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A place for families, because you don't have to use drugs to be affected by them.

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What should I do?

Find out more about why people use drugs and alcohol, and what addiction means

Why do they use drugs/alcohol?

Most people who use drugs don’t go on to become dependent, but those that do can cause serious harm to themselves and their families. There are many reasons why people choose to use drugs and alcohol, and it can be hard trying to understand them.

It is normal to feel scared, frustrated, angry and confused when you find out that a family member is using drugs or drinking dangerously.

Drugs change the way the people think, feel or behave. Reasons people want to take them may include:

  • Finding the experience of altering their perceptions fun. They might enjoy the feelings of excitement and confidence which some drugs and alcohol can bring.
  • As a means of escape - some people use substances to forget about their problems.
  • Peer pressure or finding themselves in a situation where substance use seems quite ordinary. For example, many people first misuse alcohol as part of a friendship group where others are drinking.
  • Experimentation - trying drugs/alcohol is common among young people as a way of experimenting with the adult world.

Some people move from this experimental use to more regular substance use as part of their lifestyle - what is sometimes called ‘recreational’ use. There are risks associated with this, but most people come to little harm. Many people in the UK use alcohol in this way.

Some people regularly misuse drugs or alcohol in ‘binges’ where they deliberately take large quantities of something to have fun or as a release from the stresses and strains of everyday life.

Drug use does not equal dependence. Most people who use drugs/alcohol in the examples above can choose to stop using relatively easily - for example they might binge on a night out and have no wish to continue drinking the following day, and in many cases quite the opposite. However, about 5-10% of people who use drugs recreationally go on to show signs of dependency.

Dependency or addiction occurs when someone’s ability to control their drug/alcohol use becomes impaired - they cannot choose to stop in the same way that an experimental or recreational user can. In the case of some drugs, for example heroin, the user becomes physically addicted and needs to take more in order to prevent withdrawal. Other drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamines, do not produce as severe withdrawal symptoms but can be just as psychologically addictive.