Signs that you might need support

Anyone can experience problems with drug use, whether this is recreational or prescription drugs.

You might be taking recreational drugs out of curiosity, to have a good time, because friends are doing it, or to ease problems such as stress, anxiety, or depression.

You might be taking prescription painkillers or sleeping tablets and feel you are becoming dependent on them.

If drug use is causing problems in your life – maybe at work, school, home, or in your relationships – it’s important to get help to make changes.

Addiction differs from person to person, with your genes, mental health, family and social environment all playing a role. The following risk factors can make you more likely to develop an addition:

  • Family history of addiction
  • Mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety
  • Using drugs from a young age
  • Abuse, neglect, or other traumatic experiences
  • How you take the drug – smoking or injecting a drug may mean it’s more likely to become addicted.

How do you tell the difference between regular drug use and addiction? There’s a very fine line and it can be hard to judge when you or someone you know has crossed that line.

If the drug fulfils a need, you may find yourself increasingly relying on it. You may take drugs to calm or energise yourself or to make you feel more confident. You may start using prescription drugs to relieve pain, cope with panic attacks, or improve concentration. If you are using drugs to fill something that is missing in your life, you’re more at risk of crossing the line from casual drug use to addiction. To maintain a healthy balance in your life, you need to have positive experiences and feel good about your life without any drug use.

Using drugs may start as a way to socially connect. People often try drugs for the first time in social situations with friends. A strong desire to fit in can make it feel like using drugs with them is the only option.

Problems can sometimes sneak up on you, as drug use gradually increases over time. Smoking a joint with friends over the weekend, or taking ecstasy at a rave, or painkillers when your back aches, for example, can change from using drugs a couple of days a week to using them every day. Gradually, getting and using the drug becomes more and more important to you.

As using drugs takes hold, you may miss or frequently be late for work, your job performance may progressively deteriorate, and you may start to neglect social or family responsibilities. Your ability to stop using is eventually compromised. What began as a voluntary choice can turn into a physical and psychological need.

Eventually, drug use can take over your life, stopping social and intellectual development. This only reinforces feelings of isolation.

While each drug produces different physical effects, all drugs share one thing in common: repeated use can alter the way the brain functions. This includes commonly used prescription medicines as well as recreational drugs.

Taking the drug causes a rush of the hormone dopamine in your brain, which triggers feelings of pleasure. Your brain remembers these feelings and wants them repeated.

When you become addicted, the substance takes on the same significance as other survival behaviours, such as eating and drinking.

Changes in your brain interfere with your ability to think clearly, exercise good judgement, control behaviour, and feel normal without using the drug.

No matter which drug you use, the cravings to use become more important than anything else, including family, friends, career, and even your own health and happiness.

With the right treatment and support, you can counteract the effects of drug use and regain control of your life. The first thing is to recognise and admit you have a problem, or listen to loved ones who are concerned about the effects drug use is having on your life.

Although different drugs have different physical effects, the symptoms of addiction are similar. If you’ve noticed some of the signs below, it might be time to address your drug use.

  • Neglecting responsibilities at school, work, or home (e.g. missing school, skipping work, neglecting your children).
  • Taking risks, such as driving while using drugs, using dirty needles, or having unprotected sex.
  • Experiencing legal trouble, such as arrests for disorderly behaviour, driving under the influence, or stealing to support a drug habit.
  • Problems in your relationships, such as fights with your partner or family members, an unhappy employer, or the loss of friends.

Common signs and symptoms of drug addiction

  • You’ve built up a drug tolerance. You need to use more of the drug to experience the same effects you used to get with smaller amounts.
  • You use to avoid or relieve withdrawal symptoms. If you go too long without drugs, you experience symptoms such as nausea, restlessness, insomnia, depression, sweating, shaking, and anxiety.
  • Loss of control over your drug use. You often do drugs or use more than you planned, even though you told yourself you wouldn’t. You may want to stop using, but you feel powerless.
  • Your life revolves around drug use. You spend a lot of time using and thinking about drugs, figuring out how to get them, or recovering from the drug’s effects.
  • You’ve abandoned activities you used to enjoy, such as hobbies, sports, and socialising, because of your drug use.
  • You continue to use drugs, despite knowing what it is doing to you. It’s causing big problems in your life: blackouts, financial issues, infections, mood swings, depression, paranoia, but you continue to use.

Ready to get help?

Addiction is complex and affects every aspect of your life. Overcoming addiction requires getting support and making changes to the way you live, deal with problems, and relate to others. Recovery is within your reach but don’t try to go it alone; it’s very easy to get discouraged and rationalise “just one more.” Whether you choose to go to rehabilitation, choose self-help or get therapy, support is essential.

Decide to make a change

Developing an addiction to drugs isn’t a character flaw or a sign of weakness, and it takes more than willpower to overcome the problem. Using illegal or certain prescription drugs can create changes in the brain, causing powerful cravings and a compulsion to keep using, making it feel like an impossible goal to stop. Recovery is never out of reach, no matter how hopeless your situation may seem or how many times you’ve tried and failed before. With the right treatment and support, change is possible.

For many people struggling with addiction, the toughest step toward recovery is the very first one: recognising that you have a problem and deciding to make a change. It’s normal to feel uncertain about whether you’re ready to start recovery, or if you have what it takes to quit. If you’re addicted to a prescription drug, you may be concerned about how you’re going to find an alternate way to treat a medical condition. Commitment involves changing many things, including:

  • the way you deal with stress
  • who you allow in your life
  • what you do in your free time
  • how you think about yourself
  • the prescription and over-the-counter medications you take

It’s also normal to feel conflicted about giving up your drug of choice, even when you know it’s causing problems in your life. Recovery requires time, motivation, and support, but by making a commitment to change, you can overcome your addiction and regain control of your life.

Think about change

  • Keep track of your drug use, including when and how much you use. This will give you a better sense of the role the addiction is playing in your life.
  • List the pros and cons of quitting, as well as the costs and benefits of continuing your drug use.
  • Consider the things that are important to you, such as your partner, children, pets, career, or your health. How does your drug use affect those things?
  • Ask someone you trust about their feelings on your drug use.
  • Ask yourself if there’s anything preventing you from changing. What could help you make the change?
  • Remind yourself of the reasons you want to change.
  • Think about your past attempts, if any. What worked? What didn’t?
  • Set specific, measurable goals, such as a start date or limits on your drug use.
  • Remove reminders of your addiction from your home, workplace, and other places you frequent.
  • Tell friends and family that you’re committing to change, and ask for their support.

Once you’ve committed to change, it’s time to explore your treatment choices. While addiction treatment can vary according to the specific drug, it often includes different elements, such as:

Detoxification. Usually the first step is to stop taking drugs and manage withdrawal symptoms.

Behavioural therapy. Individual, group, and/or family therapy can help you identify the root causes of why you use drugs, repair your relationships, and learn healthier coping skills.

Medication may be used to manage withdrawal symptoms, prevent relapse, or treat any co-occurring mental health condition such as depression or anxiety.

Long-term follow-up can help to prevent relapse. This may include attending regular support groups or online meetings to help keep your recovery on track.

No one treatment works for everyone. Everyone’s needs are different. Whether you have a problem with illegal or prescription drugs, addiction treatment should be tailored to meet your needs. It’s important that you find a treatment that feels right.

Treatment should address more than just your drug use. Addiction affects your whole life, including your relationships, career, health, and well-being. Treatment success depends on developing a new way of living and addressing the reasons why you turned to drugs in the first place. For example, your drug dependency may have developed from a desire to manage pain or to cope with stress, in which case you’ll need to find a healthier way to relieve pain or to manage stressful situations.

Commitment. Drug addiction treatment is not a quick and easy process. In general, the longer and more intense the drug use, the longer and more intense the treatment you’ll need. And in all cases, long-term follow-up care is crucial to recovery.

There are many places where you can get help. Not everybody requires medical supervision or a long time in rehabilitation. The care you need depends on a variety of factors, including your age, drug-use history, medical or psychiatric conditions. In addition to GPs and psychologists, many social workers, and counsellors offer addiction treatment services.

Substance abuse and mental health. As you seek help for your drug use, it’s also important to get treatment for any other medical or psychological issues you’re experiencing. Your best chance of recovery is by getting combined mental health and addiction treatment.

Don’t try to do it alone – reach out for support. Whatever treatment approach you choose, having positive influences and a solid support system is essential. The more people you can turn to for encouragement, guidance, and a listening ear, the better your chances for recovery.

Keep friends and family close. Having the support of friends and family members can play a huge part in your recovery. If you’re reluctant to turn to your loved ones because you’ve let them down before, consider going to relationship counselling or family therapy.

Build a sober social network. If your previous social life revolved around drugs, you may need to make some new connections. It’s important to have sober friends who will support your recovery. Try taking a class, volunteering, or attending events in your community.

Make meetings a priority. Join a support group and attend meetings regularly. Spending time with people who understand exactly what you’re going through can be very healing. You can also benefit from the shared experiences of the group members and learn what others have done to stay sober.

After addressing your immediate problems with addiction and starting treatment, you’ll still have to face the problems that led to you to use drugs. Did you start using to numb painful emotions, calm yourself after an argument, unwind after a bad day, or forget about your problems?

Once you’re sober, the negative feelings that you dampened with drugs will resurface. For treatment to be successful, you’ll first need to resolve your underlying issues.

Once you have resolved your underlying issues, you will, at times, continue to experience stress, loneliness, frustration, anger, shame, anxiety, and hopelessness. These emotions are all a normal part of life. Finding ways to address these feelings as they arise is an essential part to your treatment and recovery.

There are healthier ways to keep your stress level in check. You can learn to manage your problems without falling back on your addiction. When you’re confident in your ability to quickly de-stress, facing strong feelings isn’t as intimidating or overwhelming.

Ways to relieve your stress

  • Movement. A brisk walk can be enough to relieve stress. Yoga and meditation are also excellent ways to deal with stress.
  • Step outside and enjoy the fresh air. Enjoy a beautiful view or landscape.
  • Experiment with your sense of smell. Breathe in the scent of fresh flowers or coffee beans, or savour a scent that reminds you of a favourite place, such as sunscreen or a seashell.
  • Close your eyes and picture a peaceful place. Think of a sandy beach, or a fond memory, such as your child’s first steps or time spent with friends.
  • Pamper yourself. Make yourself a steaming cup of tea, give yourself a neck or shoulder massage. Soak in a hot bath or shower.

Your recovery doesn’t end as soon as you stop using drugs. Your brain still needs time to recover and rebuild connections that changed while you were addicted. During this time cravings can be intense. You can support your continued recovery by avoiding people, places, and situations that trigger your urge to use:

Step away from your friends who use. Don’t meet up with friends who are still using drugs. Surround yourself with people who support you, not those who might tempt you to slip back into old habits.

Avoid bars and clubs. Even if you don’t have a problem with alcohol, drinking lowers inhibitions and impairs judgment, which can easily lead to a relapse. Drugs are often readily available and the temptation to use can be overpowering. Also avoid any other environments and situations that you associate with drug use.

Be upfront about your history of drug use when seeking medical treatment. If you need a medical or dental procedure done, be upfront and find a provider who will work with you in either prescribing alternatives or the absolute minimum medication necessary. You should never feel ashamed or humiliated about previous drug use or be denied medication for pain.

Use caution with prescription drugs. If you were addicted to a prescription drug, such as a painkiller, you may need to talk to your GP about finding alternate ways to manage pain. Regardless of the drug you experienced problems with, it’s important to stay away from prescription drugs with the potential for addiction or use only when necessary and with extreme caution. Drugs with a high addiction potential include painkillers, sleeping pills, and anti-anxiety medicines.

Sometimes cravings cannot be avoided, and it is necessary to find a way to cope:

Get involved in a distracting activity. Read, see friends, go to the cinema, take up a new hobby or exercise. Once you’re interested in something else, you’ll find the urges will go away.

Talk. Talk to friends or family members about cravings when they happen. Talking can be very helpful in finding the source of the cravings. Also, talking about cravings often helps to relieve the feeling and will help restore honesty in your relationships. Cravings are nothing to feel bad about.

Challenge and change your thinking. When experiencing a craving, many people have a tendency to remember only the positive effects of the drug and forget the negative. Therefore, you may find it helpful to remind yourself that you really won’t feel better if you use and that you stand to lose a lot. Sometimes it is helpful to have these listed on a small card that you keep with you.

It’s important to be involved in things that you enjoy, that make you feel needed, and add meaning to your life. When your life is filled with rewarding activities and a sense of purpose, your addiction will lose its appeal.

Pick up an old hobby or try a new one. Do things that challenge your creativity and spark your imagination or something you’ve always wanted to try. Learn a musical instrument, a foreign language, or try a new sport.

Get a pet. Yes, pets are a responsibility, but caring for an animal makes you feel loved and needed. Pets can also get you out of the house for exercise.

Spend time outside. Get in to the garden, go camping, or enjoy regular walks in a park.

Enjoy the arts. Visit a museum, go to a concert or take an art class.

Get involved in your community. Replace your addiction with groups and activities. Volunteer, become active in your community, or join a local club or group

Set meaningful goals. Having goals to work toward and something to look forward to. It doesn’t matter what the goals are, just that they are important to you.

Look after your health. Regular exercise, getting the right amount of sleep, and healthy eating habits help you keep your energy levels up and your stress levels down.

I’m concerned about someone else who might be taking drugs

Knowing what to look for, what to say and what you can do to help.

People who use drugs often try to conceal their symptoms and downplay their problem. If you’re worried that a friend or loved one might be using drugs, look for the warning signs so that you can be ready to offer help and support.

  • Bloodshot eyes, pupils larger or smaller than usual
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Sudden weight loss or weight gain
  • Deterioration of physical appearance / personal hygiene
  • Unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing
  • Tremors, slurred speech, or impaired coordination
  • Drop in attendance and performance at work or education
  • Unexplained financial problems; borrowing or stealing
  • Engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviours
  • Sudden change in friends, favourite places to visit, and hobbies
  • Frequently getting into trouble (fights, accidents, illegal activities)
  • Unexplained change in personality or attitude
  • Sudden mood swings, irritability, or angry outbursts
  • Periods of unusual hyperactivity, agitation, or giddiness
  • Lack of motivation; appears lethargic or “spaced out”
  • Appears fearful, anxious, or paranoid

Marijuana: Glassy, red eyes; loud talking, inappropriate laughter followed by sleepiness; loss of interest, motivation; weight gain or loss.

Stimulants (including amphetamines, cocaine, crystal meth): Dilated pupils; hyperactivity; euphoria; irritability; anxiety; excessive talking followed by depression or excessive sleeping at odd times; may go long periods of time without eating or sleeping; weight loss; dry mouth and nose.

Inhalants (glues, aerosols, vapors): Watery eyes; impaired vision, memory and thought; secretions from the nose or rashes around the nose and mouth; headaches and nausea; appearance of intoxication; drowsiness; poor muscle control; changes in appetite; anxiety; irritability; lots of cans/aerosols in the trash.

Hallucinogens (LSD, PCP): Dilated pupils; bizarre and irrational behaviour including paranoia, aggression, hallucinations; mood swings; detachment from people; absorption with self or other objects, slurred speech; confusion.

Heroin: Contracted pupils; no response of pupils to light; needle marks; sleeping at unusual times; sweating; vomiting; coughing, sniffling; twitching; loss of appetite.

Painkillers: Drooping eyes, constricted pupils even in dim light, sudden itching or flushing, slurred speech; drowsiness, lack of energy; inability to concentrate, lack of motivation, decline in performance; neglecting friendships and social activities.

Anti-anxiety medications, sedatives, and hypnotics: Contracted pupils; drunk-like, slurred speech, difficulty concentrating, clumsiness; poor judgment, drowsiness, slowed breathing.

Stimulants: Dilated pupils, reduced appetite; agitation, anxiety, irregular heartbeat, high body temperature; insomnia, paranoia.

If you suspect that a friend or family member is using drugs, here are a few things you can do:

Speak up. Talk to the person about your concerns, and offer your help and support without being judgemental. The earlier addiction is treated, the better. Don’t wait for your loved one to hit bottom! List specific examples of your loved one’s behaviour that have you worried and urge them to seek help.

Take care of yourself. Stay safe. Don’t put yourself in dangerous situations. Don’t get so caught up in someone else’s problems that you neglect your own needs. Make sure you have people you can talk to and lean on for support.

Avoid self-blame. You can support a person whois using drugs and encourage treatment, but you can’t force an addict to change. You can’t control your loved one’s decisions. Letting the person accept responsibility for their actions is an essential step along the way to recovery.


  • Attempt to threaten, punish, bribe, or lecture.
  • Make emotional appeals that only add to the user’s feelings of guilt and increase their compulsion to use drugs.
  • Cover up or make excuses, or shield them from the consequences of their actions.
  • Take over their responsibilities, diminishing their sense of self-worth.
  • Hide or throw out drugs.
  • Argue with the person when they are high.
  • Use drugs with the person.
  • Feel guilty or responsible for their behaviours.

Local support

Find local drugs support around Doncaster

Tel: 03000 213900

Website: www.aspire.community

Aspire offers drug and alcohol support services to adults in and around Doncaster. They offer a highly structured six or twelve week programme for people who are using alcohol in a problematic way which may be causing issues within their home, work or family life.

Visit one of their hubs in Doncaster, Mexborough, Bentley or Stainforth.

Tel: 0300 0213032

Website: www.zone5-19.rdash.nhs.uk

This service is for young people aged 5 – 19 years old.

Zone 5 to 19 is a service for Doncaster children, young people and families. It is delivered by a team of NHS professionals, who have lots of experience and expertise in all aspects of children and young people’s health and wellbeing.

Our team includes:

  • school nurses
  • substance misuse workers
  • contraception and sexual health nurses
  • youth and support workers

Working Win is a free service for people aged over 18 living in Doncaster, Barnsley, Rotherham, or Sheffield. It aims to support you if you have a physical and/or mental health condition and would like to find meaningful employment or stay in your current role. We also provide you with ongoing in-work support in both your new or existing role.

View Working Win leaflet here. 

You can find out more about how Working Win could help you or a loved one here:

Website: https://shawtrust.org.uk/working-win 

Telephone: 0300 30 33 111

National support organisations

See what national support is available for drugs.

Call: 0300 1236600

Text: 82111

Email: frank@talktofrank.com

Website: www.talktofrank.com

Find out everything you need to know about drugs, their effects and the law. Talk to Frank for facts, support and advice on drugs.

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