NATIONAL FAMILY SUPPORT NETWORKSUPPORTING FAMILY MEMBERS LIVING WITH SUBSTANCE MISUSE
Drugs and Health Information
This section of the website gives some brief information on the most commonly used drugs and their effects. It does not set out to be a comprehensive guide. While reading this information it is important to understand that drug use in the family is not a problem that must be handled alone. There is help available no matter what the scale of the problem. If you think that a member of your family is using drugs and you want to talk someone contact your nearest Family Support Group or Family Support Network. Remember the right information can help you make better choices and decisions. It also makes it easier to talk about drugs in an open and informed way.
What do we mean when we talk about drug use?
People in Ireland today use many different kinds of drugs. These drugs may be legal or illegal, helpful or harmful. Every drug has side effects and risks, but some drugs have more risks than others, especially illegal drugs. The most commonly used illegal drugs in Ireland today are cannabis, ecstasy, heroin and cocaine.
Problem drug use results from a combination of factors. These are:
What drug is being used?
Who is using the drug (especially the mood and the personality of the individual)?
Why are they using the drug?
Where are they using the drug?
How are they using the drug?
To begin to understand the problems you have to know what drug is involved and what is happening in the life of the person using the drug. Different drugs create different problems for different people. These problems need different answers.
Why do people use drugs?
Different people use different drugs for different reasons. There are of course ‘legal drugs’ which we all come across everyday. For example some people take medicine when they are sick, alchohol to help them relax or coffee to help them stay awake. What we are talking about in this section are mainly ‘illegal drugs’. Typical reasons why people may experiment with illegal drugs include curiosity, peer influence, or a desire to escape boredom or worries. People also take certain drugs to change how they feel. They may believe it’s a fun or fashionable thing to do. People may continue to use a drug because they enjoy it, or because it’s part of their social life or culture. This is often called ‘recreational’ drug use. Sometimes because of ongoing emotional or psychological problems, or because of social factors, drug use can become an important part of a person’s life. The use of some drugs can lead to dependency, where a person loses control over their drug use and feels they cannot function without the drug.
Myths & Misconceptions
There are no easy answers to the problems caused by drug use, but having the right information can help. The facts are important in helping you deal with drugs issues.
"Aren't all drugs addictive?"
Some drugs can create addiction or dependence much quicker than others. However there is no evidence confirming people get 'hooked' after one or two experiences, or that everyone who tries a drug will become addicted (although using a drug even once can have serious consequences). The what, who, why, where and how of drug use are important in the development of dependency.
"Only drug addicts have a problem"
Addiction or dependency is not the only problem drugs can cause. Some people experience problems the first time they use a drug, or problems develop as their use becomes more frequent. Drug use can affect a person's physical and mental health, their family life, relationships, and their work or study. Using illegal drugs can also get people into trouble with the law or into financial difficulties.
"Aren't all illegal drugs equally harmful?"
Different drugs cause harm in different ways. Some drugs, such as heroin, are regarded as being more dangerous because they have a higher risk of addiction and overdose, or because they are injected. However each drug has its own risks. Drugs are often described as being either 'hard' or 'soft'. These words are not always helpful because it's not as simple as that.
"My teenager is moody and losing interest in school – they must be on drugs"
Often parents ask how they can tell if their child is using drugs. But lists of signs and symptoms need to be approached with caution. Many of the possible signs, such as mood swings or loss of interest in hobbies or study, may well have other causes. It's better to talk to them before jumping to conclusions.
"Young people are tempted to try drugs by pushers"
Most young people are introduced to illegal drugs by a friend, or someone they know. And in many cases drugs are 'pulled' rather than 'pushed', meaning that they ask for it themselves - often out of curiosity.