Drugs and Alcohol

Giving up or cutting down on drug use: challenges

People rarely seem to stick to exactly the same pattern of drug use throughout their teens and twenties. For example, Jamie uses cannabis from time to time but turns down offers of other drugs such as cocaine and MDMA. Similarly, Raphael tried ecstasy when he was younger but it wasn’t for him; he prefers to stick to cannabis. While anti-drug messages aimed at young people were often thought to be exaggerated, especially when they suggest that any drug use is a slippery slope to addiction, some people we spoke to had found it difficult to give up drugs. Daniel had some difficulty overcoming his addiction to heroin and found that he replaced it with an addiction to alcohol.
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Joe wanted to stop smoking cannabis because he became interested in health and fitness and wanted to stop smoking tobacco. It took him about six months to give up for good. People who smoke their cannabis with tobacco often found that the cannabis was easier to give up than the tobacco. For Stephanie, giving up cannabis was relatively simple. She just didn’t enjoy it anymore and, like Joe, she also wanted to stop smoking tobacco after a member of her family got lung cancer. Stephanie didn’t like the way that cannabis made her feel lethargic, with no motivation, so she didn’t find it difficult to stop.
 
Friends and peers
Giving up drugs can be particularly difficult if it involves spending less time with close and valued friends who are still using.  After Stephanie stopped smoking cannabis she found that she didn’t have much in common with the other members of her group. Others said that their old friends didn’t seem to realise how boring they could be when they were stoned. Joe used to take ecstasy at techno club nights with a certain group of friends. When he wanted to stop taking ecstasy he simply stopped going out with that group.
 
Encouragement from others is important and it helped young people like Chloe to shift the focus from the negative to the positive things going on in her life. Although some of her peers were critical, Chloe feels that giving up drugs has helped her establish a new, more positive identity and the self-confidence to be whoever she wants to be. Jim, who was previously addicted to heroin, says that you have to cut links with anyone who is doing drugs: friends, family, etc. to remove the temptation to use.
Friends can be a source of support and encouragement to cut down or stop using. Although, with friends who don’t use drugs themselves (or are ex-users) there’s a risk that the ‘encouragement’ comes across as nagging. Sam’s working hours were reduced and he felt tempted to go back to old habits. Luckily for him his friends were very supportive and prevented him from doing something ‘stupid’. (See also Friends, alcohol and drugs)
Temptations and fear of relapse
Some young people who had used heavily in the past and were pleased to be ‘clean’ were worried that they might start using again if something bad happened to them– for example if their relationship or job ended. Jim said how important it is to keep positive and keep your head in the right place. When Harry feels tempted to have something at a weekend he knows that this is the ‘bad side’ of his mind talking and that, as an ‘all or nothing’ person, he needs to resist.
 
Daniel is confident that he won’t use drugs again but says that he really misses red wine and cocaine. 
Some young people commented that they don’t regret having experimented with illegal drugs. Karis and Kasim say they would much rather have done cannabis and other illegal drugs in their teens than start in their twenties or thirties. Leah is happy that she is not addicted to drugs. Some felt that they had learnt from their own, and other people’s bad experiences with drugs and had a lucky escape. Now they felt it was quite cool to say ‘no, thanks’ when offered drugs. All agreed that now they can move on and focus on pursuing personal and professional goals.

Last updated: January 2015
Review date: January 2017

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