Mental health support network for PWWP

Mental health illness support network for People working with people

The impact of illegal drugs & alcohol!

The impact if illegal drugs & alcohol;

It is estimated that between 30 percent and 50 percent of people with a mental health problems have co-existing illicit drug and alcohol problems. This may include someone diagnosed with psychotic illness who uses street drugs, or someone that is depressed and is drinking heavily in order to help them cope with the way they are feeling, or help them lift their mood or relax.

People with the combination of problems often have many additional difficulties, which are solely medical, psychological or psychiatric. In addition, 27 percent of suicides recorded had an illegal drug and alcohol component.

The impact of illegal drugs and alcohol on mental health problems can be split into three groups.

  • Those that can directly cause mental health problems;
  • Those that can aggravate or exacerbate mental health problems;
  • Those that people use to relieve mental health problems;

Alcohol

Alcohol can trigger mental health problems;

Serious alcohol misuse can cause alcohol-induces psychosis. The normally passes when the person has recovered from the effects of alcohol misuse but it is not clear whether it causes more enduring psychosis (this is more common with withdrawal from serious alcohol misuse).

Alcohol can make mental health worse;

  • Alcohol adds to stress by making day-to-day living more difficult. If people have been having thoughts of suicide, they are more likely to act on their thoughts if they have been drinking.
  • Alcohol can interfere with some anti-psychotic medication, causing poisoning in some cases, e.g. People taking lithium carbonate. It can also react badly with other psychiatric drugs e.g. cause extreme drowsiness in those taking tricyclic anti-depressants.
  • It stops anti-psychotics drugs, used to treat the mania of bipolar disorder, from working properly, which may mean having to take higher dose thus increasing the risk of negative side-effects.
  • Alcohol is a depressant which interferes with and slows the operation of the central nervous system.  It intensifies mood, so a depressed person is likely to feel worse under the influence of alcohol. It also disrupts sleep patterns and thus contributes to depression of increasing fatigue.
  • Although alcohol can act quickly to relieve feelings of anxiety, long-term alcohol misuse and acute alcohol withdrawal often increase anxiety levels. This can lead people into destructive cycles of increasing alcohol use. The after -effects of heavy and repeated alcohol use makes everyday living and tasks more difficult to deal with. This leads to additional stress, which can cause or contribute to anxiety

Alcohol and relief of symptoms of mental health problems;

Some people use alcohol to get relief from their symptoms. In the short term, the physical effects of hangovers and the low mood states they bring make life harder to cope with. In the long term, the negative effects of alcohol on physical health, finances and relationships place extra strain on a person.

As a number of drugs used to treat mental health problems may react badly with alcohol, it is important that people let their doctor know how much they drink so they can be prescribed appropriate types and dosages of drugs.

Illegal drugs;

As with alcohol, some people use illegal drugs to try gain relief from their symptoms. All of the drugs discussed below have unhelpful side-effects. People sometimes take illegal drugs as a way of coping with a developing psychotic illness. However, doing so can make symptoms worse and the disorder more difficult to diagnose.

Illegal drugs can trigger mental health problems;

A drug-induced psychosis is a psychosis brought on by the use of drugs. The symptoms usually appear quickly and last a short time3 (from a few hours to a few days) until the effect of the drug wears off, although in some people have a predisposition the symptom may not go away. The most common symptoms are visual hallucinations, disorientation and memory problems. Drugs that cause psychosis include cannabis, other hallucinogens, for example LCD, magic mushrooms, cocaine, ecstasy and amphetamines.

Although drugs can sometimes be the sole cause of psychosis, in others cases they may trigger another psychotic illness such as schizophrenia in people who are vulnerable to psychosis. People who have a history of bipolar disorder should also avoid using drugs.

Cannabis;

  • A great deal of attention has been paid recently to the potential link between cannabis and schizophrenia. What is known is that the consumption of cannabis affects the dopamine system (dopamine is a mood-regulating brain chemical). People experiencing symptoms of psychosis have unusually high levels of dopamine. Cannabis can also trigger mental health problems in people who are vulnerable.
  • People who at great risk of developing a mental health problem may also be more likely to smoke cannabis because other factors (e.g. social background, living environment). Cannabis can also trigger paranoia and anxiety as well as causing hallucinations.

Other hallucinogens;

  • LSD (acid), the various type of magic mushrooms and other substances such as salvia divinorum (sage) and DMT (dimethyltryptamine) all induce symptoms of psychosis as part of the range of effects. As well as heightned senses and feelings of ‘mind expansion’, these symptoms are actually what people are looking for when they take these substances. This can be extremely hazardous for anyone who has or who is vulnerable to psychosis.
  • Hallucinogens can cause drug-induced psychosis. These usually pass soon after the person has stopped using the drug and the effect have worn off but can leave people depressed and anxious, Such experiences may also trigger more serious and enduring mental health problems.

Stimulants;

  • Amphetamines may trigger more enduring psychotic illness (such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder) in people who are vulnerable.
  • Amphetamines (speed, whiz, billy). cocaine (coke, charlie) and caffeine are all stimulants drugs. Their effects is to give the user a burst of energy over a number of hours. Amphetamines and cocaine are highly addictive substances, the after -effects of which are extremely unhelpful to those with mental health problem. ‘Coming down’ often leaves users feeling paranoid, agitated very low in spirit and unable to sleep. Thus, while the uplifting effects of stimulant abuse may provide temporary relief from depressive symptoms, the after-effects can make the person feel much worse even  want to commit suicide.
  • Stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamines cause symptoms of anxiety and can induce panic attacks. Cocaine and amphetamines are powerful drugs and should be avoided by people with anxiety.

Ecstasy;

  • Ecstasy is a stimulant with some hallucinogenic effects. It operates by causing the release of serotonin, a mood regulating brain chemicals, in the brain. The ‘high’ that a user of ecstasy experience involves ecstatic mood (hence the name), heightened  senses, powerful feelings of well-being and strong feelings of empathy with others. For depressed person, this can seem like magic. However, the reverse is also true – the ;low’ or ‘come-down’ from ecstasy involves an inability to sleep properly amd low mood state for 2-3 days afterwards. For these reasons using ecstasy is not helpful to people with mood disorder. This may be partcularly true for someone with bipolar disorder, in which recovery involves trying to smooth out the high and the lows in the swing from mania to depression.
  • Ecstasy usually comes in a pill form and is often mixed with amphetamines and other illegal drugs. These have added danger for people with mental health problems. So research has suggested that repeated or heavy use of ecstasy damage the brain;s ability to respond to serotonin. As it is a relatively new drug, the long-term effects of using ecstasy are not fully understood.

Drug and relief of sympyoms of mental health problems;

Some people try to self-medicate with numbers of illegal drugs mentioned above. However, people can also misuse prescription drugs such  as diazepam (valium) or nitrazepam (mogadon). Although these act to relieve feelings of anxiety and worry, all these drugs are addictive. When taken combat symptoms of anxiety, they can be even more habit-forming. In addition, symptoms usually return as soon as people stop taken them. It is for these same reason that drug treatment of anxiety disorder is now less favoured than treatment with counselling techniques.

Caffeine;

Caffeine, though perfectly legal, can contribute to anxious states and disrupt sleep. It should be used in moderation by those with mental health problems.

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43 responses to “The impact of illegal drugs & alcohol!

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    Love the content, except for two things; One, you list the category, ‘Cannabis’, and then after, ‘Other Hallucinogens’…cannabis is NOT classified as a Hallucinogen.

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