Drug use

If your drug use is becoming a problem for you or those around you, there are strategies and tools you can use to get it under control.

Time to read: 8 minutes

About drugs

Many Australians use drugs (whether legal or illegal) to relax, socialise or change the way they feel. Some people use drugs to cope with anxiety or depression, or to block out painful memories.

Some people seem to be able to use drugs without causing too many health, relationship or lifestyle problems. These are extremely rare cases.

For others, especially people who rely on prescription drugs to cope with mental health problems, non-prescription drug use can have serious and unpredictable consequences.

If you or someone else is worried about your drug use, it might be worth thinking about whether you have a problem with drugs and what you can do about it.

If you think you have a problem

All drugs affect people differently.

Using drugs regularly could be the sign that you have a problem, as is the feeling that you need to take more to get the same 'high'.

Having strong urges to use, or feeling terrible if you haven’t used for a few hours, are clues that your drug use might be getting the better of you.

Even occasional drug can cause problems. Accidental overdose, injuring yourself, being the victim of assault and legal problems are common consequences of drug use. These kinds of problems can affect you if you use illegal drugs or misuse legal drugs (like doctor shopping for pain meds).

Learn more about pain if you think pain management is an issue for you.

Even if you don’t feel like your drug use is out of control, it might be causing problems in your relationship, or have side effects such as increased alcohol consumption.

What you can do about it

Self-help

If your drug use is causing you problems, self-help strategies may be enough to resolve your issues. For others, professional help may be required.

Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling can provide free, confidential counselling 24/7 and may be able to help you control your drug use. Call 1800 011 046 for support. Open Arms can also help if you are concerned about a family member using drugs.

Get informed

Educate yourself about your drug use.

Find out about the health risks, physical and psychological effects of drugs, and legal issues related to drug use.

Find out about ways to reduce the harms associated with drug use, and about online and local services that are there to help.

Get motivated

It can be helpful to think about what you’re getting out of your drug use, as well as what you’re missing out on financially and time-wise.

Write down how drugs affect your life to help you see what their impact on you is, as well as what you could be doing with your time and money if you weren’t using drugs.

Writing these pros and cons down helps you see the big picture and make a decision about whether you want to make any changes to your drug use. Knowing where you stand will help motivate you to make lasting changes.

Set goals

If you've decided to change your drug use, you need to work out what your goal is. Are you trying to cut down a bit, or stop using drugs completely?

Your goals should be specific, achievable and broken down into steps. For example, you might say “I am going to reduce drug use to one day a week” and develop a plan to work towards that.

Once you've worked out what you want to do, write yourself a contract. This is an important part of making change real, and it'll help you stay on track.

Keep track

It’s really important to keep an eye on how much and how often you’re using drugs. This will help you learn more about when, where and why you use.

Keeping a diary is a good way of keeping track of your drug use, including the financial cost and other problems it causes. It also serves as a good reminder that you need to stick to your limits. A diary will make it easier to check your progress towards your goals.

Take action

Find enjoyable activities to do instead of taking drugs and reward yourself

Making changes can be hard, but having activities and rewards can help motivate you to stay on track and reduce your drug use.

Use the Enjoyable and Rewarding Activities tool to identify activities and plan how you will get involved in them. Choose activities you could do instead of taking drugs as well as some activities that you can use to reward yourself.

You can use this tool when you are planning to make changes, once you have already started or whenever you get stuck for ideas for activities.

Improve your problem-solving skills to reduce your drug use

If you are finding it hard to deal with your problems you might begin to feel overwhelmed and turn to drugs to cope.

Use the Problem Solving tool to guide you through a step-by-step process for tackling your day-to-day problems.

The Problem Solving tool will help you feel calmer and more in control of your life.

When you’re starting out, use the tool to solve problems that aren't too complex. Once you’ve learned the skills you can start to apply the problem-solving approach to all sorts of situations you face.

Build connections with people who will support you to reduce your drug use

Use the Social Connections tool to identify the people in your life who can offer you support and the different kinds of support they can offer.

If you're reducing your drug use, it's really important to think about who you spend time with. Many of the friends you spend time with when you use drugs may encourage your drug use. This can make it difficult to reduce your drug use if you spend time with them.

Manage your emotions when you feel like turning to drugs

When you are overwhelmed by strong emotions, it’s difficult to think clearly and stick to your goals around reducing your drug use.

Follow the instructions in the Managing Emotions tool to identify your emotions, regain your composure, think about your situation and decide on a helpful course of action.

When you’re starting out, practice using the tool when you are feeling calm. Once you’ve learned the strategies you can use them whenever you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed or thinking about using drugs.

Learn to think differently when you feel like turning to drugs

Thinking in an unhelpful way can make your mood worse and make it more difficult to deal with stressful situations without turning to drugs.

Use the Reassessing Your Thoughts tool to help you to identify the thoughts that are causing you distress, and find more helpful ways of thinking.

When you’re starting out, it’s a good idea to apply the helpful thinking tools to a situation that is bothering you but isn’t too overwhelming. Once you’ve learned the skills you can apply them to more troubling situations. With practice, you’ll be able to apply these skills day-to-day as situations arise.

Most of these tools are also available on the High Res app to use on the go.

Getting help

Self-help isn't for everyone. If you've tried the strategies above and are still having trouble making changes, or if you feel like your drug use is causing serious problems, you might benefit from getting additional support.

  • Counselling can be an effective treatment option in helping you change your habits.  Call Open Arms on 1800 011 046, support is available 24/7 for veterans and their family.
  • GP is a good place to start when trying to address drug use. Your GP can also manage your general health issues and make referrals for specialists if necessary.
  • National Drugs Campaign provides information on state-based alcohol and drug services.
  • Alcohol and Drug Foundation provides information, resources and programs to prevent alcohol and other drug harm in Australian communities.