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What effect do drugs have on mental health?

Drugs alter your brain chemicals, which can have an impact on your mental wellbeing


Written by SpunOut | View this authors Twitter page and posted in health


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Remember: All drugs, including the misuse of prescribed medication, can pose serious health risks, up to and including possible death.

Whether you're taking prescription medication or illegal drugs, there may be a risk to your mental health. It's important to know the ways that drugs could have an impact on your mental health and what to do if you think you may be dependent on drugs.

You can call the HSE Drugs & Alcohol Helpline on 1800 459 459 to access information and support.

What effect do drugs have on mental health?

Drugs interfere with the regular chemicals in your brain. That means your neurotransmitters (the chemicals that send messages through the brain) can't function properly. 

While some people experience a high when they take drugs, others may have panic attacks or drug induced anxiety disorder. You could experience very severe anxiety, with symptoms like an increased heart rate, trembling, sweats, shortness of breath, and a fear of losing control.

You might also feel like your surroundings are strange and unreal, or that you are losing your personal identity and sense of reality. You might go through a drug-induced psychosis, seeing and hearing things that aren't really there. Drug-induced delusions can also include smelling and tasting things that aren't there either.

Drug-induced mood disorder 

Drug-induced mood disorder is another risk. You could feel incredibly depressed, sad, restless, irritable, tired, or manic. An elevated mood, delusions, impulsive behaviour and racing thoughts may also be caused by drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines, heroin and methadone, to name a few.

Psychoactive drugs and mental health

Psychoactive drugs are drugs which affect the mind. Heroin, cannabis, alcohol, ecstasy have a noticeable affect on your body but they also have an impact on your mind. They can create positive feelings in one person and negative feelings in another. They can also create positive feelings in the short term, but can lead to negative effects in the long term.

Risk of depression 

If you're the kind of person who is prone to depression or has a family history of the condition for example, alcohol or illegal drugs can sometimes make this worse. 

Ecstasy, for example, has an affect on the serotonin levels in your brain, which is a feel-good chemical, sometimes known as the 'happy chemical'. If you take a lot of ecstasy over time your natural stores of serotonin may drop and you could end up with a lower level than you had originally. The less serotonin you have, the higher the risk of depression.

In some cases, psychoactive drugs can cause ongoing mental health conditions.

Supports and Services

  • Drugs.ie: Online information and support for drug and alcohol use. Includes a national directory of drug and alcohol services
  • HSE Drugs, Alcohol, HIV and Sexual Health Helpline: Freephone 1800 459 459.
  • The Club Drug Clinic offers advice, support and detoxification for GHB (Liquid Ecstasy, G) and other chemsex and club drugs is an integrated person centred specialist addiction service: Tel 016488600
  • Rialto Community Drug Team
  • Find a local service through the National Directory for Drug and Alcohol Services at Drugs.ie

Remember: All drugs, including the misuse of prescribed medication, can pose serious health risks.

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Published Feb­ru­ary 25th2013
Last updated June 22nd2018
Tags drugs mental health mental illness
Can this be improved? Contact editor@spunout.ie if you have any suggestions for this article.

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