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How drugs affect your mental health

Messing with 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.

Psychoactive Drugs

  • 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 could they do to my mental health?

Well, they interfere with the chemicals in your brain because that's what drugs do. That means your neurotransmitters (the chemicals that send messages through the brain) can't function properly.

One of the main reasons many people take drugs is because they feel it has a positive effect on the their mood. However, it's good to ask yourself whether the short term buzz is worth the risk?

  • While some people experience a high when they take drugs, others may have terrible 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 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.

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, visit your GP, or call the Samaritans on 116 123. 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

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

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Published February 25th, 2013
Last updated October 28th, 2015
Tags drugs mental health mental illness
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