Alcohol and drug usage is common amongst University students. A drug can be any substance that brings about physical or psychological changes. Drugs include alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, prescription medication, over-the-counter medication and illegal substances (e.g., cannabis, amphetamines, ecstasy, heroin etc…).
Why do people use alcohol and other drugs?
People tend to choose the substances that help them in some way, such as increasing pleasure, decreasing emotional or physical pain or fitting in with peers. As alcohol and other drugs act directly on the central nervous system, they can seem to be predictable and effective ways to change how a person feels – at least in the short-term.
While substance use may help to meet these needs in the short term, prolonged use of substances over time may be less effective in meeting these needs, as well as creating additional problems such as those noted previously. Just as it takes time to develop substance use habits, it sometimes takes a while before alternative solutions feel natural and effective. Finding other ways to meet your needs can involve trial and error. It usually helps to use a number of non-substance use alternatives. For example, try exercising or socialising.
When might alcohol or other drug use become a problem?
With time, some people can find their alcohol or other drug use becomes problematic, because the harm or risk of harm associated with the substance use outweighs the benefits. Substance use may be a problem when you:
- Have difficulty meeting responsibilities at home, work or school
- Use more than you intended despite wanting to cut down or quit
- Have recurring problems with health, safety, relationships, finances or the law through the substance use
- Need the substance to cope with everyday life or particular experiences
- Organise other events or needs around your substance use
- Need increasing amounts of the substance to have the same effect
- Feel sick or moody without the substance, but feel normal upon resuming use
- Have tried unsuccessfully to reduce or cease use.
- Find yourself using as a way to maintain your friendships.
It can sometimes be hard to admit that your alcohol or other drug use has become a problem, especially if you still enjoy aspects of the drug use. Think about whether you would like to change your use in some way, such as:
- What you use
- How much you use
- When or how often you use
- Method of use
- Where you use
- Who you use with
- What you do to get hold of or afford the drug
- What you do while under the influence of the drug.
It can be useful to ask yourself what are the helpful and not so helpful consequences of using the substance, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of cutting down or quitting. These questions are particularly useful in identifying what goals you would like to set for yourself in changing your substance use, and the challenges that you might experience in working toward achieving those goals.
Strategies to cut down
Some people choose to cut down their use rather than stop immediately, either to regain control over their use or as a step toward stopping completely. It is advisable to seek medical advice prior to cutting down or ceasing use, as some people experience severe withdrawal symptoms. Seek medical assistance if you become unwell during a reduction in substance use.
The following strategies have been found to be useful in cutting down:
- Plan your use – set limits on the day, time and amount being used
- Try to have at least two substance free-days a week
- Fit your substance use around other priorities
- Plan ahead how you will deal with times you might find difficult – you may need to avoid some situations at first
- Delay the first use and each use after that
- Identify friends who support your efforts to change and who you feel comfortable with
- you may initially decide to spend less time with friends who use the substance you are trying to reduce
- Don’t try to keep up with others – go at your own pace
- Ask a friend to support you
- Find something else to do to take your mind off wanting to use for example it can help to take up a new hobby
- Decide how you intend to respond to friends who might offer you the substance before you see them such as “Not tonight”, “No, but you go ahead”, “No, doctor’s orders” or simply “No, thanks”
- Remind yourself of the good things about cutting down
- Seek some counselling
- Talk to a GP about pharmacological treatments
- Join a support group
- Identify other things you have in common with friends apart from substance use
Reward your efforts to change, even if you don’t always meet your goals. Changing habits can be difficult, and being hard on yourself just tends to make it worse. Try not to rely on will-power alone – it’s a hard way for anyone to change their habits. Try a range of strategies to cut down or quit. Each time you try to make changes, ask yourself what you could do differently next time and what you would still do the same. You may choose to get some help along the way. But the most important thing is to keep trying. It’s worth it.
If you have tried making some of the above changes it could be time to speak with a psychologist who specialises in alcohol and other drug use issues. They can help you to work out where you are getting stuck in making changes and help you to develop strategies that are relevant to you.
Contact REGENT’s Counselling Services via email on [email protected] to make an appointment for an individual counselling session to talk about your concerns and to explore ways to deal with this issue.
If you are using substances to cope with other difficulties, psychologists can also help you to find other ways to deal with these problems. These problems might include grief and loss, abuse, trauma, relationship break ups, low self-esteem, or overwhelming emotions such as anger, anxiety or depression.
It can also be valuable to seek help when someone you care about has a problem with alcohol or other drug use, as it can be an emotionally difficult and draining experience. Psychologists can assist you to find ways to deal with challenging situations and look after yourself.