • Alateen

    Offers support for young people who have relatives and friends that are alcoholics. Alateen is part of Al-anon who provide support for those who have been affected by alcohol.

    Email support is available via their online contact form.

    Opening times:
    10am - 10pm, seven days a week
  • Alcoholics Anonymous

    Offers local support groups for people to share their experiences and solve their problem of alcoholism. 

    Opening times:
    24/7
  • Childline

    If you’re under 19 you can confidentially call, chat online or email about any problem big or small.

    Sign up for a free Childline locker (real name or email address not needed) to use their free 1-2-1 counsellor chat and email support service.

    Can provide a BSL interpreter if you are deaf or hearing-impaired.

    Hosts online message boards where you can share your experiences, have fun and get support from other young people in similar situations.

    Opening times:
    9am - midnight, 365 days a year
  • Drink Aware

    Provide support, information and advice about the impact of alcohol on you, your family or friends.

    Free webchat service available (hours vary).

    Opening times:
    9am - 8pm, Monday - Friday; 11am - 4pm, weekends
  • Frank

    Provides honest information about drugs and alcohol.

    Live chat service also available (2pm - 6pm, 7 days a week).

    Information on accessibility, confidentiality and cost available here.

    Opening times:
    24/7
  • Narcotics Anonymous

    Provides information for anyone who needs support and advice about drug addiction.

    Opening times:
    10am - midnight, seven days a week
  • The Mix

    Offers support to anyone under 25 about anything that’s troubling them.

    Email support available via their online contact form.

    Free 1-2-1 webchat service available.

    Free short-term counselling service available.

    Opening times:
    4pm - 11pm, seven days a week
  • We Are With You

    Offers free, confidential support to people experiencing issues with drugs, alcohol or mental health.

    Free webchat service available.

    Opening times:
    9am - 9pm, Monday to Friday; 10am - 4pm, Weekends