How to stop taking drugs

We wouldn’t normally advise you to quit, but we're here to support you if you’re thinking about stopping. Getting off drugs can be pretty messy but we promise there’s an end in sight. Here's your guide to cleaning up safely - whatever drug you're dependent on.

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How do I stop taking drugs?

It’s easy to think that only physically addictive drugs, such as heroin, are difficult to stop using, but your mind can get hooked on basically anything you do regularly. Especially if it helps you feel good or forget your problems for a few hours. Here’s our guide to quitting your addiction.

How quickly can I quit? 

It mostly depends on the nature of the drug, level of substance use, and your motivation. With many substances, you can claim to be drug-free just as soon as you stop taking them, even if there are mental cravings to come; while others require supervised addiction treatment  to monitor how your body is reacting. Bottom line – if a drug has been the main character in your life, then it can take time to reclaim that power for yourself. Just be patient and don’t expect any overnight miracles. 

How can I quit when all my friends are taking drugs? 

Maybe you don’t consider yourself an addict, but just fancy lowering your general drink or drug intake. You may not have any significant withdrawal symptoms to speak of, but it can still be tough to keep your head straight when everyone else is busy losing theirs. Here are three steps to help you to break free, Troy Bolton style. It’ll take a minute to achieve, but try to hang in there.

  1. Reinvent your routine If you’re used to getting hammered most Saturdays, then try giving the club a miss for a few weeks. It doesn’t have to be forever, just long enough for you to get back in touch with having a sober good time. Maybe even spend that time reconnecting with your family and friends.
  2. Tell your friends There’s no shame in wanting to chill out on the substances, either for a temporary period or permanently. So let your mates know beforehand. That way, you’ll have peer support while you’re trying to stay clean.
  3. Fill your time Avoiding booze is one thing, but that won’t do the trick if you’re left staring at the telly. So be creative with your time, and do things to actively help your recovery – like taking a hike or attending a support group.

Quitting smoking 

There shouldn’t be any health problems when you stop smoking cannabis, unlike the withdrawal symptoms that come with trying to quit smoking fags. Having said this, some long-term users do report psychological problems when it comes to being weed-free. These can range from difficulties in coping with social situations to sleep problems and heightened anxiety.

The way forward: If you’re trying to quit but finding it tough, consider reducing cigarettes first (if you’re a smoker). If you’re not, aim to recognise that nicotine could be the reason you’re so quick to take a drag. Either way, there’s plenty of strategies on hand to help drop that tobacco habit like it’s hot. For practical tips, check out this factsheet on quitting. It can take time to quit cannabis if you’re used to being stoned in social situations, so it might be useful to take a look at your lifestyle.

More help: Have a look at the NHS’ Smokefree service for help, support and info to stop smoking.

Quitting cocaine and crack 

Using cocaine regularly can lead to the development of strong psychological dependency problems. Once the habit is there, it’s really hard to kick. Stopping can cause intense withdrawal symptoms, such as exhaustion, anxiety and paranoia, and may require professional help.

What to do next: A drug counselling programme is often effective in helping cocaine users deal with their addiction, combined with practical strategies for coping without resorting to a hit.

Quitting amphetamines (speed) 

Speed is a stimulant drug. That means you’re probably going to be operating at below 100% capacity for the day after. Long-term users can become psychologically dependent on the buzz speed gives them, which can make withdrawal symptoms more intense. These include, but are not limited to, tiredness and exhaustion, depression, anxiety and sleep problems.

What to do next: If you’re worried about coming off amphetamines, find out about treatment options from your doctor or a trained drug counsellor.

Quitting ecstasy 

Recreational use of MDMA can leave some people feeling kind of crappy for a day or so afterwards, but withdrawal symptoms are largely psychological.

What to do next: If you’re finding it hard to cut down or quit using ecstasy, a chat with your doctor or a drug counsellor can help to pinpoint why you feel the need to pop pills so regularly. Together, you can develop strategies to help keep you clean.

Quitting LSD (acid) and magic mushrooms 

A hallucinogenic drug habit can have a serious impact on your psychological health. There’s no physical risk associated with cutting down or quitting, but your mind could find it hard to adjust back to reality.

What to do next: If you’re worried that acid has messed with your head, or have any questions about the quitting process, talk to a doctor or trained drug counsellor about treatment services.

Quitting heroin 

Heroin addiction doesn’t happen overnight, and neither does quitting. It’s a physically (and psychologically) addictive drug, so your body ends up relying on it to survive. This means that withdrawing requires careful medical supervision. 

Generally, withdrawal symptoms begin 12 hours after quitting, and can include sweating, nausea, anxiety, cramps, chills and fever. This process is often known as cold turkey and lasts about 7-10 days. It’s important to note that ex-users often feel a sense of emptiness after detoxing which can lead to a relapse. 

What to do next: Methadone (basically a less-addictive heroin) might be prescribed as part of the detoxing process. You can also use Naltrexone implants to block the effects of heroin. They are not yet licensed in the UK but are available from private practitioners. If you do happen to relapse on heroin after these treatments, just be aware that your tolerance will be MUCH lower than it was before. 

Next Steps

By Nishika Melwani

Updated on 03-Aug-2021