Am I addicted to drugs?

When your guilty pleasure becomes slightly less guilty, you might be developing a drug addiction. We’re here to help you figure out if things have gone too far. The red flags that you need to look out for are below…

A young woman is standing in an alley calling an addiction helpline. She is wearing a black puffer jackt, black shirt and ripped jeans. It is a full-body image.

A recent survey found that roughly 1 in 5 young adults (aged 16-24) in the UK have used between 2019 and 2020. Despite the many long-term health risks associated with drugs, the majority are able to carry on with their lives; no need to think twice about that wild sixth-form phase. However, others aren’t so lucky. They become addicted to drugs which can seriously affect the way they work, study or interact with family. Often, they won’t realise the damage their addiction is doing.

Do I have a drug problem? 

“People define drug use in different ways,” says Andy McNicoll from DrugScope. For him, “It’s the point at which the use of legal or illegal drugs becomes a problem by negatively impacting on a person’s life.”

For Colin Stewart, Drugs Advisor at Release, being addicted to drugs is, “When the drugs use you, rather than you use them.”

He says some tell-tale signs might be:

  • Avoiding non-users
  • Thinking that being stoned or high makes you more interesting and confident. Eventually, you feel uncomfortable in company or alone without drugs
  • Losing weight. It feels good at first but when you avoid food and sleep, it can become a real problem, real quick
  • Cappin’ or just not being honest to friends, family and yourself about how often and how much you’re using
  • Getting in debt or blowing your cash on drugs you can’t afford 
  • Getting credit from dealers, avoiding paying bills, borrowing from mates and/or family and not telling them, or making excuses about, what the money’s for
  • Being unusually nice to people who have substances on them, dating dealers or those with access to drugs who you don’t really like and flirting and/or having sex for drugs
  • Starting to sell belongings or stealing from mates and/or family – clearly, this is when things are getting pretty dire

Seeing these changes in a friend can be worrying, but you shouldn’t jump to conclusions. If you notice anything wrong, remain calm and try to reach out to them instead of just panic-calling 999. As Andy points out, “It’s important to remember that these things could be caused by other issues in someone’s life and don’t necessarily result from drug use.”

Types of drug addiction 

Substances such as heroin, benzodiazepines and alcohol can cause your body to develop a physical addiction. If you get aches, tremors and sweating when your body is not getting these drugs, you may be going through withdrawal. If any of these symptoms pop up, you should get in touch with your local drug or alcohol treatment service for help, support and advice.

On the other hand, you have drugs, such as cannabis or cocaine. These may not be physically addictive but they can lead to ‘psychological addiction’ (when you feel unable to function without using them or experience feelings of withdrawal when you stop).

“Beyond physical and psychological effects it’s also important to consider the potential financial and legal problems associated with drug use,” says Andy. “Maintaining a drug habit, whether legal or illegal, can be costly and lead to problems with debt. Being caught in possession or testing positive for the use of illicit substances can have legal implications.”

Helping friends who use drugs

If you are worried about your friend’s drug use or think that they are acting strangely, talk to them about what is going on in their life. Trying to spot signs and symptoms of drug use is no substitute for good communication. Reach out and tread lightly, make sure that they are ready to come to you instead of forcing information out of them.

“Talk to friends with problems and let them know you miss the real them,” advises Colin. “Tell them they aren’t fun when they’re off their head, and point out gently what they are becoming.”

Both Andy and Colin recommend that you offer support and suggest services that may be able to help them. Also, We’re always here to help if you need it through our free support services. If you or anyone you know is struggling, reach out and get the support you need.

Thanks to Drugscope and Release for help with this article.

Next Steps

By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 03-Aug-2021