Alcohol and drugs

Drugs and alcohol change the balance of chemicals that help your brain to think, feel, create and make decisions. The drugs and alcohol you use can affect you both now and in the future. Changing drug and alcohol habits can take time, but with support and perseverance you will notice positive changes in your mental and physical wellbeing.
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Types of drugs and alcohol

There are three main types of drugs – depressants, stimulants and hallucinogens. They all cause your mind and body to react in different ways.

How people react to drugs and alcohol depends on the person’s size, the type and amount of alcohol and drugs being taken, and how often they are being used.

For more information about particular drugs and their effects have a look at Drug Facts.


Tom's story

Victorian Bricklaying Apprentice of the Year (2010), Tom (26) was depressed, binge-drinking and had hit rock bottom. Although reluctant, he accepted help, got treatment and turned his life around.


How they make you feel in the long term

Alcohol and drug use can leave you feeling anxious, agitated, panicked, flat, unmotivated and moody, while your sense of reality can also be affected. These reactions may be short term but they can affect the way you think, make decisions and behave. There is a risk that while intoxicated you might act in ways that are out of character and that you later regret; you might act aggressively, take unnecessary risks or attempt to hurt yourself.

In the longer term drug and alcohol use can increase your chances of developing a mental health problem, such as depression and anxiety, and for some people their drug use can also trigger psychosis. If you already have a mental health problem drug and alcohol use can worsen your symptoms, while also making your recovery much harder.

How often are you using drugs and alcohol?

Sometimes it can be hard to see how drugs and alcohol are really affecting you until you begin to look more closely at your habits. Can you have a good time without them? Do you use them to get away from your problems? Are people around you asking you to take it easy?

If you have noticed a change in how you feel and cope with your daily life, it’s important to consider why. There could be a range of reasons, but if you are using drugs and alcohol, they could be affecting you more than you realise. You might want to consider changing your drug and alcohol habits.


Minimising the risks

Whether you have just started and/or are trying to stop using drugs and alcohol, it’s important to keep safe.

  • Take it easy on the alcohol. Pace yourself and drink plenty of water.
  • Set a limit on your drug and alcohol use – what you take and how much – and think about who can help you keep on track.
  • Don’t mix drugs as you have no way of predicting how they will react together.
  • Don’t use drugs alone. Ensure friends are nearby and ask for help if things don’t feel right.
  • Use clean and hygienic tools to minimise the risk of infections and disease.
  • If you are prescribed medication, talk with your health professional about any harmful interactions.

Changing your habits

It can take time to change drug and alcohol habits. It might be helpful to read online information, build in some drug and/or alcohol free days in your week and let your friends know you are trying to cut down and ask for their support.

Try exercise, meditation or doing things you enjoy to tackle stress and anxiety rather than using drugs or alcohol.

After you have decided to change your drug and alcohol habits, having a strong support network around you is really important. Support from friends and family is essential; they will provide reassurance and encouragement when you need it most. You should also consider including a drug and alcohol worker or counsellor in your plan for change.

While there are many things about drug and alcohol use that are unpredictable, one thing we know for sure is that they affect mental health. Reducing or cutting out drug and alcohol use can improve your health and wellbeing. It’s not always easy but it is worth it.


Watching out for friends

Supporting someone who is using drugs and alcohol can be really hard. Often you see things that the other person cannot; the changes in their thinking, their mood and the way they act with you and others. You might want to tell them to stop using, and you might have tried this, but the reality is that they need to make that choice.

Where to get support

If you've decided to change your drug or alcohol habits, having a strong support network around you is really important. Support from friends and family is essential; they can provide reassurance and encouragement when you need it most.

Sometimes though you need more than the help of your friends and family. There are a range of people who can work with you to:

  • set realistic goals for yourself
  • explore how you can cope when you feel like using drugs or alcohol
  • strengthen your health and wellbeing
  • keep safe while you are using drugs or alcohol.

There are a range of health professionals available to support you.

Anxiety and depression are medical conditions and so treatment from a health professional is sometimes necessary. There are a range of health professionals available to support you while you recover from anxiety and depression.

ReachOut and headspace have some great resources on alcohol and other drugs, or see our list of websites that can be helpful.