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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What support is available?

If your drug use is affecting your mental health, you could:

They can:

  • discuss your drug use and how it is affecting you
  • explain your options for treatment
  • refer you to a specialist if necessary

You may feel anxious about discussing your use of recreational drugs with your doctor, but your treatment is likely to be more successful if they have all the information about your drug use.

Be honest about how you use drugs. For example, if you have psychotic symptoms, a doctor may be less likely to prescribe antipsychotic medication if they know these may have been caused by a recreational drug.

Before you start any treatment, your doctor should discuss your options with you, and take your opinions into account.

If you are seen by your local drug and alcohol service, you should be given a key worker (a doctor, nurse or drug worker) who will make a care plan with you and see you regularly.

Guidance from NICE (the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) on the psychological treatment and social help for people with problems related to drug or alcohol abuse recommends:

  • all treatment should:
    • be person-centred
    • take into account your individual needs and preferences
    • take into account your cultural background and any special needs
  • you should have a good support worker to co-ordinate your care plan and build a good therapeutic relationship with you, discussing your options with you
  • you should be offered ‘motivational interviewing’ and ‘contingency management’, which aim to encourage you to stop taking street drugs
  • if you are being treated for heroin addiction with methadone, buprenorphine or naltrexone, you should be offered a talking treatment

Talking treatments

You may be offered psychological therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or psychodynamic therapy.

You and your family may be offered behavioural family intervention therapy. If you and your partner both use recreational drugs, you may also be offered behavioural couples therapy.

See talking treatments and cognitive behavioural therapy for further information.


Medication is unlikely to help with mental health problems that are directly caused by your use of alcohol or recreational drugs. For example:

  • antipsychotic medication may not be effective for psychosis caused by an illegal drug
  • SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) antidepressants are not effective for treating depression caused by using ecstasy

But if you were already diagnosed with a mental health problem before you started using other substances, you may be prescribed drugs to treat it.

If you are prescribed psychiatric drugs, it’s important to be careful about taking them with recreational drugs. The different drugs may interact with each other and cause adverse effects – see drugs and medication.

Heroin addiction

If you are addicted to heroin, you are likely to be offered treatment with methadone, buprenorphine or naltrexone.

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

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