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What effect do drugs have on mental health?

Altering brain chemicals can have impacts on your wellbeing


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


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Drugs. We all know what they are and we have an idea why people take them, but do we know what the consequences for our mental health are? Certain drugs (even prescription ones) can have a pretty big impact on your mental health, so it's a good idea to make sure you know the facts.

What are psychoactive drugs?

Psychoactive drugs are drugs which affect the mind. Heroin, cannabis, alcohol, ecstasy have a noticable 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 bad ones in the long term.

What affect 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 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.

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 work. Ecstacy, for example, has an affect on the serotonin levels in your brain. That's the chemical which is thought to have a big impact on your mood and depression. If you take a lot of ecstacy 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.

It's not clear why some people are affected and others aren't but it's thought that it might have something to do with the drugs triggering an underlying mental health condition or changing the way certain chemicals affect the brain.

Supports available for drugs and mental health issues 

If you're struggling with depression, anxiety, or any other mental health issue, as a result of drugs or otherwise, remember that there is help out there. Talk to a friend or family member or visit your GP. If you do not feel comfortable taking to someone you know there are other support services which are non-judgemental for you to call.

Having a mental health issue is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about and there are things you can do to get better. Check out our Mental Health section for lots of great tips on looking after your mind.

For more information about drugs and the affect they can have on your mental health be sure to check out drugs.ie.

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

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Published February 25th, 2013
Last updated June 22nd, 2018
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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