Levels of drug use


Many people use drugs – and it doesn’t always lead to addiction or dependence. Some people are able to use drugs without any adverse impact on their mental health, success at work or relationships. But others will swiftly move from experimentation to dependence.

So how do you know if your loved one has a problem?

First, consider what they use, how much they use and how often. You may feel comforted by being able to recognise when one level of use starts to cascade over onto the next level.

Experimental use

It is recognised that many young people experiment with drugs. Some stop after the first time because they are no longer curious. Others go on to recreational use.

Recreational use

This is where the drug is used regularly and becomes part of the person’s social life. At this stage drug use might be contained to certain situations, such as smoking cannabis with their friends every Friday night or using ecstasy when they go clubbing.

Problematic use

Drug use is considered problematic when the amount and frequency of use increase. The user has built up a tolerance and needs more and more of the drug to get the same impact. Drug use may now be impacting on family and other aspects of life, but the user might feel they have less control over the situation.

Dependent use

A dependent user does not feel in control of their drug use. The World Health Organisation says dependence or addiction means there is a psychological drive to keep taking the drug, despite the harms experienced from continued use. If they stop, there might be withdrawal symptoms, varying in severity depending on the drugs to which they are addicted.

While drug dependence sounds frightening, a supportive treatment regime has helped many hundreds of thousands of people conquer drug dependence. If you would like more information, or help assessing your loved one’s drug use, call the Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797.

BenYou don’t realise how much it’s consumed you until you’re clean.

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Signs you might be using too much

  • You’re neglecting your responsibilities at school, work, or home (e.g. flunking classes, skipping work, neglecting your children) because of your drug use.

  • You’re using drugs under dangerous conditions or taking risks while high, such as driving while on drugs, using dirty needles, or having unprotected sex.

  • Your drug use is getting you into legal trouble, such as arrests for disorderly conduct, driving under the influence, or stealing to support a drug habit.

  • Your drug use is causing problems in your relationships, such as fights with your partner or family members, an unhappy boss, or the loss of old friends.

  • You’ve built up a drug tolerance. You need to use more of the drug to experience the same effects you used to attain with smaller amounts.

  • You take drugs 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.

  • You’ve lost 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, and recovering from the drug’s effects.

  • You’ve abandoned activities you used to enjoy, such as hobbies, sports, and socializing, because of your drug use.

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You start off and you don’t care about what you’re losing and I think for me, I started wanting to just be fucked up and different.

Mike