Looking after your mental health - Drugs, alcohol and the links with mental health
Different types of drugs
There are lots of different types of drugs – some are legal and include the medicines a doctor may prescribe for you and also some of the substances that are used in making drinks like coco-cola. Other drugs are illegal and some of the most commonly known include cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy.
Whilst drugs can make a person feel good, they also bring with them lots of risks – not least that some drugs are very addictive and it can be hard to stop using them once you’ve started.
Studies have shown that there are some particular connections with mental health problems in young people:
- misusing drugs can increase the risks of a young person experiencing psychosis or feeling depressed or suffering from anxiety
- if a young person already has a mental health disorder, using drugs can lead to their symptoms getting worse
- in families where there is a history of mental illness, using drugs can act as a ‘trigger’ for the young person developing symptoms as well.
There can also be problems with a person’s ability to concentrate which could affect how they learn and are able to perform in school or college.
How alcohol can affect your health
Alcohol use is associated with various physical and mental health problems.
Physical problems can include damage to the liver, heart and stomach whilst on the mental health front, there are links with depression, anxiety, personality disorders and psychosis. Risky behaviour (e.g. getting into arguments and fights) is also known to increase when someone has been drinking alcohol.
Smoking and mental health
In addition to some serious physical health risks, smoking can also affect your mental health.
A lot of people smoke as a way of relaxing and dealing with stress or difficult feelings. However, just as using alcohol can actually lead to people feeling more anxious rather than less, the same is also true with smoking.
Research studies have shown that whilst the nicotine in cigarettes gives an immediate sense of relaxation, this does not last and is replaced by cravings, tension and withdrawal symptoms.
The problem is that alcohol is a toxic substance that affects the chemistry of the brain.
Using alcohol to deal with difficult feelings
A number of studies have shown that people often drink to deal with feeling anxious or depressed – and at first, alcohol can make them feel more relaxed.
The problem is that alcohol is a toxic (poisonous) substance that affects the chemistry of the brain and over time, it will cause the loss of the special transmitters that work to reduce anxiety – the result being that a person will have to drink more and more to reduce the anxiety that is bothering them.
The same is also true for the feelings of depression – at first alcohol may make a person feel less depressed, but then its effects on the brain can make the person feel more depressed thus leading to them drinking even more.
Research on young people’s brain development also indicates that they are more affected by alcohol than older people because their brain is still changing and that damage from alcohol misuse when you are younger can have long term and irreversible consequences.
Drugs and alcohol are both topics that concern many young people, not least because there are often pressures to try them. There are some links between drugs, alcohol and a person's health that it is important to understand – both a person's physical and mental health can be affected as a result of using drugs and alcohol.
For more info:
Talk to Frank - Web-based information as well as an email service and helpline which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in many different languages.
Addaction - provides a wide range of information sheets on both drug and alcohol issues.
Suzy Lamplugh Trust - a charity focused on promoting personal safety amongst young people.
Drinksense - Covers all aspects of alcohol use and drinking sensibly.
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Contact our Advice team about mental health & related issues
0300 5000 927 Monday - Friday 9.30am - 4pm, not including bank holidays