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Depression and low mood (young people)

Alcohol, recreational drugs and depression

Alcohol and recreational drugs are ‘mood-altering substances’, in other words they have an effect on the mood and state of mind of anyone using them (in addition to other effects on the central nervous system). Their effect can be particularly heightened for people who have depression or experience low moods, and depression and anxiety can be made worse by consuming large quantities of alcohol.

In some instances, drinking alcohol may counteract the benefits of antidepressant medication or it can be unsafe to take the two together. Alcohol can also make people more likely to act impulsively, and there is a known link between alcohol use and suicide. Here young people talk about their experiences of alcohol and depression and also talk about recreational drug use.

Drinking alcohol
Young people we spoke with talked about their views and experiences of drinking alcohol and its effects on their moods and depression. Most of them said they did drink alcohol although a few said they only drank very little and very rarely. Some didn’t like the taste of alcohol, couldn’t afford to buy it or just generally weren’t keen on drinking and the drinking culture. One man who was training to be a doctor said he wouldn’t drink alcohol because he knows “how much damage it can do”. Another woman had stopped drinking because alcohol could trigger and enhance her anxiety attacks.

 

Edward doesn’t enjoy beer and has never been interested in drinking.

Edward doesn’t enjoy beer and has never been interested in drinking.

Age at interview: 18
Sex: Male
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I’ve always been a bit of a lightweight to be honest, I’ve never needed much to get tipsy, and I’ve just never, never enjoyed the taste of beer say and this is the most common drink that people drink in the UK. So that put me off, it’s only now that I started to like stuff. I mean I’ll only drink cider now if I drink anything, that’s the only one I like to be honest. And I just, especially studying medicine has put me off ‘cos I realise how much damage it can do. Although having said that medic students do drink a hell of a lot, so, they are, they obviously don’t listen to their own medicine, so to speak. And it’s just never been something I’ve been particularly wanting to do to be honest.
 

Oliver has never tried alcohol and his consultant said it might be the “smartest thing” he’s done...

Oliver has never tried alcohol and his consultant said it might be the “smartest thing” he’s done...

Age at interview: 23
Sex: Male
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I don’t drink alcohol, I never, I’ve never even tried alcohol. I don’t know if there’s something about it that’s almost sort of instinctively made me uneasy about it and this guy was like, “That might have been one of the smartest things that you’ve ever done, if you really do have bipolar disorder ‘cos that, that’s the sort of thing that bipolar disorder people are particularly susceptible to being dependent on,” and the other thing is that I had also prescribed anti-depressants, and didn’t take them. And he told me that anti-depressants are actually a really negative thing to prescribe to bipolars and that you have to approach it in a different way.
 
And so it was vindicating in a sense that it was like, okay, my reticence towards these treatments or things that normal people do were actually good decisions under this diagnosis.
Many people felt that drinking alcohol was an important part of their lifestyle and went hand in hand with school, college or university culture. Some felt sometimes unspoken pressure to join their friends by drinking alcohol, or had thought it was ‘cool’ because their older friends were drinking. Mostly people said they drank alcohol because it was “a good laugh”, “fun” and a social thing to do in the park, pub or club with their mates.
 

Social drinking is a part of Emma-Jane’s lifestyle at Uni and says she sometimes “self-medicates”...

Social drinking is a part of Emma-Jane’s lifestyle at Uni and says she sometimes “self-medicates”...

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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Alcohol and drinking, alcohol generally is, alcohol is a depressant. And it makes you feel, it makes me feel better and I do admit I do self medicate. If I feel bad I do go, I’ll like, if I’m out I will have a drink, if like I’m nervous I will have a drink and I will feel better. It’s not a good way of doing it and I know it’s not. But people then sort of can mistake that alcohol for what’s making them feel better and even though it can make them feel ten times worse, and they just keep drinking because it does make them, de de de, and then you get into sort of alcoholism and blah blah blah, like the really extreme end.
 
Like as I said the drinking doesn’t help. Drinking, like with socially it’s fine. I’m not going to deny that. It’s part of the Uni, part of my Uni lifestyle. Like it’s my friends, it’s one of my mate’s birthday tomorrow she doesn’t know we’re going, like we’re surprising her tomorrow, with like a pub crawl and like a Nando’s meal, ‘cos she’s obsessed with Nando’s. But like that, like I would feel wrong, well not wrong, that’s definitely the wrong word to use, I would feel awkward if I went to a social situation like a house party, or if we went to a club, and be sober, just because I wouldn’t feel comfortable.
 

Many hoped that drinking would lift their moods or help them “escape” feeling depressed. They described drinking to “cheer” themselves up, to “take mind off” worries and problems. One woman said she drank every night to help her sleep while another one described how she drank so she “didn’t have to think about how I felt”.

Effects of alcohol on mood and depression
Generally, people said they were fine as long as they stuck to what they felt was their “safe limit” or drank “moderately”. Drinking “too much” made depression much worse. They pointed out that initially a couple of drinks made them feel better but after a few more, they felt a lot worse. One woman described alcohol as “a natural downer” so she’d stopped drinking. Some said going out and drinking lifted their moods and they were fine “when drinking” but that they felt “million times worse” the next day.
 

Dan says drinking makes him “feel better for four hours and then feel crap for 18”.

Dan says drinking makes him “feel better for four hours and then feel crap for 18”.

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
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I won’t mind, having a couple of drinks does I mean it opens me up a bit, I can speak to people a bit easier. I can sort of I would usually feel a bit happier when I do it and it’s actually something I’ve been quite careful of, in the last five months is to deliberately limit the amount of alcohol I have ‘cos I could see myself going down that path, if I let it happen. I could see how easily it could happen. So it’s something I’ve sort of tried to consciously at least limit.
 
But, yeah I mean it’s sort of, it doesn’t make, it makes me feel better for four hours and then feel crap for 18 [laughs], especially if you’ve done something stupid during the night. It’s not really a solution, it’s, I mean it’s great if I’m, if I’m going out with a couple of friends and I’m feeling a bit down, having a drink or two with them will often help, I won’t, I won’t deny that, I probably shouldn’t encourage people to drink, but it does help, but, not to excess I guess, I sound like a teacher but yeah. that’s true.
A few people felt that hangovers heightened their feelings of depression and anxiety and a couple said they suffered from a moral hangover after a big night out. One woman described how drinking affected her moods;
 
“(I was) absolutely miserable and miserable about being miserable”.
Some people found it difficult to drink “moderately” as they said that after they “hit a point” it was hard to stop. Drinking “too much” made some feel “stupid” and “do silly things”. They would mix drink and drugs, pass out or get “in trouble”. For some there was also a link between drinking and aggression. Some people described how they got angry much more easily when drunk and ended up in fights or arguing with people. Many young people also said that when they were drunk they were more likely to self-harm and feel suicidal. See also our section on ‘Depression, self-harming and suicidal thoughts’.
 

Lee has done 'stupid' things when drunk.

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Lee has done 'stupid' things when drunk.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Male
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I’ve done things where like I’ve like passed out and I’ve not woken up for like two days in a row. I’ve like drank, drank too much and then done something stupid like gone like, like on those spinny roundabouts thing and like passed out and stuff, I’ve had, I’ve had drugs and drink and, got into a fight for no reason, and I’ve just let people just beat me up. I’ve tried like climbing buildings and jumping onto a fence, I’ve walked across like motorways like whilst cars have been coming.
A few people talked about more severe experiences with alcohol. A couple of women had had their drinks spiked (having for example illicit drugs added to their drink without them knowing). One woman’s experience of a one-off drink spiking had left her partially paralysed, with uncontrolled epileptic seizures and speech problems. She had to stop working and studying and to be cared for fulltime by her family. The spiking made the depression worse and she started suffering from panic attacks. For her, drink spiking changed her life forever.
 

Cat talks about the night when her drink was spiked.

Cat talks about the night when her drink was spiked.

Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
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I’m not one for heavy drinking, never have been. And we, me and her met up with a couple of other girls that she knows,
 
And, the difference being you know the, the girls you know are quite big drinkers and they all kind of like to get absolutely hammered, and, I was like okay, you know, had a few, had a couple of drinks Alco pops, bearing in mind they’re more colouring and lemonade than vodka in them these days, and you know, carried on partying and whatever. And this was before the new licensing laws kicked in, so it was still 11 o’clock kick out.
 
And I was partying away, dancing on the dance floor, and two of the girls went to the bar and bought a pitcher drink of Sex On The Beach, now didn’t not pick this up on the night that it happened, I just wish I had but we can all wish things. and the girls brought it back and as it usually is with four straws and all of that and the two girls that bought it wouldn’t drink it. Now why would you pay eight quid for a drink you won’t drink? But really, really didn’t think it that night. Really didn’t. Did not cross my mind at all.
 
And, drunk it yeah me and my, you know drunk it. And, the girls, once we, you know it had been last orders and everything and I remember nothing else at all from that night, at all. And the girls were all gonna go clubbing, I’m not really a clubby girl and I said well I’d arranged to meet my now, which was my boyfriend at the time, we’re now exes, gonna meet him halfway, and then go back to my parents, and the girls carried on clubbing and I went home. I do not remember how the hell I got home. I know now that I walked home and I met him half way.
 
His impression, his first impression was I was absolutely paralytic. Now I could not work out how, having had three Alco pops and it takes a lot of those to make me drunk. And he got me home, my parents weren’t impressed, ‘cos obviously the first thing they see is daughter comes through the door, drunk, yeah, usual so parents weren’t impressed, and from then on the night became a living nightmare.
 
That after about half an hour of me being home, I started fitting, and having not had one in my life before rather a big shock to the system. I ended up in a-25-minute seizure, ambulance was called, paramedics were also in quite a state of shock, and obviously I was taken to hospital, blues and twos, straight to hospital, where they spent six hours trying to save my life.
 
And I think that whole night was the most, quickest blur, ‘cos you’ve just literally gone from complete dancing around to complete nothing. And they managed to stabilise the seizures and everything and I woke up screaming that I couldn’t feel my leg.
 
And they couldn’t initially work out why, I was, once I was stabilised I was moved onto a ward, but I continued to deteriorate, I was having seizures every hour, and they just could not control it. And they just had no answers. We had no answers, they had no answers. Everyone was just as confused as everyone else.

Alcohol & addiction
Few people described themselves as an “alcoholic” or “addicted” to alcohol. They had started drinking often as a part of a social group in their teens, first at weekends, then gradually more and more often, and eventually daily. One woman said she was getting drunk on her own as she was “socially inept”. At most, some were drinking 2-3 bottles of wine every day or over 80 units per week. One man said he was “drinking to get drunk”.
 

For Craig, drinking was “a means of escape”. In the end, he was drinking daily and had to stop.

For Craig, drinking was “a means of escape”. In the end, he was drinking daily and had to stop.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
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That was a means of escape, you know, you’re drunk, you know, I had what…you start with two bottles of wine over a period of what, four hours, down the park, it was a bit cheap, cheap, 50p a bottle stuff, you know. It’s actually wallpaper stripper but they wouldn’t tell you that.
 
And, you know, me and my mates just got wasted because it makes you numb. And you’re so wasted you’re just sat there, you’re just going like that. And you, your mind is just blank. You’re fine, nothing’s wrong in the world, the only thing you want is a cigarette. I had enough of drinking, that’s fine and that takes your mind completely off depression. And it takes your mind off all the worries, all the stresses, everything, which is why I think people you know, some people do like binge drink, Get you know, “How much you had today?” “Four bottles of wine, 22 beers, half a bottle of vodka, and a bottle of Absinthe, you know” It’s like, “Was you drunk?” It’s like you know, some people do that just to escape from reality, which I think does help with depression, in the short run. But in the long run you know at one point I was drinking 20 to 30 bottles of, of beer a day, a couple of years back, at my lowest point, I was at that for about a month, two months, and that was just to escape from everything, you know. Start at 9 in the morning, finish at 2 in the morning, you know constantly drinking. I even got to the point where my mates would just say to me, “Look, you’re a wreck head. You drink far too much. Stop it.” You know, luckily I never had my stomach pumped or, or anything like that.
 

Sarah started drinking with older mates and getting “absolutely blitzed on cheap cider”.

Sarah started drinking with older mates and getting “absolutely blitzed on cheap cider”.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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‘Cos my mates like, we were the youngest so we were sort of following the rest of them like, a year or two older than us, and really so we were like, they were all, we thought they were cool, we thought they were brilliant you know, like they were older than us like, they’d drink and they dressed cool and listened to cool music and they’d all got boyfriends and girlfriends. And you know, it’s sort of like, “Oh sod you Mum,” you know, “I don’t need you.” Just running about, complete anarchy and we thought it was brilliant.
 
We thought it was absolutely excellent the way like ‘cos we were all like, well quite well off kids so like we were all from the middle class so like seeing all these kids do like all these other people doing all this stuff, we thought, “Oh we want to do that.”
 
So we’d start going to a shop and getting drink, we were 14 and they were serving us, believing we were 18. We weren’t, you could tell we weren’t. And we just started drinking all sorts, started off on like cheap like cider like £2 for three litres and things like that and drink the whole bottle and be absolutely blitzed and try to go home and convince your parents you’re sober. And they knew you weren’t but they’d let you go to bed anyway, just to sleep it off. And then you’d get wrong in the morning, but you kept doing it and you, you’d start smoking and you’d, like, “Ah, what are these doing in your bag?” “Oh they’re just my mates.” You know, they were like fair enough, but you started going out with boys and you started doing stupid stuff that you shouldn’t have done. You started getting chased by the police and into loads and loads of bother, not just drinking but fighting with people.

They said their parents had no idea of the extent of their drinking or that they would’ve ignored their advice anyway. One woman said she’d turned from bulimia to alcoholism to try to “handle problems” and to control depression and her feelings; “bulimia and alcoholism, that’s same disease, different means”.
 

Ruby says that for her heavy drinking was the “grown up” way to replace bulimia. In the end,...

Ruby says that for her heavy drinking was the “grown up” way to replace bulimia. In the end,...

Age at interview: 27
Sex: Female
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But then by then I was already drinking every night. That had started when I was about 18. ‘Cos I looked so young I could never get, I mean I could never get, a small village as well, they’d know how old you are like so there was no point. So by today’s standards 18, 19 it’s quite late to start drinking but yeah as soon as I discovered that instead of binging and making myself sick, two bottles of wine. And then I’d vomit anyway, ‘cos of the wine, ‘cos like my tolerance was really low then, well I know it’s a lot, but like compared to what it did get to, and I was just thinking genius, this is an adult thing, this is a grown up thing, grown ups drunk, drink, you know, children make themselves sick. I was like kind of almost pleased with myself that I’d found this adult mature way to deal with things, like, you know I felt quite grown up and sophisticated going in and buying my red wine and sitting in bed with my cigarette in one hand, and you know, like the Martian from space like, seriously, just 17 years old that was all like, but, and not so comical, but, yeah I just remember thinking well done you, you’ve beaten bulimia. I hadn’t, I’d just completely replaced it with something else, that was all.
 
How did that escalate then?
 
Well when it, it started off with, I was working in the pub till about 11 and then getting up to get the bus to college at about 6.30. And I couldn’t sleep; I’ve always, always had trouble sleeping. And whereas usually you know people get home, they have an evening to relax, chill out, go down, I didn’t I had to go to sleep then, otherwise I’d only get two hours sleep, yaddi yaddi yaddi, so I was just like, okay, neck a bottle of wine, oh pass out, lovely. It was, it was a way of getting to sleep really quickly. It was basically like it was my sleeping pills. Was just gobbling down like as much wine as possible so that I passed out. And then I was getting up and going to college and stuff ‘cos I couldn’t stand that time between of being silent, being still, ‘cos that’s when I’d usually be binging, or working or doing something. And I couldn’t bear to that, so I was like, oh get some wine. Cheap wine, I might add.
 
I like it in that Friends episode where Joey says, “Who says Wine used to taste, cost more than milk?” That’s pretty much how I was. But, yeah it became, it was my sleeping aid. Basically. And became absolutely habitual and took over.
 
How did it take over?
 
Like a lot of people say like with alcohol abuse, it’s sort of like, it’s like going down in a lift, and at each stop you have the choice of getting off, like after the first time you get drunk, after the second time you black out, after the third time… but I didn’t, I just went crashing straight from one to the bottom. I went from having a drink to binge drinking every night. There was no in between where it got a bit more regular or anything like that. It was just, it was like I’d found the secret cure.
 
I was like, “So this is what’s been missing.” You know like, ‘cos I was socially inept, I didn’t know how to go out for a drink with people, stuff like that you know? I didn’t even have any friends anyway but, like then suddenly I was like, I was doing what all the other guys were doing, I was drinking. So what that it was alone in bed at night. Like with my head phones on. It didn’t matter, I was doing something grown up about it, I wasn’t being sick, ‘cos that’s what young people do, you know, that’s what adolescents do, I’m grown up now.
All of these people said that in the end, they’d “stopped caring” for and about themselves and caring about what would happen to them. One woman described herself as “detached” from everything. A couple had attempted suicide. People said that heavy drinking had caused their lives to be an “absolute chaos” and “out of control”. One woman described this as; “my life was just getting pissed and throwing up”. Another one said:
 
“Because I was either drunk, high or whatever, I just can’t remember it… I didn’t know what was happening, I can’t remember most of the time there [in school]”
 

Sarah says drinking caused her moods to fluctuate, made her angry and lose her temper easily.

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Sarah says drinking caused her moods to fluctuate, made her angry and lose her temper easily.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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When I was drinking I was fine, but otherwise I was awful at, it was really nasty, I was really angry and I’d snap at anybody for anything, I’d shout and I’d scream and I’d kick and I’d trash my bedroom because I hadn’t had a drink. And it really did knock my moods, I had moods up and down, I was all over. You’d have thought that I had bi-polar or something the way my moods were flailing about. And they were so extreme as well, it was like being, I’d be absolutely, you’d think, I’d be bouncing about the house one minute and the next minute I’d be stand, stood screaming at my Mum because she’d done something stupidly wrong like, she’d misplaced my school bag, like she’d have moved it and I couldn’t find it, and I’d be screaming at her for it. And you felt really bad for it afterwards but you never said sorry because, you felt bad, but you didn’t feel bad enough to say sorry, you thought it was there fault so.
 
You know it really did affect your moods. It affected your behaviour as well, you weren’t, you didn’t care anymore, you just thought, “Oh well sod it, other people go by life with no GCSE’s, no A’ levels, no degrees, and they do fine. So I can do it.” But it not like that in the end.
 

In the long run, drinking made Craig feel “a million times worse” and “the worst person in the...

In the long run, drinking made Craig feel “a million times worse” and “the worst person in the...

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
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When I was drinking and when I was drunk, in the short term I felt fine. In the long run it made me a million times worse. Because as I said it is a toxin, and it does hurt your body, and it just, it just makes you worse. It’s the chemical reactions in your brain and all that, it just affects it and you know, whatever you’re feeling, it’ll make you feel a million times worse. If you go to the pub and you’re happy, you drink, “Whey,” you’re like a million times happier, if you go to the pub and you’re a bit down, a couple of pints later you’re you know, the worst person in the world.

One woman described the drinking in her friendship group;

“We didn’t know to have fun without it. It just ruins you.”
 
Another woman said:
 
“I was definitely getting worse, in that I just didn’t care anymore. Whereas before I’d always been like, oh no I’d never cut myself or something like that. Suddenly I was just like, why not? You’re already f***ing messed up; you might as well do something else.”
People had also suffered from physical symptoms such as shaking, recurrent infections, bad throats and sleeping problems.
 

Sarah says when she wasn't drunk she 'felt like hell', was paranoid and shaking. She stopped when...

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Sarah says when she wasn't drunk she 'felt like hell', was paranoid and shaking. She stopped when...

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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And it wasn’t a nice feeling at the end like, when you weren’t drunk you felt like hell. You really, if you weren’t hung-over or drunk you felt like hell. You were paranoid, you couldn’t concentrate, you were shaking because you’d got an addiction to it and you couldn’t like if you would go out on Friday nobody get’s served for a drink, we were stumped, we didn’t know what to do. We didn’t know to have fun without it. It just ruins you, it really did like. I mean you’d friends taken away in ambulances.
 
And by the time we were 16 we had 13-year-olds and 14-year-olds out with us, and it was starting again. We were drinking heavy so they started and that’s when I realised, I can’t do this ‘cos they’re gonna end up like me and I don’t want them to end up like me.
Giving up alcohol or drinking less was difficult for the people who drank heavily. One woman was helped by an alcohol counsellor who advised her to keep a drinking diary detailing how much she drank, what she drank and in what circumstances. A couple of people said it took them years to build their lives slowly back up again as they were “so far gone”.
 

Stacey’s counsellor helped her cut her drinking from 88 units a week to 21.

Stacey’s counsellor helped her cut her drinking from 88 units a week to 21.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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I started drinking really bad. I mean I see, I see my counsellor for that every week but she’s on holiday at the minute. And she has helped me, ‘cos I was drinking 88 units a week, and I went down to 21 units. And then I haven’t drank for two weeks, and then the other day someone put a bottle of rum in front of me, but I mean I drank it. And I was, like I said, I was horrible to see, well to see the video tapes back at me do you know what I mean? I mean [friend’s name] was there, and he says, “You change. You were bang...” I was like doing things to hurt myself. Banging my head on the walls. I mean I’ve self harmed before and I’ve got all the scars.
 

It took Ruby a few years to get her life back on track. She says “a building can be detonated in...

It took Ruby a few years to get her life back on track. She says “a building can be detonated in...

Age at interview: 27
Sex: Female
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I did things in reverse really, and it was like for a good two years before I managed it, I always, I’d been trying to go a night without alcohol and couldn’t do it. It took me a good two years to actually go to bed and wake up not drunk. And I got a taste of what that felt like and basically it’s been on and off ever since. Like one week I’ll be drunk every night, then I won’t drink for two weeks, and stuff like that. And I mean recently, this last year, is the first year… maybe the last two years is that all I’m doing is punishing myself, doing this is not gonna get people to help you, it’s not gonna get someone to rescue you, you’re just going to fuck yourself up and it’s like at the end of the day all you wanted was somebody to notice how ill you are, and by the time you’re that ill, no-one’s watching. You’re on your own. When you’re finally ill enough, you’re on your own. It’s all very well taking a bow but if there’s not an audience there to clap, what’s the point?
 
So you just kind of realise well actually you know what, and it took a while, it took a really good few tries to like stop, not so much to stop drinking, I still socially drink, but I started to build a life for myself. I realised that I’d been in this city for like five years and I could name two people that maybe I’d be able to phone to go out for coffee or something. And since then I’ve done like evening classes, got voluntary work and stuff, and I get, it was literally starting from scratch, and building a life for myself. Because the entire reason I was drinking and stuff was to block out the fact that I had no friends, that I, you know like? So it was, it was about building a life for myself, and that’s taken like a good four years at least.
 
But when you consider that it took me, it took me 12 years to get fucked up, 4 years to get better isn’t exactly a big time frame, you know. Like you can’t smash a building down and then you know so it goes down in 30 seconds when you detonate, don’t it? But you can’t then rebuild it in exactly the same time that you’ve brought it down with, you know like it takes time work and but it’s worth it, ‘cos it’s like, I don’t have much but what I’ve got I absolutely adore.
Using recreational drugs
We also spoke to some young people who had used recreational drugs. With the term ‘recreational drug use’ we refer here to the irregular use of illicit psychoactive drugs or the misuse of prescription medication. As recreational drug use is illegal all the clips below have been anonymised.
Most of the young people who had tried recreational drugs said they’d only tried or used them occasionally but a few people had used heavier drugs longer term. Young people said they’d been using recreational drugs because “everyone does it”, as a way of “experimenting”, because they thought it’s “cool” or because it was a part of club culture and their mates were using drugs at parties. A couple had also tried them abroad, in countries where some recreational drugs were legal.
 
A couple of people said they smoked weed (cannabis) because they felt it helped them to “chill out” and “calm down”. However, everyone we talked with who had used cannabis said it caused them paranoia, anxiety, difficulty concentrating and one woman said weed had caused her bad memory problems. Other effects of drug use included feeling “lethargic”, “constant tiredness” and “mental pain”. One woman said that stopping cannabis made her depression a lot worse.
 

Smoking weed makes her feel paranoid.

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Smoking weed makes her feel paranoid.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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Every time. His calls, his phone, everything. Everybody I see I have to know everything he’s said about me or, every yeah, paranoid. Very paranoid. And like if people who, if I’m with people and they’re talking like, quite I’ll be like be talking about me, even though it’s probably got nothing to do with me at all, I want to know what they’re saying ‘cos I get really paranoid, and it gets me really angry. I’m thinking, “What are they talking about before?” But when I went to the doctors they said I’ve got anxiety. I don’t even know what that is. So paranoia and anxiety. I’m not sure what anxiety is, but paranoia definitely. Like walking home on me own at night. Even if I’ve not had, if I’ve like been smoking sometimes it makes me worse.
 

Luke used to do cannabis and magic mushrooms and says it 'messes with your head'.

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Luke used to do cannabis and magic mushrooms and says it 'messes with your head'.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Male
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Went to college, “oh mate try a bit of this joint, it’s pucker”, all right, tried it and liked it. That was cannabis, um. And then things got a hell of a lot worse, I was using you know, twenty, thirty pounds a day worth of cannabis, and eventually you go to a party and somebody says, “Oh you’re not right, do you want anything.” So that was, and then eventually I started taking it in, smoking tiny amounts smoking and swallowing magic mushrooms, to essentially get out of my head …and long term messes with your head even more, and it makes you ten times worse.
A couple of people who’d used recreational drugs longer term said it had “messed” them up. One man said he’d quickly moved on to heavier and heavier drugs and it had been “easy to cross the line”. These people were also worried that drug use had caused or triggered the depression in the first instance. One man worried about the “long term damage” that ecstasy might have done to his brain, and in causing depression.
 

Luke says it was easy to move from Cannabis to heavier drugs and get hooked.

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Luke says it was easy to move from Cannabis to heavier drugs and get hooked.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Male
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As soon as you start taking Cannabis it leads onto bigger, worse, better, well not better, but more illicit things, um, you know?

 

‘Cos you’ll never know if somebody’s coming around you selling a joint, you don’t know, could be heroin in it. Bam you’re hooked. You know, that’s ten years of your life gone before you can start getting better.

 

Rio says you can 'quickly go past the point where you think it's fun'.

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Rio says you can 'quickly go past the point where you think it's fun'.

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Male
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I did a couple of those [drugs] and they’re very strong, you’re only supposed, you struggle if you took one, but these things were really strong and I took a couple of these things, and yeah they, the, it’s a really, really strong hallucinogenic, and you’re sitting there, you’re completely on another planet, you know just battling with yourself to try and get back to reality, but some people might enjoy it but, it’s, in my experience like, you can take, take you very quickly past the point where you think it’s fun and so be very careful what you do. And like even if you go to the club you know sells, you know the dealer there or whatever, you know is good, it doesn’t matter it can still be, you know it can still be really bad.
 

Rio says taking ecstasy was a 'catalyst' for his depression.

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Rio says taking ecstasy was a 'catalyst' for his depression.

Age at interview: 21
Sex: Male
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It is a catalyst in my experience. So it’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back another way to say it. It brings about factors in your life that would cause depression, inevitably I think, but brings it out quite quickly and amplifies what would normally come out so it brings about a stronger depression I think. And much quicker, you know, speeds it up. So it’s not a good idea if you’re feeling down, even if you don’t know you’ve got depression, it would be a silly thing to do like, unless you’re really confident that you’re having a great life and you only do it now and again, then fine but.
 
Is that what the GP agreed with you?
 
Well the GP just said, “Don’t do it ever. No-one should ever do it, and because it’s just the worst thing for your body”.
These people had made a conscious decision and been able to stop using recreational drugs. One man said the extreme depression and anxiety attacks caused by recreational drugs made him stop. For another, his girlfriend had given him an ultimatum to stop and offered support for him to do so. To those using drugs, or considering using them, he says:

“If you ever think of doing drugs don’t, like there’s the occasional fling in college if you do, but just imagine yourself as that 27-year-old-bloke in hospital handcuffed to the bed by the police, under constant watch because he’s violent, bleeding everywhere, and looking like he’s old enough to go to the post office and get his pension out when he’s only 27, and he could have had the whole world in front of him, but he chose to go to drugs. So that’s probably the worst put off you can possibly imagine.”

 

Luke has been clean for over 6 months now. Having seen a heroin user in hospital is a 'permanent...

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Luke has been clean for over 6 months now. Having seen a heroin user in hospital is a 'permanent...

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Male
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Then eventually the girlfriend just turned around to me and said, “If you want to take cannabis you can. If you touch cocaine, if you touch magic mushrooms, if you touch hash, if you touch ecstasy, anything, I’m gone.” Because you know it, cannabis is so common, everyone, you know I think everybody, if you haven’t smoked it, you know someone who has. Do you know, does that make sense, you know everyone does, everybody’s been near it, everybody knows what it smells like, it’s just so common and she’s fond of that because she knows it does help in the short term. And in the in the long run I know she’s there and she’ll always support me. So that helps me as a, as a thing, but I turned round I said to her, “No,” And I’ve been clean from anything above cannabis for, it’s about 8, 6 months now, and clean from cannabis for 3 months.
 
And I didn’t get any support, no support about that, I just went cold turkey. I just said “No. Enough.” It’s making me a million times worse, I’m not coming back down that road, I’m not going, you know. And again the scars were a permanent reminder I don’t want to go down there again, I don’t want to be there, so that helped.
 
I actually, from being in hospital from one of my suicidal attempts, I have seen a heroin user well he was actually in hospital for a, well he’d, he’d hit a vein, so yeah, so um, you know I’d seen that road, and that’s a permanent reminder in my head. Follow that again, you’re there, you’re him. That, you know, he was what, twenty seven, he looked, he looked as old as my granddad, he was looked about 70. So that’s me in, you know, ten years if I don’t buck my ideas up.

For helplines and other resources please see our ‘Resources’ section.

Last reviewed June 2017.
Last updated December 2013.

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