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Drugs and Alcohol (young people)

Reasons for stopping or cutting down on drug use

Some of the people we talked to had cut down or given up their use of street drugs. Their reasons for stopping or cutting down included:
  • Being worried about their health or mental health
  • Changes in their lives (like starting a new relationship or having a child)
  • Worries about addiction, bad experiences with drugs or after effects
  • Relationships with family
  • Money
  • Losing contact with suppliers or dealers
  • Growing up, preferring to feel in control and moving on from what some described as boring, teenage behaviour
General health and well-being
Some of the people we talked to told us that they used cannabis to help them to relax but those who decided to stop using cannabis (in all its forms) and other illegal drugs often did so for health reasons. Joe wanted to get fit and decided that he needed to stop smoking tobacco. Stephanie too decided to give up tobacco after a relative was diagnosed with lung cancer. She also didn’t like the way that cannabis made her feel tired with no motivation. Experiencing anxiety and paranoia could make people feel that they were much better off not taking any drugs (see Mental health and drugs). Sam started to give up skunk eight years ago and saw his mental health improve. He thinks that young people don’t realise the dangers of cannabis.
 

Jamie uses cannabis occasionally but is wary of paying for drugs, like ecstasy, that may have been mixed in with other substances.

Jamie uses cannabis occasionally but is wary of paying for drugs, like ecstasy, that may have been mixed in with other substances.

Age at interview: 26
Sex: Male
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I mean, oh I’ve read a magazine where they show what is actually in these drugs and like Ecstasy, you know, it’s probably got about three percent of this MDMA which is the pure version isn’t it? And then, you know, there’s other things in there that are doing absolutely nothing, Paracetamol, Glucose, and all these other things in there and they contribute, add, add nothing, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they just chuck a bit of this plant food into some of them.
 
I don’t know the great extent of what they do put in them but there’s some truly horrific things that they put in them, rat poison [laughs] there’s plenty of things that they put in there that’s just ridiculous, and people are prepared to pay money for these.
 
 

Sam has experienced mental health problems and thinks they were caused by his use of cannabis (skunk). (Played by an actor)

Sam has experienced mental health problems and thinks they were caused by his use of cannabis (skunk). (Played by an actor)

Age at interview: 28
Sex: Male
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Probably the best thing that, the most important thing that I’ve realised is that a lot of the problems that I thought I had when I was taking drugs that I thought were caused by a lot of things was actually caused by drugs.
 
What kind of problems you thought you had?
 
Feeling depressed, not getting on with people, feeling too scared to do things, not doing well at college. Not being able to talk to my parents and have a decent relationship with my parents, not having any money to buy things I wanted. All of that was down to drugs. Then my depression because I did end up going to the doctors again and getting more tablets and they referred me to a psychiatric place. That was mostly down to smoking weed. I’d basically I’d smoked. It got to the point when I smoked weed and like I’d hear people saying horrible things about me like in my head. And I could actually hear the people say, you know, ‘You’re shit. You’ve done this, you done’. Yeah. And I have done some horrible things, you know, of course I have of. I was completely off my brain half the time.
 
And cannabis was really, really to blame. I’ve looked into it a bit more now , like you know long term effects of cannabis can cause, you know, depression, becomes long term depression and I think it’s definitely done it. I think about taking the other things like the hallucinogenic side like acid and mushrooms, PCP, I get flashbacks or well not even flashbacks like. Sometimes I get a really strong déjà vu that I feel I know what’s going to happen next and I actually like see it, visualise it in my head and that. I don’t take drugs anymore. I’m clean now. I just, they were no good for me. I know
 
I made a decision to give up drugs probably completely I’d like to say 8 years ago. And I didn’t manage it until about 5/6 years ago. I wasn’t taking drugs when I started being a youth worker. It was. I wasn’t 100% off but I was nearly off but it’s not easy like. Smoking weed was my first step. I stopped smoking weed because that was a constant through all of my life like, it felt like. All my drug taking like that was the constant thing. But that was what was causing me the most difficulty. I’d have a smoke and I’d just go. I’d start to realise that I would go blank quite and I wouldn’t be able to interact with people.
 
And you started with giving up cannabis?
 
Yeah.
 
Because of the mental effect?
 
Because of the effects, yeah. And I got better. I stopped going to get help because like the doctor at the psychiatric place I went sort of pointed out that he thinks it’s cannabis. I was on. When I got there I was honest about it, obviously he weren’t happy about me getting hallucinogenics and that and he reckoned that somebody like me that could be problematic] which obviously it was [laugh].
 

And you know cannabis was first out and I felt so much better. You know, I thought it would be really hard because that was one of our set routines but I managed to sort of step out of that and I just started smoking more because I was smoking nicotine like so I just started smoking more and that sort of covered me for that. Yeah it was a bit weird at first but now if I was in a situation where someone was smoking cannabis it wouldn’t even bother me like you know. Don’t even interest me in the slightest because I know what it does to me. And that’s what makes me laugh when people like go ‘Oh yeah cannabis is ok’. It’s like actually I know it’s not. It's really not.

 

Craig is far more aware of the dangers of cocaine now. He is also convinced that smoking cannabis caused his paranoia.

Craig is far more aware of the dangers of cocaine now. He is also convinced that smoking cannabis caused his paranoia.

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
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I mean if somebody came up to me now and said, ‘Do you want some cocaine’? I mean I’d probably smack them in the face to be completely honest with you because I do not agree with it anymore. I mean I’ve been there. I’ve tried it et cetera but I’m a lot more aware of the dangers of it now rather than I was when I was taking it. You know, it’s a foreign body being taken into you. I mean with the smoking it’s not healthy but your body can take it. Whereas you’re snorting something up your nose you know, it’s that close to the brain, I mean that’s quite scary. I didn’t know that by then and if I had known that I probably wouldn’t have gone down that route and tried so much.
 
If somebody comes to you and said that they don’t believe that smoking cannabis is associated with paranoia what would you tell them?
 
I’d probably say there’s two routes you can go down. You can try it yourself and find out the hard way or I would sit them down and tell them my story and hopefully they’ve listened because I can be very persuasive sometimes when I truly believe in the cause. And even if I can prevent one person from developing a mental health condition or, and /or paranoia then that’s a good thing.
 
Young people commented on the health benefits of stopping or cutting down. Chloe said she feels more energetic and healthy with a brighter complexion and clearer eyes. Karis also noted that her physical appearance improved after reducing her use of cannabis, she no longer looked ‘a bit grey’.
 

Karis says that she looks better since cutting down her cannabis use.

Karis says that she looks better since cutting down her cannabis use.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
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But you said that you would like to stop?
 
Karis' I would like to stop. I mean yeah I would I think. In time obviously, do you know what I mean? I mean I have cut down, I have cut down quite a lot actually. There was a point where I was smoking a lot and it got to a point where I could actually see it physically in myself. I lost loads of weight and things like that.
 
Kasim' And you just looked constantly...
 
Karis' My face was going like
 
Kasim' you just looked like a walking zombie like.
 
Karis' Yeah, yeah my complexion was just going all, you know, a bit grey and stuff and I just, I did. I looked terrible honestly I did and you know that’s when I thought to myself, ‘Do you know what I’ve got to cut down’. And I have cut down but somewhere along the line I would like to. Actually do you know I don’t think stop altogether but yeah definitely cut...
 
Kasim' Stop.
 
Karis' down, definitely cut down.
 
Kasim' Cut down. I don’t think you can just stop. I think you’d have to cut down and then stop.
 
Karis' Yeah like I probably, yeah like in the, couple of nights.
 
Kasim' Well I think for myself.
 
Karis' In the week or you know a weekend thing.
 
Kasim' ...or maybe just on a Sunday. 
Becoming a mother or father
Pregnancy and parenthood were described as powerful reasons to give up using illegal drugs. Young people we talked to didn’t think it appropriate to get high, or drunk, when they were responsible for children. When Karis had a job working with children she didn’t use cannabis during the week.
 
The young mothers we talked to had given up using drugs after they found out they were expecting a baby.
 

Tara doesn’t take drugs anymore because she wants to be a good mum to her little boy.

Tara doesn’t take drugs anymore because she wants to be a good mum to her little boy.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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Are you still sort of smoking cannabis from time to time or?
 
No.
 
No?
 
I do....miss it though, I think you do miss the, just the experience of being able to chill out, forget a few things.
 
What are your reasons now for not doing drugs?
 
I have a two and a half year old son and I don’t want that around him [sighs] I couldn’t risk being completely off my face if something happened, so no.
 
I think part of me misses, misses the drugs, I think because you do get a good buzz off some of them and you have some, some good experiences in a, quite a weird way, so, I do miss it sometimes and there is like the temptation, to think ‘I can just call up one of my old friends and I’ll have a spliff in half an hour’ so you’ve got to be quite....
 
So what do you do when you...?
 
I just think of my little boy and think he deserves better than that really, he deserves a good mother and that’s what I’m trying my hardest to be and that’s all that matters to me at the moment, is that I’m a good mother to my son and I’m, a good person, and just live my life, try and be a decent human being, try and do something, so.
 
That stopped you.
 
Yeah. I’ve just messed up so many times, and, [sighs] I’ve finally got my life back on track, I’m living with my son, I’ve got a nice house, I’ve got a lot going for me so I’m not going to ruin that.
 
Has the way you see yourself changed?
 
Oh yeah [sighs], yeah [sighs] I’m a completely different person.
 
Tell me a little, tell me more?
 
I’ve always, my confidence has soared, I’m very open. I look back and think I was not a nice person then.
 
In which way?
 
In every way really I was bitchy, I was nasty, I was snide, I didn’t care, and now I do, I’m, I now have a lot going for me but I didn’t feel like I did then. I have pride in myself, I’m proud to be who I am and what I’ve got, it may not be a lot to some people but this is what I’ve got.
 
So, and for what I’ve, for what I’ve come, come through, and through all my experiences to be here now saying all this, I’m very proud of that fact. So I’m a completely different person to who I was back then.
 
You said you don’t want drugs around you, you don’t want drugs around your son, why not?
 
Why not? because they’re dangerous, they’re, just it’s not a nice thing and I don’t want drug addicts who, when you’re on drugs you’re unpredictable, I’m not having that around my son, I don’t want someone who can, flip from being nice to nasty in a second, it’s dangerous.
 
Because that was your experience?
 
That was my experience yeah. So, I want my son to grow up and lead a good life and be a good [short laugh] little boy and. I don’t want him being pressured into doing drugs so I’m going to teach him, when he’s old enough to understand.
 
Will you talk to him about?
 
I will talk to him about the stuff. 
 

Leah says she doesn’t use drugs because it would ruin her daughter’s life as well as her own.

Leah says she doesn’t use drugs because it would ruin her daughter’s life as well as her own.

Age at interview: 17
Sex: Female
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I wouldn’t ever go near Crack or anything like that, I would never go near that, I am not stupid enough, I know the effects of that, but now I know the effects of Cocaine, what it can do to you and stuff like that I wouldn’t go and touch that stuff again. People have said to me, “Oh do you want to again now?.” I wouldn’t do it now because I’ve got a daughter, if I didn’t have her maybe.
 
Okay so she is like ...?
 
She is like a barrier, she...
 
A barrier.
 
...stops me doing certain things.
 
Okay, so, is that it is something positive?
 
Yeah.
 
Do you mind repeating what are your reasons and motivations for not using drugs?
 
My motivation for not using drugs is because I’ve got my daughter, I am responsible for somebody else’s life, I don’t want to, it is not just mine I am going to be ruining it is hers as well. another motivation is now I have had, as far as I am concerned I have had my time, I have tried what I have tried, I have done what I have done, now it is time for me to be an adult, grow-up and get on in the real world, get a job, get a car, be driving, take her to nursery and school, I am not just a, teenage person now, I am a teenage mum, I am responsible for me and my daughter that’s mainly my motive, my motivation is because of her.
 
Not saying if you aint got motivation go and have a child [laughs] because don’t, but yeah.
 
[Laughs] okay, do you want to say more about that? [Laughs]
 
Don’t think because of what I have said that it is a good idea to have a baby because you are going to like, you have got someone there and you are never on your own and, you, do you know what I mean? You are not going to, you are going to stop doing your wild stuff because you have child because that is not always true. It is down to you whether you can motivate yourself and whether you are strong enough, because I know mums that still drink, that still do drugs, did it all throughout the pregnancy, they still do it now round their children, I know people that do that, they are not strong enough to stop doing that, it is just, you, that was just the situation I found myself in and I have learnt to deal with that, but if I could, I don’t regret her, but if I could change time I would change it so that I did it later on in life.
 
Having a child later on in life?
 
Yeah. 
Steph’s mum was addicted to heroin and now a mother herself, expecting her second child, she strongly disapproves of friends who still use illegal drugs. She says that she will never put her children in second place to a drug habit or risk them being put into care, which is what happened to her and her siblings.
 
Peter doesn’t smoke cannabis when his son is with him and Raphael said that he thinks he will stop using cannabis when he becomes a father.
 
Worries about addiction
Addiction or dependency on drugs can make a person’s life miserable. Young people who had overcome addiction stressed that their personal life is much better and they are now able to plan for their future. Jim had lost family, friends and a home to his heroin addiction. Now that he is clean he doesn’t take for granted his child, girlfriend, flat and job – all of which provide motivation to avoid illegal drugs. For Harry, who has recovered from cannabis-induced psychosis, going back to his drug-taking days would feel like a personal failure.
 

Jim lost his family, friends and home due to his heroin addiction.

Jim lost his family, friends and home due to his heroin addiction.

Age at interview: 23
Sex: Male
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What were the reasons why you wanted to stop taking drugs?
 
I’d lost my family, my friends, my home. I was living in a tent for quite some time.
 
Ok so you were not living with dad or mum at that point?
 
No. This is afterwards, after I got back on the gear again. I was living in a tent not far from where I grew up, it was the middle of winter, all I’d got was a tent and a sleeping bag no facilities whatsoever. I was going out. Waking up in the morning and going out shoplifting, going to score some gear, come back, take that go out shoplifting again, score, come back, take it here, go to sleep. Get up and do the same thing again. That was my life at that point.
 
So it was pretty low?
 
Yeah. 
 

Harry has three main reasons for not taking drugs anymore: health, a sense of personal achievement and the public’s negative attitude to drugs.

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Harry has three main reasons for not taking drugs anymore: health, a sense of personal achievement and the public’s negative attitude to drugs.

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Well when people ask me like why I don’t take drugs, I say like three main topics. The first one like the foremost is my wellbeing like you just said like sort of like just my health I’ll just go downhill like I won’t be able to succeed in life. 
 
And also the second one is if I start doing drugs now then I would, even just a line of cocaine or whatever, I wouldn’t have progressed I would have gone back on myself, I’ve been through that sort of stage in life and I won’t, I don’t want to go back to that and I would have felt I’d gone back on myself and reverted on myself. 
 
And the third one is like no one will ever have anything over me in life like in society or workplace or if I don’t take drugs not because, although even though I have like a sort of a with me personally I it’s sort of I’m quite sort of anti drugs on a personal level but I don’t judge other people for them taking drugs but a lot of other people are not like that.
 
Feelings after stopping or cutting down drug use
Those who stopped or cut down on their use of drugs, often said they felt better as a result.
 
Charlie says that she feels happier and lighter now that she is drinking and using drugs less. She has come to value being present in her own mind and body and sees this as a ‘virtuous’ circle which helps her to deal with things better.
 

Charlie is happy with using alcohol and drugs as an occasional ‘enhancer’, but doesn’t rely on them to make social situations easier.

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Charlie is happy with using alcohol and drugs as an occasional ‘enhancer’, but doesn’t rely on them to make social situations easier.

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I’ve barely been drinking and barely taking many substances recently.
 
It’s been much lighter and much, yeah much happier, much happier generally which means I have less of a desire to take substances.  They’re interesting as a social lubricant or they’re something interesting to do with friends but they’re not an escape.  It’s fun to do – it’s fun to drink, it’s fun to take Ecstasy if you go on a night out but it’s not got the same kind of trying to forget what’s actually going on in life. It’s more of an enhancer to what’s going on.
 
Like I’ve come to value an awful lot being present in my own mind and body I got into and I’m just getting into Buddhism again actually in that Buddhism is very much about being present in one’s body.
 
If you use drugs very often I think you tend to drift a lot more because you’re spending more of your time intoxicated. You’re spending less time interacting with people. I’d much rather for example, learn. I’ve always had issues with some sort of social interaction. I’ve never been particularly able talking to strangers. I get anxious in social situations. And drugs have been a way to ease off that a little bit. And now I’m in the place where I’d much rather learn to interact and go through all that instead of using drugs to make it easier. Because ultimately I don’t want to need a crutch to get by. See yeah there’s a very strong element of wanting to be in control.
 

Chloe and others said that now they want to experience life without the extra ‘high’.
 

Chloe says that she can’t allow herself to take any drugs because she is too obsessive to use them in moderation. She prefers to experience life naturally.

Chloe says that she can’t allow herself to take any drugs because she is too obsessive to use them in moderation. She prefers to experience life naturally.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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And if you can think of two reasons or your main reasons why you don’t want to do drugs any more what would those reasons be?
 
My main reasons would be because I would prefer to experience life through my natural mind state and be high of life and not need anything that’s not already within my body to make me feel good about it or to have a good time or to feel relaxed or whatever it is. I can come to that feeling within myself without anything else. That’s why one reason.
 
And two, because although obviously in moderate use some things won’t harm you, I do have a very compulsive and obsessive personality and moderate use isn’t something that I can do.
 


Last reviewed : July 2018.
Last updated: January 2015.
 
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