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Drugs and Alcohol (young people)

Using drugs and alcohol to escape from problems

Young people sometimes use drugs or alcohol to escape from their home, or personal, problems. Friends may suggest that coming out for a night's drinking or smoking a spliff might help if they’re feeling down.
 
Family problems
Some of the young people we talked to had been through difficult situations at home and had used illegal drugs or alcohol to ‘escape’, or try to forget what was going on in their lives. The experience of growing up with an alcoholic father made it difficult for Chloe to live a ‘normal’ life when she was at school with her friends. She felt more mature than others her age and this made her feel different and distant from them. Sophie was kicked out of the family home by her violent stepfather And Steph was put into care because of her mother's heroin addiction. She thinks that young people who grow up seeing their parents addicted to drugs and alcohol often go on to abuse drugs and alcohol themselves.
 

Steph was put into care because her mum was addicted to heroin. She says that young people in care often see drugs as a way out of problems, but she would never do heroin.

Steph was put into care because her mum was addicted to heroin. She says that young people in care often see drugs as a way out of problems, but she would never do heroin.

Age at interview: 19
Sex: Female
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Alright basically from a young age my mother was a heroin addict. And I think I basically lived in that home for six years with her being a user, a needle user also had the brothers and sisters. And obviously saw the debt of that and saw the way it can also ruin people’s lives and basically how obviously it can change a person. And so obviously didn’t get the best upbringing because of that. Ended up being put in care 
 
And from that I lived in, fast track again, but I lived in a shared housing and that on a day-to-day basis was just teenagers drinking and I did get involved in all that and it was a day-to-day basis but it was just seen at the time as a teenage thing to do, to go out and drink with your mates and things like that. But I don’t think, like I never, but obviously I’ve never looked back and seen that I was actually in need of it every single day and things like that but you just find it as  sort of a depressant to sort of make you think the situation is not the situation itself but I don’t think I could ever, even at nineteen years old I could never turn to that as a way out because it’s not a way out and it’s highly addictive, highly expensive and it does ruin lives. And sort of you do obviously put people at second best when you choose to let that addiction take over really.
 
But generally from a lot of people in care and things like that, you know, they do obviously see alcohol and drugs as the way out because that’s what they’ve been brought up around and they’ve seen that. And I think that’s why it’s a very vicious circle to sort of put that on, basically drink to sort of override that problem and it sort of, you know, even a sort of nasty circle that goes around and round and round really. 
 
 

Taking cocaine and alcohol to escape her problems just made Mary Ann feel worse. (Played by an actress)

Taking cocaine and alcohol to escape her problems just made Mary Ann feel worse. (Played by an actress)

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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But when I was seventeen, I’ve been in a violent relationship since I was fifteen as well, so kind of I think all that adds to it as well, but then obviously not living at home and having that stability, no obviously I know it’s my own fault but, and then as I was seventeen really bad experience happened in my life and I turned to Cocaine because I was working as a well so I had money, I had no child then, and every single weekend, even during the week I was just going out and, that was my escape route, but then every morning I would just feel so down and depressed and everything would just seem a thousand times worse, but then I’d go out and do it again and that’s all I wanted to do, I didn’t want to deal with anything head on I just wanted to go and just get obliviated that’s what I wanted to do, that was my aim. 

Michelle, Sophie and Tara felt that they were not well supported by their families, they said that their mothers weren’t interested in them or were ‘too strict’. They relied more on their friends to listen to their problems and offer support but they would regularly drink alcohol and take drugs together. See also Family relationships, drugs and alcohol.

Relationships
Some of the young people we spoke to said they drank or took drugs as a result of being in difficult relationships. Tara had previously been bullied due to her weight issues and had low self-esteem so was thrilled when she got an older boyfriend. He and his friends made her feel under pressure to take drugs. Charlie and Mary-Ann also took drugs to forget the problems in their relationships.
 

Tara felt lonely before she met her older (now ex) boyfriend when she was 13. She was ‘naïve’ and he introduced her to drugs.

Tara felt lonely before she met her older (now ex) boyfriend when she was 13. She was ‘naïve’ and he introduced her to drugs.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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Okay, so would you say that [sighs] your main reason for using drugs was because of this partner?
 
Yes, yeah, I didn’t have a clue beforehand, I didn’t have a clue about anything, I was very naïve at that age, didn’t have a clue about sex, drugs, relationships, anything I think it was all pushed on to me and such a short pace, short space of time and [sighs] too much to take in really [laughs].
 
[Laughs]. Were you being affected by depression before you met him or it was?
 
No not really.
 
Not really?
 
I think, I met him and it was all just like, well it was a different world to what I’d be used to, because I was quiet, didn’t have many friends, I had body issues wasn’t particularly happy.
 
Why were you not particularly happy or?
 
I was overweight, didn’t have many friends, I didn’t enjoy school, but with this partner, despite all the bad times we did have good times and it just offered something else.
 
And at school were you bullied because?
 
I was bullied at school yeah because of my weight.
 
Okay so am I correct in saying that you were looking at yourself in a negative way?
 
Oh yeah definitely, yeah.
 
So this guy comes around and sort of...?
 
Yeah, “Oh you’re beautiful, oh I find you really attractive.” Well to be fair an eighteen year old shouldn’t be saying that to a thirteen year old, but at [laughs] at that age I was like, wow I’m completely like, fallen for him, because I did at the time but, I don’t know.
 
So was friends at this school were very few or?
 
Yeah very few, I’ve never had close friends at school, acquaintances you might say, I rarely went out with friends from school, didn’t go round their houses, have them round mine, so...
 
I was, I was quite lonely. 
 

Charlie started taking more and more drugs to cope with the strain of supporting her boyfriend through his emotional issues.

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Charlie started taking more and more drugs to cope with the strain of supporting her boyfriend through his emotional issues.

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It was definitely a negative thing because I was using drugs more than seeing him and he weren’t particularly interested in it. He was in a bad place as well, just feeling depressed and sad a lot of the time, he didn’t know how to deal with it.  And neither did I.  I was running away from it – from him –  because I realised I was not happy with what was going on, and I couldn’t deal with the strain it was putting on me.

I was trying to deal with his problems, and the fact my course was going badly, and my drug use was getting greater and greater… I just couldn’t deal with it.  But a lot of it, I think, was that I was trying to support him emotionally and I just felt worn out and unable to cope.  And I think I got into drug use more, because I just – I didn’t know how to deal with it any other way.
 
The way in the end was to end the relationship but that wasn’t a particularly positive step. Though now it’s been a very positive one, we’re on good terms again. But at the time it was really hard for him, it was a blow when he was already going through a lot. But I couldn’t deal with it anymore and it was sort of. If I’d have tried to keep with him for longer then I think I would have had a breakdown myself. You know it was getting extremely intense and I couldn’t deal with the strain anymore of supporting someone else quite to that extent when I had my stuff to sort out too.

 

 

Mary Ann’s drug and alcohol use got worse after her boyfriend was sent to prison. She didn’t know how to cope with the situation. (Played by an actress)

Mary Ann’s drug and alcohol use got worse after her boyfriend was sent to prison. She didn’t know how to cope with the situation. (Played by an actress)

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Female
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But when I was seventeen, I’ve been in a violent relationship since I was fifteen as well, so kind of I think all that adds to it as well, but then obviously not living at home and having that stability, no obviously I know it’s my own fault but, and then as I was seventeen really bad experience happened in my life and I turned to Cocaine because I was working as a well so I had money, I had no child then, and every single weekend, even during the week I was just going out and, that was my escape route, but then every morning I would just feel so down and depressed and everything would just seem a thousand times worse, but then I’d go out and do it again and that’s all I wanted to do, I didn’t want to deal with anything head on I just wanted to go and just get obliviated that’s what I wanted to do, that was my aim.
 
So the worst time I’ve ever been very bad on drugs was when that, well, what happened was my boyfriend, there’s just loads of things around it, he locked me in the cupboard and he tried to set fire to me and tried to kill me, and there was loads of, obviously he pulled me down the stairs and a lot more mentally controlling stuff that he did to me within this space of time, and it was only then that he went to prison and I turned to Cocaine and the drink, that’s the worst I have ever been for drugs, that’s the worst I have ever been.
 
Okay when he was in prison?
 
 [Affirmative noise] because I don’t know how to deal with nothing, I didn’t want to talk about nothingand obviously that’s why I ended up losing my job, I look back on it now and I think there’s no way, I was just heading for like a big downward spiral thing [sighs].
 
Okay and how old were you then?
 

Seventeen. 

Depression and other emotions
Depression and low mood were often mentioned as reasons for drinking alcohol or taking drugs. Alex suffered from depression and anxiety, he used alcohol to feel secure and to build up his confidence. Sam said that he often felt ‘down’ as a teenager and wonders if his depression was triggered by the use of drugs, or if it was the other way around. Craig has experienced depression since he was twelve but one of his main reasons for using drugs was ‘rebelling’ against his diabetes - something he has lived with since he was a baby. Feeling lonely, insecure and like they didn’t ‘fit in’ at school also affected some of the young people we spoke to. See Drugs and mental health for more information on the link between drugs and depression.
 
Feeling uncertain about the future
Some felt that they drank alcohol and took drugs because they were unsure ‘who they were’ as people and didn’t have any plans for the future.  
 

When Michelle was doing illegal drugs and drinking alcohol she lacked ambition. She thinks it’s particularly important for girls to have plans in life.

When Michelle was doing illegal drugs and drinking alcohol she lacked ambition. She thinks it’s particularly important for girls to have plans in life.

Age at interview: 26
Sex: Female
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I mean it’s hard to say because I was, I was so young when I started doing all this but I think maybe if I had had like, not a, a, not a shock, a shock is probably not the right word but if I had had something, some thought about my future, some sort of, if I had even, you know, if I had had a plan when I was a teenager that would have helped me, it’s because I didn’t have no plan and I didn’t have no interest or thought or anything for what the futurewas going to bring, I just didn’t care and, I didn’teven know people could have plans for the future, you know? It was just all about me and, what I was going to do and it, you know, I never really, I think it’s really important for teenagers to have, you know, ambition, especially for girls because there is a, there is a lot of pressure to fall into, ‘oh I’m going to be a bad girl, I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that, I’m going to be really, really popular’ and then find out like I did that it doesn’t make you really popular. 

 

As a teenager, Kasim was trying to understand who he was. He says weed helped him with that.

As a teenager, Kasim was trying to understand who he was. He says weed helped him with that.

Age at interview: 20
Sex: Male
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Kasim' I think I started smoking weed to block certain things out and because I basically didn’t know a lot. I didn’t really know myself. I didn’t really know myself and stuff and like I think smoking weed like helped me deal with it. And I used to like row with my mum and stuff like that and like I think I was just at an age. I was like 14, 15 so I didn’t really like know who I am and that like who I am and stuff. I didn’t understand who I was at all. I used to just hang around with my friends and smoke weed and stuff. And like obviously it took its toll because I was being different. Like my mum didn’t notice the difference and stuff. And yeah that’s about it really. 
'Addictive' personalities
Some people had come to the conclusion that they have an ‘addictive personality’. Harry said that he lacks control compared with others who can take drugs in moderation and he described his drug use as ‘all or nothing’. Daniel described himself as the ‘classic drug addict, alcoholic, nicotine addict, sex addict’. He said that he is aware of a pattern of mental health problems in his family but that there was little in his upbringing and background that could explain his addictive behaviour.
 

Daniel has felt an ‘emotional disconnection’ from the world since he was a child and thinks this could be the root of his problems with addiction.

Daniel has felt an ‘emotional disconnection’ from the world since he was a child and thinks this could be the root of his problems with addiction.

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I’m the classic drug addict, alcoholic, nicotine addict, sex addict described in a doctor’s opinion at the beginning of the book of Alcoholics Anonymous. When a drug of choice enters my body several things start to happen and I experienced this the first time I drank alcohol, alcoholically when I was 12 years old. When I take a drink of alcohol into my system it starts up what we describe as the phenomenon of craving which means that I am entirely powerless to stop myself drinking. Now that might be 3 glasses, it might be a 2-day spree. But that started the very, very first time that I drank alcohol. I would never be able to predict how much I would be able to drink. I would never say with any great certainty whether I could stop. That’s the physical effects of my addictions. Alcohol was the first but in time I, god you name it, I’ve been addicted to it ' cigarettes which I’m still going through sadly, then later on drugs and also compulsive sexual behaviour. Those are my four big ones really in terms of addictions.
 
When I was 6 or 7 years old long before I’d taken drugs or drank or anything like that I remember standing in the playground when I was a little boy and I felt all of a sudden a sense of profound disconnection from the world and from the little children playing with me. It was almost like a curtain, like an invisible barrier had formed around me and I felt entirely separate from the world. It took me years of misery and active addiction and when I say active addiction I mean drugs and alcohol. And it took me 2 ½ years of recovery to realise that that thing, that weird sense of disconnection is what we describe in AA as a spiritual malady. I’m disconnected from the world and I need my substance of choice, be it the drink, be it the drugs, be it the sex, cigarettes, whatever to reconnect me. The connection between the two, the spiritual problem and the act of addiction and that took me a long time in sobriety to get a grip on. 
 
Do drugs and alcohol help with problems?
Some people found that the feeling of relaxation they got from cannabis helped them to concentrate and work through problems. Peter thinks that he comes up with some of his best solutions to work-related problems, after he has had a smoke in the evening.
 

Charlie suggests that people should stay away from drugs and alcohol if they have problems.

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Charlie suggests that people should stay away from drugs and alcohol if they have problems.

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It’s when you start to use drugs to escape what goes on or because you’re not happy with things that’s when it becomes an issue. I think you should be very careful if you’re feeling sad.  To be honest, I think the best thing to do is to not drink or to take any drugs until you’re kind of over it. Because yeah. I mean it can help you to escape but ultimately you’re better dealing with those emotions than you are running away from them. And I think most problematic drug use does come from people who are in a bad state emotionally and they end up taking them. I mean in a bad state socially or economically and they end up taking drugs.

However, through their experiences, the people we talked to had learned that using drugs or alcohol doesn’t solve difficult family, relationship or emotional problems. They said that people who are having problems should keep away from drugs and alcohol because it could make things worse (see Advice to other young people).

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