Drugs and Alcohol

Stopping or cutting down on the use of illegal 'street' drugs

People rarely seem to stick to exactly the same pattern drug use throughout their teens and twenties. Young people had often realised that adverts suggesting that any drug use is a slippery slope to addiction were contrary to their experience and observations. For example Jamie is a very infrequent cannabis user who has no desire to try any other substance. He has been offered other drugs such as cocaine and MDMA but has declined. Similarly, Raphael tried ecstasy when he was younger but found that it was not for him – like many others he prefers to stick to cannabis (see ‘Regular use of cannabis’).
Some of the people we talked to had cut down, given up or otherwise reduced their use of street drugs. Their reasons for stopping or cutting down included changed circumstances (such as starting a new relationship or having a child), concerns about the effects on health, relationships with family or finances, bad experiences with drugs or after effects, losing contact with suppliers, or just growing up, preferring to feel in control and moving on from what some described as a rather boring, teenage behaviour. Daniel, Chloe, Craig and Jim had all realised that their substance use had to stop altogether because their compulsive approach meant that drugs had a really bad effect on their lives.
General health and Well-being
Some of the people we talked to told us that they used cannabis to help them to relax and chill (see ‘Being sociable’) but those who decided to stop using cannabis (in all its forms) and other illegal ‘street’ drugs often said that they felt better for doing it. Those who had experienced anxiety and paranoia felt that they were much better off not taking any drugs (see ‘Mental health and cannabis’). Sam started to give up skunk eight years ago and saw his mental health improve. He thinks that young people do not realise the actual danger of cannabis.
Joe suggested two main reasons for wanting to stop smoking cannabis' he became obsessed about his health and he also wanted to stop smoking tobacco. It took him about six months from the moment he started trying to the actual moment when he succeeded. People who smoke their cannabis with tobacco often found that cannabis was easier to give up than tobacco. For Stephanie giving up cannabis was relatively simple. She just didn’t enjoy it anymore and, like Joe, she also wanted to stop smoking tobacco after a member of her family got lung cancer. Stephanie did not like the way that cannabis made her feel lethargic, with no motivation, so she did not find it difficult to stop.
Young people commented on the health benefits of stopping or cutting down. Chloe feels more energetic and healthy with a brighter complexion and clearer eyes. Karis also noted that her physical appearance improved after reducing her use of cannabis, she no longer looked ‘a bit grey’.
Stephanie said that she was not aware until she stopped cannabis of its effect on her ability to remember events. Moreover, her mood swings stopped and she found herself to be much calmer, more motivated and less anxious and worried about things.
Charlie says that she feels happier and lighter now that she is drinking and using street drugs less. She has come to value being present in her own mind and body and sees this as a ‘virtuous’ circle which helps her to deal with things better.
Chloe and others said that now they want to experience life without the extra ‘high’.
Becoming a mother or father
Pregnancy and parenthood were described as powerful incentives to give up using illegal drugs. Young people we talked to did not think it appropriate to get high, or drunk, when they were responsible for children' when Karis had a job working with children she did not use cannabis during the week.
The young mothers we talked to had given up using ‘street’ drugs after they found out they were expecting a baby. Tara also gave up smoking cigarettes and admits she still misses cannabis but on those occasions when she is tempted, she thinks of her little boy. Her partner will not allow cannabis in the house; Tara agrees because she knows that people under the effects of drugs can be unpredictable. Leah said that she is not at all tempted when offered cocaine or anything else these days; that her baby daughter acts as a ‘barrier’ to behaving in an irresponsible way. Steph is the daughter of a heroin addict and now a mother herself, expecting her second child, she strongly disapproves of some of her friends who still use illegal drugs. She stresses that she will never put her children at risk of becoming second best or at risk of being put into care, which is what happened to her and her siblings.
Peter does not smoke cannabis when his son is with him and Raphael was doubtful whether he will continue using cannabis when he becomes a father.
Addiction or dependency on illegal ‘street’ drugs can make your life miserable. Young people who have overcome addiction stressed that their personal life is much better and they are now able to plan for their future. Jim had lost family, friends and a home to his heroin addiction. He was homeless, living in a tent and stealing to finance his habit. He was desperate to change his lot and at first attempted to stop using heroin without medical treatment. He failed but eventually received the treatment he needed. Overcoming heroin addiction is a tough battle but Jim’s will power and methadone treatment have greatly help with his rehabilitation. Now that he is clean he does not take for granted his child, girlfriend, flat and job – all of which provide motivation to avoid illegal drugs. For Harry, who has recovered from cannabis induced psychosis, to revert to his drug-taking days would be a personal failure.
Friends and peers
Although some people looked back on drug taking as a rather boring phase of their teens, giving up illegal drugs can be particularly difficult if it involves spending less time with close and valued friends who are still using. Jim, as an ex-heroin addict, goes further and stresses that you have to cut links with anyone who is doing drugs' friends, family, etc - if you want to succeed. He would greet other addicts when he saw them in town but he never went to their homes where the temptation to use heroin would have been greatest.
After Stephanie stopped smoking cannabis she found that she had not much in common with the other members of her group although she is still friends with some of them. Others mentioned that their old friends did not seem to realise how boring they could be when they were stoned. For Joe stopping the use of ecstasy was the easiest' he simply stopped attending techno music events and moved away from his ‘techno’ acquaintances. His closest group of friends do not use illegal drugs.
Friends can also be a source of support and encouragement to cut down or stop using, perhaps referring to their own desire to cut down. With friends who do not use drugs themselves (or are ex-users) this can sometimes misfire if the ‘encouragement’ comes across as nagging. Chloe’s met with resentment from some of her peers who criticised her for changing the way she talked and appearing to want to climb above her station. Later she began to feel admired and encouraged by the people in her local community.
Some felt that they had learnt from their own, and other people’s bad experiences with drugs and had, had a lucky escape and that it was now quite cool to say ‘no, thanks’ when offered drugs.
Temptations and fear of relapse
Some young people who had used heavily in the past and were pleased to be ‘clean’ were worried that they might start using again if life dealt them more hard knocks – for example if their relationship or job ended. Jim said how important it is to keep positive and keep your head in the right place. Harry knows that when he feels tempted to have something at a weekend this is the ‘bad side’ of his mind talking and that as an ‘all or nothing’ person he needs to resist!
Daniel is confident that he will not use drugs again but says that he really misses red wine and cocaine. Recently, Sam’s working hours were reduced and he felt tempted to revert to old habits. Luckily for him his friends were very supportive and prevented him from doing something ‘stupid’.
Indeed, encouragement from others is important and it helped young people like Chloe to shift the focus from the negative to the positive things going on in her life. Giving up drugs has helped her established a new, more positive identity and the self-confidence to be whoever she wants to be.
Some young people commented that they do not regret having experimented with illegal drugs. Karis and Kasim say they would much rather have done cannabis and other illegal drugs in their teens than start to dabble in them in their twenties or thirties. Leah is happy that she is not a drug addict. All agreed that now they can move on and think of pursuing personal and professional goals.


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