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Drugs and Alcohol (young people)

Treatments for drug and alcohol addiction

Treatment for drug or alcohol abuse can be accessed by going to your GP and is always confidential. Many GPs have expertise in treating addictions and some have specialist addiction nurses who work alongside them.
 
There are many different kinds of treatments available. Sometimes two or more kinds of treatments will be used together to help a person break their drug habit. It takes some people longer to recover than others and some do relapse (start drinking or taking drugs again), which means having to start treatment again.
 

Harry‘s experience of 'rebuilding' himself again after his relapse was exhausting and that’s why he’d never do drugs again.

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Harry‘s experience of 'rebuilding' himself again after his relapse was exhausting and that’s why he’d never do drugs again.

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… to keep it in a nut shell I had to go on that treatment for about like talking one pill a day until like for two, for two and a half years. And then I stopped taking it, the psychiatrist said you’re fine now you can, you can find it, you’ll be okay as long as you don’t take drugs or whatever and I’d almost lied to him like saying like no I haven’t I like I tried it the other day or whatever there wasn’t any, I wasn’t helping myself by saying to the [name] Centre like no I’m doing this I’ve got a problem, I can’t actually start like getting out of this mindset of like being so complacent about drugs but I knew I was being like sort of cheating myself almost and gambling with my own right mind.
 
It was very frustrating to see like I’m not sure what would be the case because now I have to take it (medication) for another two years from now. Because I started going back, I started doing counselling yes for like a little bit with a psychologist and she was helping me with like sort of confidence techniques and yes just like sort of ways, ways to deal with paranoia like dealing with your own mind like installing confidence in me and I ended up with, it doesn’t work for everyone and it sometimes it doesn’t like sound very appealing and some of my friends I would like say to them like about it and some were really interested and think “oh I could definitely benefit from that” and others are like “really I don’t know, I can deal with my own problems” sort of thing and some people, it’s either one way or the other you’re either open minded to it or really not. But with me I was much more accepting of it and really did help and I managed to sort of deal with it like to a certain extent and then it came to the stage were I couldn’t actually like deal with it anymore just on my own. I had to go back on medication, I had to go to my psychiatrist and say “Look I’ve tried and although I’ve stopped taking drugs and I won’t ever do it again it’s  coming to the stage now where I don’t, I don’t want to risk trying to be like risking my pride” whereas I could go on like sort of keeping like no I can deal with this on my own and I’ve actually know you’re going to need  actual medication I don’t want to risk you going even more delving into that mindset. And it’s taken me a very long time like to feel normal again
 
Talking therapies
Talking therapies such as counselling, psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are often used to help people talk through what has happened and how it can be fixed. Many people we spoke to, who had been offered counselling as part of their treatment, said it had helped. There were a few people though who didn’t like counselling and a few hadn’t liked their therapist.
 

Karis finds it ‘liberating’ to talk to her counsellor rather than her family or friends about her...

Karis finds it ‘liberating’ to talk to her counsellor rather than her family or friends about her...

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
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Kasim' With me I feel better opening up to someone. I know this might sound really mad but I feel better opening up to someone that I don’t know, that doesn’t know me at all. So I can tell you everything without like, do you know about...
 
Karis' You feeling a bit like...
 
Kasim' Me feeling a bit like I have to hold back in case you know this person and that person. But yeah I’d feel more comfortable say opening up to a counsellor about my drug issues than my mother for instance. You know I’d get a better feedback and stuff off them and because they are like professional and stuff they can...
 
So you will carry on seeing a counsellor?
 
Karis' Yes I will carry on, yeah because I mean, you know, you don’t know even for me like when I went to go see her for the first time and like she just asked me a couple of questions and stuff. And like you know, sort of like my thought patterns sort of thing like and stuff like that. Yeah she’s, she could tell you things that you probably didn’t know about yourself. You know things like that and it’s really good because you don’t know until you actually see someone professional, do you know what I mean. 
 

Chloe found it unhelpful that her counsellor kept talking about the past. She just wanted to move on with her life.

Chloe found it unhelpful that her counsellor kept talking about the past. She just wanted to move on with her life.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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And the counsellors themselves just really got on my nerves. I did not like their approach. Obviously I know the counsellors are there to ask you questions and kind of help you come to the answers yourself within you. And to go over the past, they just wanted to keep going over why I was like I was. And I really didn’t want to know or care. I just wanted coaching probably would have sorted, helped me a lot more than counselling because I just wanted to step forwards. I wanted to feel better. I wanted to get over what had happened and move forward. And they just kept on diving into what had happened and putting it at the forefront of my head. And so it couldn’t go away. I couldn’t deal with it because they kept on talking about it. But I just wanted to leave it where it was and move on.
 

Tara's favourite therapist was young, able to laugh and good at getting her to talk about her problems.

Tara's favourite therapist was young, able to laugh and good at getting her to talk about her problems.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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It takes a while, you’ve got to find someone you click with, who you’re able to open up to, to get benefit from those situations so...
 
Have you found anyone?
 
I yeah I had had a counsellor, she was amazing, I found her through the YWCA so that was after having my son, she was brilliant and she helped me through so many things and so you, you can find them there [laughs] are decent people out there.
 
Okay, what made her different?
 
I don’t know, we connected on a level, I mean, she was young, we were able to have a laugh as well as just talk about the serious issues, she wouldn’t pressure me to talk about stuff, she’d hint and prompt me to, discuss things so, no it was just easy with her and sometimes it’s a struggle with there’s someone you don’t want to talk to.
 
Those who’d seen psychologists often found them very helpful because they seemed to understand the realities of people’s lives. Several participants stressed how important it was for them to feel that therapists, health professionals and youth workers could relate to them and understand their points of view.  
 
Drugs, Mental health and antidepressants
A few people who had used cannabis and other drugs for a long time experienced mental health problems including depression, paranoia or drug-induced psychosis.
 

Before he got treatment, Harry's mind was racing all the time, he felt completely helpless and didn’t know what was real.

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Before he got treatment, Harry's mind was racing all the time, he felt completely helpless and didn’t know what was real.

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But it was something a lot more serious than that and as, and as time, though they sort of they referred me to like my local GP and then they were really supportive of me actually like they understood that something serious, there was something seriously wrong with me and then I went to see a psychiatrist and he like diagnosed me with psychosis after a few visits. 
 
And but at that point he prescribed me a few pills to take like every day like a few different ones, one was for like the anxiety and like collecting my thoughts and sort of almost like rebuilding your mind just like sort of taking things to sort of like getting more on a level and getting rid of all the paranoia and stuff like that but it took like a month to kick in. So it was like another month and I was feeling these thoughts and I had to start Art School then and had to go into hall and it was like literally, I remember like my parents and my aunty dropped me off at hall and feeling literally the worst I’ve ever felt in my life just like, my mind was racing constantly. Because at this point like I’d been like I say like with that feeling of like paranoia and helplessness and it had been going on for months and I after a while you just can’t, you can’t rationalise, you don’t know what’s sort of real, what’s not and your minds just slowly going crazy just a bit. Just like going literally losing the plot it’s all I can describe it as just the ultimate paranoia like there’s so much paranoid I could feel and I never want to feel like that again. but he gave me some pills that are like some, what’s that sort of sedative pills that if I was feeling really anxious and because I had to go through this year and I had to like I was sort of thrown in at the deep end like having started like a new, a new group of friends, not I still have all my friends from my school and all the friends that I’d made up until that age, I was still really close to them they were really, really supportive of me, you know, they were going out sort of partying and still doing drugs and obviously it was strangely still quite tempting though to still take drugs at that, at that point in time.
 
Psychosis is a term used to describe a condition where a person loses touch with reality. They might experiences symptoms such as hallucinations (seeing things that aren’t there) and delusions. Doctors might prescribe antipsychotic medication to help calm the mind and reduce abnormal thoughts. They can prevent people being overwhelmed by anxiety and insecurity. Antipsychotic medication can have a strong effect as it starts to work on slowing down the mind. A few people found it difficult to cope with. Harry described the medication he took as being ‘like a sedative’ because it calmed him down. Some said their medication made them feel ‘numb’. 
 
Cannabis and other drugs should never be taken when also taking prescribed antipsychotics or antidepressants because of the combination can risk intensifying the effects/side effects of both. Craig didn’t tell his doctor the whole truth about the drugs he used and thinks that may have put him at risk.
 

Craig thinks that people need to be honest with health professionals about their drug use.

Craig thinks that people need to be honest with health professionals about their drug use.

Age at interview: 22
Sex: Male
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What happened when you went to hospital?
 
I told the truth because they can’t help you if you don’t tell the truth. They said, ‘Have you been drinking?’ ‘Yup’. ‘How many?’ So I told them how many. ‘Anything else?’ And of course when they say anything else you know what they mean. So it’s like, ‘Yeah I’ve had three spliffs or’. So of course then the questions come. ‘Hashish, cannabis, resin, anything like that?’
 
What was their attitude?
 
I think everybody has got a kind of. Talking to doctors about drugs or heavy alcohol use is essentially a taboo, you kind of limit what you say. You kind of halve it. I think they appreciated my honesty and I think they actually liked that, you know, somebody they could work with to get over the problems that the DKA so they could know how to treat me. So of course if I hadn’t have told them that I didn’t have alcohol or drugs in my system and they’d put me on a different drug it could have gone horribly wrong. So it’s always best to be honest.
 
 

Tara hasn't always found antidepressants helpful but is reassured that they’re 'there' in case she ever needs them.

Tara hasn't always found antidepressants helpful but is reassured that they’re 'there' in case she ever needs them.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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I’ve been on anti-depressants, a few different kinds, I never really felt much help from them, so after a while I decided not to take them whatever, but , the last time I was prescribed them I took them and I did get some help from them, but then you’re, when you start to feel better you eventually wean yourself off them, but I always know that they’re there, but I would rather talk about my feelings than go, and take anti-depressants when I don’t really need to.
 

Sam thought the medication doctors gave him didn’t help his depression so he tried to medicate himself by using ‘uppers’ and ‘downers’, depending on how he felt at the time. (Played by an actor)

Sam thought the medication doctors gave him didn’t help his depression so he tried to medicate himself by using ‘uppers’ and ‘downers’, depending on how he felt at the time. (Played by an actor)

Age at interview: 28
Sex: Male
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I just wanted help. I just wanted help and they were trying to feed me fucking tablets again which turned me into a goldfish the last time, you know what I mean. And I was, I was drinking a lot of vodka. I was drinking so much that sometimes I was pissing constantly. I couldn’t, sorry this is a bit horrible, but I was drinking so much that it felt like I was constantly dripping. And I think that’s a sign, I’m not 100% I think that’s a sign of like bladder problems, kidney problem. I was just drinking. I was getting pains in my kidneys. I’d drink a bottle a day easy, just neck it down like, you know. I was under. I remember waking up, this is not long after I started again with the psychiatrist, I remember waking up outside a flower shop with a metal basket that I’d stolen from a supermarket. I’d put the metal basket through a car window and I’d ran outside this flower shop and apparently I was head butting it. But I can’t remember any of that. I just remember waking up and this woman screaming at me. 
 
So basically what I thought was that the only person that was going to help me is me and I. That is how I started then to try to control myself and try to cut down on what I was doing. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. But the fact is the doctors tried to give me tablets and that wasn’t going to help me. Help, the main thing was I sort of picked out a few things that they were saying. I sort of, self medication has always been a thing with me and they made that, they made me aware that I was smoking weed to keep myself, try and make myself happy but in fact that wasn’t helping. So, you know, what I should have been doing  is take an anti-depressant instead of the weed and that, you know. But I’d been basically medicating myself so when I felt down I’d do uppers or if I was up I’d do downers. So that started to become apparent. The way I need to do it is I need to take it all out of the equation. I don’t need to balance myself. I need to just go neutral and then I won’t be in this situation. And it wasn’t as cut and dried and that. It took a long time and I went through various processes of being really, really happy, really, really sad. And things that happened in my life affected that, you know. If I get a girlfriend that would be even better. If I’d lost one then I’d get worse. Have an argument with my friends get worse. Started to feel comfortable with the group of friends that I had, get better. Do you know what I mean? And it was a constant balance and drugs just sort of weaved in and out of that. And it was, you know.
 
Treatment for heroin addiction
Getting off heroin takes time and motivation. Treatment usually involves being put on methadone or buprenorphine, as substitutes for heroin. The person takes a certain amount of this prescribed medication under the supervision of their community pharmacist. If all goes well the dose is slowly reduced and eventually stopped. Jim decided to stop taking heroin after being arrested. He joined a treatment programme and says it’s helped him to get his life back together. When we spoke to him he’d been on methadone for 18 months. He managed to reduce the methadone dose and feels that a positive frame of mind has helped him deal with the heroin cravings.
 

Jim feels that methadone treatment has helped him get his life and family back.

Jim feels that methadone treatment has helped him get his life and family back.

Age at interview: 23
Sex: Male
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You wanted that help and you made the contact?
 
Yeah I phoned them up. I made an appointment with them for the next week. I went down to see them, I had a very short interview. They had all my details and everything off me about both my personal details and about my drug use and all the rest of it. And they then referred me to a doctor for prescribing the methadone. I went to see them and as a precautionary measure they start you off on 30mls a day just so you don’t overdose basically. That wasn’t quite holding me. So the next week I went up to 35mls and then from there on I’ve been reducing. I haven’t used within the first week of me starting me methadone. I stopped using heroin pretty much straight away and last summer I went over to live in Wales for 6 months. I was working over there so I’ve rebuilt the relationship with my family, friends. I’ve got a whole new life now that I didn’t have before because I totally destroyed it.
 
To be honest a lot of it was excitement because I hadn’t got to get up every day, find money to score, go out get the drugs, come back, have a hit. You know what I mean. It’s just a big weight off your mind. As I’ve just said I started off 30mls which wasn’t really enough but it was enough to get by, you know what I mean. It was a hell of a lot better than what I’d been used to. So yeah it was a big weight off my mind really.
 
And
 
I felt like a new person.
 
How were you feeling physically?
 
I’d got a hell of a lot more energy, felt more alert and got more concentration on things I was doing. I just felt healthy to be honest.
 
Were you still living in the tent?
 
No, no not at this point. I’d moved back with my Mother at this point. As I’d stopped using, my Mother allowed me to stay with her again.
 
Because obviously when you start methadone treatments you have to do a screening every week so that proves whether or not you’re using. So obviously then I could go to my mother and say, ‘Look I’m not using, there’s the proof.’
 
And emotionally how did you start to feel when you were put on methadone, when you started treatment?
 
Other than the relief, emotional feelings weren’t much different to be honest. I was just totally relieved to have my life back again and be able to do things as everybody else does and not have to wake up in the morning and feel really bad and not be able to function. 
 

Jim describes methadone treatment and the difficulties he has when the dose gets lowered.

Jim describes methadone treatment and the difficulties he has when the dose gets lowered.

Age at interview: 23
Sex: Male
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Well when I started methadone, as I said I started off on 30 ml that was then put to 35 which was enough to hold me. So I was getting no withdrawal symptoms whatsoever physically speaking. Obviously getting a few cravings but that’s mental. It’s only recently I’ve been dropping that down. I’m down to 16 ml now a day. It’s only recently I’ve been starting to suffer withdrawal symptoms again. This is like 18 months later. Even so I’m not suffering too many. I’m feeling a bit depressed every now and again and get the shakes, lack of energy that sort of thing. But it’s not too severe, it’s cope with able. And obviously you need to carry on with that to keep coming down and eventually get off it. And because you drop down in percentages as it gets lower the amount you drop gets more if you see what I mean. So if you’re on 30 ml you take 2 ml away you’re on 28 ml but if you’re on 5ml and you take 2 ml away that’s like 40%. You know what I mean, so it’s a lot more.
 
Anything else that helped? Apart from the methadone of course?
 
I think like I say, I think the main thing for me was just having a positive frame of mind and knowing what I’d been through, what I’d lost and where I want to be and what I want to do. And I can’t describe it any better than that. It’s just a matter of keeping your head in the right place and not being tempted by people or even yourself. I mean you know, you can convince yourself you want to go and do it.
 
That you need to have this frame of mind that is very strong.
 
Yeah
 
In order to cope with it, the pressure.
 
Oh yeah it’s very difficult. I mean there’s been times where the cravings have been so bad I can actually taste heroin in my mouth. You know and your mouth is watering because you want it that badly but you’ve got to remember that it is only a craving. It will go away. You know it only lasts 10 or 15 minutes, half an hour. if it feels as though you want to use you’ve got to remind yourself and convince yourself that it is just a craving and get through it like that, constantly convince yourself that you don’t need to use and the craving will go away on its own, you know what I mean.
The best way I can describe it is when you first start your treatment the cravings are very intense. And then slowly they drop off over a period of about four or five weeks they will drop off and get down to a minimum. They will still be there but they will be at the minimum, ok. And as you start reducing the methadone they’ll increase again.
 
That’s very interesting. What are your plans for the...?
 
As I’ve already mentioned I would like to go into some sort of drugs work whether that be drug counselling or prescribing or. I don’t know I’ve not particularly thought about it. I’d just like to get into the field and see what’s out there. I have looked into it to some degree and from what I can gather you have to have two years experience voluntarily before you can get into it. So I could do with finding somewhere now that will take me on voluntarily where I can do that, get my experience and then get a proper job out of it in the end.
 
I’d also like to go to college and take further qualifications in the subject. 
Learning new life skills
Some people talked about how coming off drugs meant learning to lead a different kind of life without taking alcohol or drugs to get them through the day. As they got better and were able to take control of their lives some people found their willpower and confidence returned. For example, Chloe needed personal development coaching as well as drug education.
 

Chloe found the In-volve programme helpful from the start. Their positive approach has helped Chloe turn her life around for the better.

Chloe found the In-volve programme helpful from the start. Their positive approach has helped Chloe turn her life around for the better.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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And then I joined In-volve which was in the December when I was 17. So I did the drugs awareness course that I teach now. I did that course and it opened my mind to what the effects of the drugs were and how it was actually working on my body and drugs culture as well. And like what the bigger picture of what drugs fund like sex trafficking, people trafficking and sex trafficking Taliban and things like that, 93% of heroin and stuff. And so that definitely helped.
 
And after I did that 12-week course because I sing a lot and I make music a lot so that was also an escape for me. After I did that 12-week course I stayed on with In-volve to volunteer.
 
And after volunteering with them about six, three months, sorry I had a month’s paid work where I researched all of the young people’s services within my borough. And wrote the summary for the report on how from 2008 how the services need to improve to address young people’s needs.
 
So yeah I started improving after I got with In-volve because they were so positive. They were like. I remember on my first day like they was like, ‘You’re a creative professional and don’t let no one tell you different.’ And that kind of thing to see yourself highly when you think you can do anything if you believe in yourself kind of thing. That’s when I started sorting myself out.
 
You said that you were referred. Who referred you there?
 
I can’t remember now. I know that I was one Navigator because I wanted to do music because the music it was my passion for, always has been, always will be kind of thing. I sang all day long. Made music all day long and [ah] that’s what I wanted to do. Once I got the sack from [name] I was like, I’m not doing anything else. I want to be famous, [laugh] that kind of thing. And they said, ‘Oh there’s a course down [da deda de dah], there that has a music production course. You can make your own music and they also have a record label attached to their organisation. So I was like, yes I want to do that! And luckily, coincidentally they had a drugs course as well which was exactly what I needed. So that’s how that happened.
 
So after you got involved with In-volve you started turning yourself around.
 
Yeah definitely and I started having more respect for myself. I sort of became more aware of how drugs culture holds down deprived areas, like the bigger picture like. Now I look at my estate and not that I think I’m above in any way. It’s more of a sort of nurturing look on it, how I see it. I can see that they take drugs to escape from their problems to feel like this, feel like that. And it’s a never ending circle or because it’s an alternative economy. They don’t have much qualifications therefore they can’t get much work and so drugs are so easy to get hold of and you can make a lot of money from them so it’s an alternative economy for the deprived areas as well.
 
Yes then I started doing that with In-volve and started sorting myself out. 
 

Daniel joined Alcoholics Anonymous and found the group support helped kick start his recovery.

Daniel joined Alcoholics Anonymous and found the group support helped kick start his recovery.

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It was a realisation but it was. This is, see this is again in our culture this is a very difficult thing to get your head around. Ok. The first thing after that moment was that I called a friend of my father’s who’s long-standing, was sober for a long time in Alcoholics Anonymous and he took me to an AA meeting. I think on the Monday, on the Monday night. For the next year and a half I went to just a shit load of AA and NA meetings 
 
Now it took me, I was 2½ years in to realise that the answers for me, I mean I can’t say how these experiences. I’ve got, a lot of my friends are recovering alcoholics and addicts. I can’t say how they’ve experienced these things but the way that I live my life today on a good day is, meditation is extremely important to me. Hence all the stuff with the Gita, helping another alcoholic and addict in AA and NA and taking a moral inventory i.e. when I’ve done something wrong I admit it and say sorry. And really you know I mean AA has kind of helped me to get that structure in my life, the Twelve Step programme.
 
Well I think that like in any given week I would probably go to maybe two or three AA or NA meetings and when I’m there I will try and carry the message that was brought to me. It’s got nothing to do with me, you know, it’s just the message of Alcoholics Anonymous. If people like it, if people are willing to engage with it openly and honestly then there is a chance that their lives will be changed and god will start doing something for them that they can’t do for themselves
 
See our resources section for links to further help and advice.
Last reviewed :July 2018.
Last updated: January 2015.
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