Promoting mental health, demystifying mental illness, countering stigma and discrimination

Alcohol & Drug Use and Mental Health


What are the different types of drugs?

Drugs can generally be thought about in three categories - depending on the type of effect they have on the central nervous system (CNS.)


These include tobacco, caffeine, amphetamines (speed,) and ecstasy.  Stimulants work by speeding up the activities of the central nervous system such as the heart rate and breathing and leave the person feeling alert.


These include alcohol, tranquilizers (Rohypnol, Serepax, Valium,) opioids (heroin, methadone,) inhalants (glue, petrol,) and cannabis (marijuana.)  Depressants work by slowing down the activities of the central nervous system.


These included LSD, magic mushrooms, 'trips' as well as cannabis and ecstasy.  Hallucinogens affect the senses and distort a person's thinking, producing a sense of unreality.

Will everyone have the same reaction to drugs?

No.  Many factors determine the type of reaction experienced.  These factors include the individual characteristics of a person, their mood at the time of the drug use, the environment, the amount of the drug taken and the combination of drugs used.  Many of the drugs have the potential to trigger mental health problems or to intensify symptoms in people already experiencing mental illness.

Why do people use drugs?

Most people use drugs because they want to experience a change in their current mood.  They may wish to feel more relaxed, more energetic, more confident, because their friends do so, or because they are bored.  Some people use drugs to escape from their worries or to try and control depressing symptoms.

What are the down sides of drug use?

It is understandable that some people try to find something that may help them feel better.  However, there are a number of problems with using drugs. 
These include:
  • Alcohol and other drugs can sometimes undo the effects of medications
  • They can turn what may have been a short-term illness into a chronic and more complex condition and will actually delay the recovery process
  • The desirable feelings produced are false and short-lived
  • The problems of symptoms people are trying to escape from are still there once the effect of the substance have worn off.
  • Alcohol and other drugs can have a damaging effect on physical health causing damage to organs and impairing the functioning of the cardiac and respiratory systems
  • When under the influence of alcohol and other drugs, people may also engage in other risk taking behavior

What can family and friends do to help?

Sometimes it is a friend or family member who notices that someone may be having difficulties with alcohol or other drugs.  It is important that the person discusses their concerns with the person concerned.  This should be done at a time when everyone is calm and able to discuss the issue.

Supporting the person to find other ways of coping without drugs can be helpful.  For example, if a person feels that their cannabis use helps their stress levels, they need to be aware of other ways of dealing with stress such as relaxation, gentle exercise, and learning problem solving skills.  The person should be encouraged to seek advice and support.

It can take some people some time to realize that the negative effects of alcohol and other drugs outweigh the short term perceived 'benefits' they get from using. This can be a frustrating period for family and friends who want to help the person achieve the best chances of recovery in the shortest time.

Caring for someone who is using substances can be like being on a roller coaster, experiencing the highs and lows and not knowing what lies around the corner.  Family and friends can be left feeling very stressed and in need of support themselves at this time.

The Taranaki Alcohol and Drug Service can help with free advice, support and counselling to people affected by their own or somebody else's use of alcohol and drugs.

Mon - Fri 8.30am - 4.30pm, call now 06 753 7838.


Like Minds Taranaki gratefully acknowledges the financial support of this website by the Ministry of Health

 Feedback is always welcome
Like Minds Taranaki, 06-759-0966, email:



Taranaki Mental Health Sector