Recreational drugs and alcohol

Explains the mental health effects of recreational drugs, what might happen if you use recreational drugs and also have a mental health problem, and suggestions for where to find support.

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How can friends and family help?

This section is for friends and family members who want to help:

  • someone with a mental health problem who also uses recreational drugs or alcohol
  • someone who is experiencing mental health problems as a result of taking recreational drugs

It can be very difficult to know how to help people who take drugs, especially if they are addicted.

If they have severe problems, the reality may be that there is a limit to the amount of support you can give them and how much you can get them to change.

However, there are some things you can do that might be helpful.

Encourage them to seek help

This can be difficult, particularly if they are seeking help for the first time.

They may be worried about being judged for their drug use, or concerned about what will happen if the drugs they use are illegal.

You can:

  • reassure them that it is OK to seek help
  • help them decide where to go for support

Support them to use services

You can:

  • help them find out what services are available locally
  • go with them if they would like you to (especially for a first visit)
  • support them to make the most of the services they are using

If the support offered is not helpful, or they are reluctant to attend, you may be asked to attend meetings with their support workers and doctors to help both you and them provide the most suitable care.

NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) guidelines suggest that if you are involved in your friend or relative’s care in this way, they should be shown a copy of the record of the meetings and what you have said.

Encourage them to carry on with treatment

If your friend or relative is taking part in a drug treatment programme or receiving a talking treatment, you may be able to encourage them to:

  • stick to their treatment plan
  • go to appointments
  • meet their targets

Spend positive time with them

It can greatly help your friend or relative if you:

  • be there for them
  • be honest with them
  • listen to them if they want to talk
  • spend time together, perhaps joining in with activities they enjoy

Help in an emergency

If your friend or relative doesn’t seek help, and you think they are putting themselves or others at risk, their ‘nearest relative’ (as defined under the Mental Health Act (MHA)) can ask for a mental health assessment to be carried out.

Under the MHA, they can be compulsorily detained in hospital for further assessment and treatment if necessary. You may wish to discuss the consequences of taking this action with other friends or family members first. For more information, see Mental Health Act and Sectioning.

Look after yourself

It can be very difficult to try to support someone whose problems are associated with their use of recreational drugs or alcohol.

You may find it helpful to discuss your feelings and concerns with someone else, such as a counsellor, or to join a support group, such as those provided by your local Adfam or Families Anonymous.


This information was published in November 2016. We will revise it in 2019.


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