Substance Misuse

Substance Misuse & Mental Health

Read on for information about substance misuse and how it may be affecting you, along with advice for how to manage this and where to find support.

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Substance Misuse & Mental Health
What is Substance Misuse?

What is Substance Misuse?

Many of us experience issues around alcohol and drug use. For some of us, this can have an impact on our day-to-day life and lead to issues related to our health, relationships, and wellbeing.

Substance misuse is when a person consumes alcohol and/or drugs in a way that is harmful, or when the person feels dependent on the substance(s). For example, someone who drinks large amounts of alcohol at a time (or ‘binges’ alcohol), or cannot do their usual day-to-day activities without consuming a substance.

People take substances for a number of reasons; this could be to feel better if we are struggling with our feelings, or perhaps because the people around us are using them and we want to know what they feel like.

It’s important to understand the risks of substance use, and find support if your substance use is having an impact on your life. Remember: it’s OK to ask for help.

Types of Substance Misuse

While alcohol dependence is the most common form of substance misuse, there are many different substances, with varying effects, that can become addictive or have a significant impact on a person.

The four main categories are:

  • Depressants (e.g. alcohol)
  • Stimulants (e.g. cocaine)
  • Opium-related painkillers (e.g. heroin)
  • Hallucinogens (e.g. LSD)

Substance misuse also refers to inappropriate use of prescribed or legal substances (e.g. prescribed medication). This could be when a person is taking more than the prescribed amount, or they are sourcing the medication illegally.

Another form of misuse could develop through using New Psychoactive Substances (e.g. synthetic cannabinoids); these substances were formerly called ‘legal highs’ and replicate the effects of drugs such as cocaine, cannabis, and ecstasy. Since the Psychoactive Substances Act was passed in 2016, it is now illegal to produce, supply, or consume these substances.

The image below describes some of the effects and risks associated with different types of substances:

These experiences are just a few examples; we all experience things differently, and some of us may have more extreme reactions than others. However, it is difficult to know how we will be affected by these substances, which is why misuse of substances can be very dangerous. 

If you are concerned that you, or someone else, may be experiencing substance misuse, you are not alone and there are people who can help. Scroll down for more information about how substance misuse can affect us, as well as where to find support.

How can substance misuse affect me?

Read on to learn about the signs of substance misuse, and hear from others about their own experiences of substance misuse and what helped them cope with this.

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How can substance misuse affect me?
How can substance misuse affect me?

How can substance misuse affect me?

All substances - including alcohol, other recreational drugs, and prescribed drugs – will have an effect on our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Consuming substances has a chemical effect on our brains, and some of us will notice the effects more prominently than others. This can depend on a number of factors, such as the environment or social situation we are in, how often we use the substance(s), or if we already have a mental health condition.

Substance misuse and mental health are often intertwined; if we are experiencing depression or anxiety, or have been impacted by stressful events such as bereavement or financial issues, we may seek relief from substances to try to feel better. However, if we are regularly using substances or have developed a dependency for one or more substances, this can have a significant impact on our mental health and everyday life.

The effects of substance misuse can include:

  • Feeling powerless or unable to function without the substance(s)
  • Experiencing financial or legal problems due to your substance use (e.g. from spending money on substances instead of paying bills)
  • Negatively affecting your personal life (e.g. relationships or job)
  • Developing drug seeking behaviours such as lying to your doctor to get certain medication or buying substances illegally
  • Hiding substance use from others and isolating yourself as a result of the misuse
  • Experiencing a change in behaviour, mood, or personality (e.g. becoming more aggressive, depressed, or anxious than usual, or having poor hygiene)
  • Getting injured due to substance use
  • Facing criminal consequences, such as getting a criminal record or being imprisoned due to possession of illegal substances or ways of financing the substance misuse

Everyone experiences things differently; some of us may be affected by several of these, while others may experience one or two. If you feel your substance use is affecting your life in any way, there many types of support that can help you. You can find more information by scrolling down to the next section, searching for services in your local area, or for urgent support Get Help Now.

Is my substance use a problem?

Many of us consume legal recreational drugs (such as nicotine and alcohol) and this can be done safely. However, misuse of any substance – legal or illegal – can lead to a person becoming dependent on the substance and experiencing issues in their day-to-day life as a result. 

Consider the following factors and tick any that you feel apply to you:

If you have ticked any of the above statements, you may want to consider getting some support. It may feel uncomfortable to open up about your substance misuse, but talking to someone can help you understand the issues you are experiencing and to take back control. You can find services in your local area here. More
If you have ticked any of the above statements, you may want to consider getting some support. It may feel uncomfortable to open up about your substance misuse, but talking to someone can help you understand the issues you are experiencing and to take back control. You can find services in your local area here. More
If you have ticked any of the above statements, you may want to consider getting some support. It may feel uncomfortable to open up about your substance misuse, but talking to someone can help you understand the issues you are experiencing and to take back control. You can find services in your local area here. More
If you have ticked any of the above statements, you may want to consider getting some support. It may feel uncomfortable to open up about your substance misuse, but talking to someone can help you understand the issues you are experiencing and to take back control. You can find services in your local area here. More
If you have ticked any of the above statements, you may want to consider getting some support. It may feel uncomfortable to open up about your substance misuse, but talking to someone can help you understand the issues you are experiencing and to take back control. You can find services in your local area here. More
If you have ticked any of the above statements, you may want to consider getting some support. It may feel uncomfortable to open up about your substance misuse, but talking to someone can help you understand the issues you are experiencing and to take back control. You can find services in your local area here. More
If you have ticked any of the above statements, you may want to consider getting some support. It may feel uncomfortable to open up about your substance misuse, but talking to someone can help you understand the issues you are experiencing and to take back control. You can find services in your local area here. More
If you are worried about the safety of yourself or another person and you require urgent help, click 'Get Help Now' at the top of this page. If you are at immediate risk of harm, call 999 in an emergency and someone will help you. More

You are not alone...

Asking for support can feel overwhelming, but you are not alone and there are people who can help. Hear from others about their experiences of substance misuse, and what helped them with their recovery.

Where to find support

Acknowledging that you may be struggling with substance misuse can be difficult, and it may feel scary to think about reaching out for help. However, seeking support can make a big difference and can help us feel less overwhelmed by our recovery process.

Your GP can advise you about how to reduce your substance use safely, and provide you with information about services or support groups that may be helpful for you. If you feeling nervous about speaking to your GP, click here for tips and advice about preparing for your appointment. 

If you would prefer to seek other forms of support, here are some services that can help:

Support fellowships:

Mental health services:

  • Self-Management and Recovery Training (SMART) groups (National) - helping people recover from addictive behaviours using therapeutic training programmes
     
  • Change Grow Live (Sussex) – Experienced, non-judgement support and treatment for drug and alcohol misuse
     
  • Oasis Project (Brighton & East Sussex) – Supporting women, children, and families affected by drugs and alcohol  
     
  • Talk To Frank (National) – Offering honest information about drugs, as well as where to find support in your local area

You may be worried about being judged or made to feel bad about your substance use, but it’s OK to be going through this. Services are not here to judge or criticise you, but to help you in a way that’s best for you. For other services in your local area, click here.

What can help with my recovery?

Scroll down to find tips for understanding your substance use and what may help with your recovery.

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What can help with my recovery?
Build your support network

Build your support network

Reaching out for support can be difficult, but having a support network can really help you cope with your substance misuse and motivate you during your recovery.

Think about the people in your life that you can trust, and you feel will be encouraging and supportive of you taking control of your substance use. This could be a friend, family member, partner, or even a colleague. It can be difficult to move away from substance misuse if you have close relationships are with people who are also misusing substances, so you might want to consider seeking support from an advocate or therapist.

It’s important to feel supported and understood during your recovery process. It is common to relapse, and it can be hard to stay motivated to continue treatment at times, but having a good support network can help you with this.

Understand your withdrawal process

If you have been using substances regularly, you may experience withdrawal symptoms depending on the type of substance you have been consuming. These symptoms can vary and we all experience things in different ways, but some common withdrawal symptoms are:

  • Headaches
  • Flu-like symptoms (e.g. high temperature)
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shaking and shivering
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea and vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Restlessness or difficulty sleeping

It’s important to seek support when reducing your substance use in order to keep yourself safe and avoid becoming unwell or getting injured. Trying to stop using the substance(s) completely (e.g. going ‘cold turkey’) can be dangerous, especially if you have been consuming large quantities for a long period of time. Your GP can help you to reduce your use safely, or they may offer you a substitute drug (e.g. methadone) to help with withdrawal.

Understand your withdrawal process
Find your self-care routine

Find your self-care routine

When we are experiencing issues with substance misuse, sometimes we can find it difficult to take care of ourselves and this can have an impact on our mental health.

Practising self-care is an important part of recovering from substance misuse as this can boost self-esteem and help you feel motivated to keep going. Self-care comes in many different forms, such as:

  • Spending quality time with loved ones
  • Doing something you enjoy (e.g. cooking a new recipe)
  • Having a creative outlet (e.g. drawing or making music)
  • Taking care of personal hygiene
  • Exercising and getting fresh air regularly
  • Getting enough sleep

Having a self-care routine as part of your day-to-day life can help you find things that make you happy, reduce anxiety, or boost your confidence, and having these can make it easier to feel less dependent on substances to feel better.

Get Help

Get Help

If you feel that your substance use is affecting your day-to-day life, it may be time to get some help. Change Grow Live is a good place to start, or you can find other services offering support in your local area here.

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