Experiences of psychosis

Alcohol and drug use with psychosis

Many people either didn’t talk about - or use - alcohol or illegal drugs. In fact, some people talked about avoiding alcohol and/or drugs altogether because they feared harm to their mental health. Annie said that when she was in her teens people thought she was ‘doing drugs,’ when she was actually just becoming mentally ill.
However, others talked about using alcohol and illegal drugs. Many spoke of cannabis use, fewer about their using LSD (acid), amphetamine (speed), methamphetamine (crystal meth), heroin or pills (e.g. ecstasy). People used drugs and alcohol for all kinds of reasons, e.g. to get high or cope with emotional and mental problems.
People described different experiences of alcohol and drug use, both positive and negative. Several believed that alcohol/drugs had caused their mental distress, or at least made their distress harder to cope with. A few people had drunk alcohol with their medication and felt drowsy.
Cannabis use
Cannabis use was common among people we talked to. They smoked it for various reasons: to feel more relaxed, to deal with their emotions, for religious reasons, to relieve pain and as a social activity with friends and partners.
Many people initially believed that cannabis relaxed them. But they later felt that cannabis actually worsened their mental state, or for one person created ‘a living hell’. Some even felt that cannabis had caused their mental problems.
People talked about smoking weed and skunk (a strong variety of cannabis containing more THC), believing that the strong varieties were particularly dangerous for them. A few people said they had smoked too much, particularly at university.
A few people smoked with friends and hadn’t noticed how much they were smoking over time. Using cannabis with friends could make it hard to give up when friends continued to smoke it. A few mentioned the paranoia they experienced as a result of using cannabis.
However one person described ‘seeking out’ psychosis through smoking weed as a way of distancing himself from reality
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Escapism and getting ‘out of control’
Several participants described heavy use of alcohol and non-prescribed substances at certain times in their lives. Some people began to use alcohol or drugs to escape past abuse, traumatic events, first hearing voices, or as a way of coping with stress in their lives. Some of them thought this kind of escapism was useful in coping at the time, but later concluded that drug use could be destructive in the long run, as well as very expensive. Metamphetamine (crystal meth) was singled out as particularly dangerous.
Mary's son had got into drugs when his father left and another two drank heavily after a relationship breakdown. Simon had been drinking when he was depressed and taking psychiatric medication, leading him to fall asleep in a pub. A few people talked about the frightening effect drugs had on them. Two people talked about several sleepless periods directly caused by taking drugs, impairing their mental health and having ‘racing thoughts’. However Robert said that taking heroin made him ‘not care’ about the voices in his head.
Aside from frightening experiences and worsening mental health, a couple of people said they’d been concerned about their behaviour whilst under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
Well-being and recovery
Many people who had misused alcohol and drugs in the past were now reducing their use of them or even avoiding them altogether. Several talked about their struggles to change their habits, and avoid particular people or stressful situations, e.g. certain friends, or going to pubs. A few people said that finding other things to do (e.g. sport) or moving to another city helped reduce their drug use.

Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated April 2014.


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