Drugs and Your Mental Health

How do drugs relate to my mental health?

Many things can affect our mental health, and drugs is one of them.

Psychoactive drugs have mind altering properties and therefor impact on our mental health. Each person is different and it is hard to predict how they will react to a drug. How drugs impact on our mental health can depend on different factors such as:

  • The drug – the type of drug, the contents, quantity and if it is a new drug.
  • The Set- personal factors which are our starting point, how you’re feeling both physically and mentally or if you haven’t used in a while.
  • The setting – where you are, who you are with, if you are not used to using drugs in this location or with these people.

Our mental health could be impacted immediately as a result of the short term effects or over a longer period of time.

Drugs affect the chemicals in your brain. These chemicals send messages to other parts of the body, including the part of your brain responsible for emotions. Sometimes when we take drugs, while the intention might be to affect those emotions for a short time, they can have a longer-term effect than we want, and those chemicals can be affected in a more permanent or long-term way.

Some people may use if they are having a tough time, or are feeling things that it might be hard to deal with. When we take drugs, we might think we feel better, but at best it will disrupt those chemicals for a short time, and while we might feel better for that short period, this can add to our problems overall.

Following use, people may feel low or changes to their mental health as a direct result of drug use. This can be known as a ‘come down’ period and can last for a few days after use. This can be common with drugs like cocaine or MDMA. During this time some people can experience anxiety, paranoia, hostility and depression to such an extent that they experience suicidal thoughts and behaviours.

Over time,  drugs could disrupt chemicals long-term which can make dealing with our tough times or feelings harder. In some instances, drug use can cause a mental illness to develop. If you already have a mental illness that you are taking medication for, drugs can interfere and stop those medications from working properly.

‘Dual Diagnosis’ is a term used to describe when a person has both a mental health disorder and uses substances.

How Can I Reduce the Risks Around Drugs?

The safest way to avoid the risks from drug use is to not use drugs at all, but if you are using drugs, there are ways to reduce the harms

  • Avoid use if you are going through a tough time, to cope, if you feel anxious, depressed or have other mental health concerns.
  • Don’t use them by yourself – tell someone when and where you are using, and what you are taking
  • Use in a safe environment with people you trust.
  • Avoid using more than one substance at a time, and avoid using multiple substances at all where possible – including alcohol and prescription drugs such as medication used for mental health
  • Start very low and go very slow – use less, go slowly, and leave time between use, because you can’t be sure how you will react.
  • Be prepared for an overdose – know the signs and have a plan where possible
  • COVID-19 effect on drug market changes – because of the pandemic, the market may have changed in various ways. Trying new or alternative types of drugs can increase your risk of overdose.
  • Don’t be afraid to get help by calling 999/112 if you or a friend feels unwell or suicidal after using drugs. The medics are there to help you.
  • Get more information from the HSE site Drugs.ie

Mental health

  • If you feel like you’re using drugs to numb your emotions because of stress, contact your college counselling services to arrange an appointment to talk to someone
  • For useful resources on your mental health go to the ‘Mind Your Mental Health’ on usi.ie
  • HSE’s yourmentalhealth.ie has specific advice on how to mind your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak
  • The HSE Drugs Helpline can be reached on freephone 1800 459 459, Monday to Friday and it’s open from 10am to 5pm. This service offers support, information, guidance and referral to anyone with a question or concern related to drug and alcohol use. All calls are confidential.
  • If you feel you are at risk of suicide during the pandemic, call 999/112 or present to the nearest Accident and Emergency Department
  • Harm reduction for dual diagnosis and COVID-19: https://www.drugs.ie/resources/covid/dual_diagnosis/
  • Find a drug and alcohol support service at drugs.ie/services
  • Although aimed at secondary schools, the know the score video re drugs and the brain is useful: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQjWGUrgxxQ&feature=youtu.be
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