Alcohol and other drugs affect chemicals in the brain responsible for regulating feelings and social behaviour. Alcohol and other drugs can deplete or change the levels of these chemicals, causing short- and long-term impact on mental health concerns.
Everyone is different but for most people their first experience of mental health problems will arise early in life. According to Australian leading mental health researcher
Professor Pat McGorry, “75 per cent of mental health disorders that will affect people across the lifespan will have emerged for the first time by the age of 25 years”.
Teens are a particularly vulnerable to developing mental health problems, because adolescence is a period where organising, construction and strengthening of connections in the brain is happening.
Some of the effects of drug and alcohol use on mental health may include:
- feeling down or unmotivated to do anything
- withdrawing from friends and family
- becoming irritable angry or aggressive
- changes in sleeping patterns
- skipping school or work
- taking more risks than usual
Young people who already experience mental health problems, or who have a family history of mental health problems, are more sensitive to the effects of alcohol and other drugs. Substance use can trigger mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, or psychosis (unusual thoughts, hearing or seeing things that are not there) and or make their mental health symptoms worse.
It can be difficult to tell the difference between a drug problem and a mental health problem as there could be many reasons for a teenager’s change of behaviour, unrelated to alcohol and or drug use. Visit the
ReachOut website for information on mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, psychotic disorders and eating disorders.
If you are concerned that a change in behaviour is related to alcohol or other drugs,
help is available.
Take a look at the
A-Z of Drugs for helpful information on the most commonly used drugs affecting Australians right now.
Stigma and discrimination
For people who have alcohol and other drug use problems, experiencing stigma or discrimination can impact their mental health and be a barrier to seeking help. Stigma is a set of negative beliefs that a group or society holds about a topic or group of people. Discrimination is the unjust or prejudicial treatment of people. In this case, treatment of people because they have used or are experiencing a dependency on alcohol or other drugs.
Experiencing stigma and discrimination can stop people from looking for help or accessing support and treatment services because it impacts on their self-esteem, mental health and general wellbeing. Stigma can also influence whether people tell others about their alcohol and other drug use.
Using positive language
Sometimes people who use drugs experience discrimination and negative attitudes from people closest to them (family, friends), who do so without realising. People may judge because they don't understand and tragically, without family and peer support, people with alcohol and other drug problems are usually more vulnerable and susceptible to harm. Before making a judgement about someone who has used or is using drugs, it is important to be informed and focus on the person, not their substance use.
The language you use to talk about and describe alcohol and other drug issues is powerful and can have a big impact on your family or relationships. However well-meaning, using words like ‘addict’, ‘junkie’, ‘druggie’, ‘alcoholic’ can be harmful. Instead you could simply say ‘person with a dependence / problem’. Also keeping it simple by saying ‘person who has stopped using drugs’ rather than ‘clean’, ‘sober’ or ‘drug-free’ can be less judgmental and help people feel more positive about their treatment journey.
Developed by the
Network of Alcohol & other Drugs Agencies (NADA) and the
NSW Users & AIDS Association (NUAA),
Language matters is a resource that can help you find words and ways of talking that do not reinforce negative stereotypes and stigmatise people.
Mental health support services
For mental health crisis support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au or call Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 or visit suicidecallbackservice.org.au.
To find mental health support in your local area contact the Mental Health Access Line on 1800 011 511 and for young people aged 12 to 25 years old, contact Headspace by visiting headspace.org.au.