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 recreational drugs affect mental health?

All drugs have some kind of effect on your mental health. They affect the way you see things, your mood and your behaviour.

These effects may:

  • be pleasant or unpleasant
  • be short-lived or longer-lasting
  • be similar to those you experience as part of a mental health problem
  • go away once the drug has worn off
  • continue once the drug has worn off

For some people, taking drugs can lead to long-term mental health problems, such as depression or schizophrenia.

You may already have a mental health diagnosis, and use illegal drugs to help yourself cope.

Dual diagnosis

If you have mental health problems and also have problems with drug or alcohol use, you will probably be described as having 'dual diagnosis'.

This may cause a large number of problems, and you may need help with many different parts of your life – see support for dual diagnosis.

There is no standardised treatment for dual diagnosis. Treatment involves both mental health services and drug and alcohol services.

How drugs may affect you

It is difficult to predict how you will react to a drug. You may react differently to the same drug at different times or in different situations.

This may differ depending on:

  • the type of drug
  • whether the drug has been mixed with other substances, and what these other substances are
  • the amount you take
  • the environment or social situation in which you take it
  • how often you take it
  • your previous experience of it
  • what you want and expect to happen
  • your mental state at the time

If you have a history of poor mental health, you may be more likely to experience negative effects with illegal drugs.

If you have previously had no mental health problems, you may still develop symptoms of a mental health problem from using these drugs.

Regular use

If you use drugs a lot, or become dependent on them, this can have a negative impact on your day-to-day life. For example, it could lead to problems with:

  • money
  • education and employment
  • relationships
  • housing
  • low self-esteem
  • finding it hard to maintain commitments, including appointments related to your drug use or mental health
  • crime – either in possessing an illegal substance or to finance a habit, leading to a criminal record
  • imprisonment

If you take drugs, remember:

  • you don’t always know what is in them
  • it can be difficult to predict how you will react
  • they could contain additional harmful substances
  • they may not contain any of the substance you are expecting
  • even if you have taken something before, it could have different ingredients or be a different dose

This is more likely to be the case with illegal highs.


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


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