Find the support you need
There are lots of different ways you can go about changing your drug use.
There are a number of ways to change drug use.
Sharing experiences and providing support for each other is a good way of finding out what has helped others. This is where self-help treatments can be useful.
The main type of self-help treatments are mental illness support groups run through community support agencies and Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous.
Ask your case manager, local council or Drug and Alcohol Treatment Service for the details of an appropriate group to join.
This type of approach can help you use drugs in a safer way. For example, using less often or only at times when other people are there to keep an eye on you can help you to use drugs more safely, see ‘How can drugs be used in a safer way?’ for details.
GPs, case managers and community support workers can help in working out ways you can use more safely.
This method of treatment is useful for people who want to stop using drugs that their body may crave just after they stop taking them. It ‘s usually done as part of a detoxification program which also offers ongoing counselling, accommodation and day programs.
There are two main types of detoxification programs:
- residential rehabilitation programs – is a live-in program where treatment is provided on the spot.
- home based withdrawal programs – mean you still live in your own home but come into a centre (or are visited by a drug and alcohol worker) for regular treatment and support.
Contact the mental health branch in your state or territory to find out what services they offer in your local area.
Certain medication can help ease the cravings that can make it hard to stop using some drugs. Your GP or psychiatrist can help you to decide on whether this is the right method for you.
How can I use drugs more safely?
If you don’t feel able to stop using drugs straight away, there are ways of using them in a safer way.
Be careful who you get the drugs from
While you never know exactly what you are getting, some suppliers are less likely than others to sell ‘clean’ drugs.
Be careful where you take drugs
The effect that some drugs have (particularly Ecstasy, LSD and cannabis) can depend on what environment you use the drug in.
Taking drugs in places that are unfamiliar, such as being around people you are not comfortable with, can cause a bad reaction in many people, such as feeling panicky or having delusions and hallucinations. This can be especially difficult for people whose mental illness is associated with a chemical imbalance in the brain.
Stay in the company of friends
Make sure there is someone not too far away who can get help if you need it.
Keep it legal
When using drugs you may be more likely to act out of control and do illegal things (such as driving fast). This puts you at even more risk. With a bit of preparation, there are steps you can take to make it less likely you will run into problems. For example, if you know you are going to take drugs make sure that you are not driving home.
If you have any questions on how to use more safely contact your local drug and alcohol helpline, see ‘Who should I contact?’ for more information.
Keep it clean
Drug paraphernalia can carry germs that can make you sick. Keeping your gear clean can reduce the risk of spreading infection. For example, clean your bong after every session and make sure that you don’t share needles.
Don’t mix drugs
Combining drugs can make the effects of either or both drugs more powerful or than they may have been if taken separately. You may also want to ask your doctor about the effects of mixing street drugs with your medication.
Drink lots of water
Much of the harm caused by taking drugs is a result of dehydration. Making sure you have had at least 10 glasses of water in the previous 24 hours makes it less likely that you will experience any extra difficulties that come up because of dehydration.
Using less concentrated versions of drugs (for example, light beer instead of spirits, leaf instead of heads) can reduce the risk of the having too much in one sitting.
Spreading out your drug use over time can allow your body to process the drug out of your system. For example – use less drugs at one time (take fewer puffs, sips or hits, glasses or cones) or by having at least three drug free days per week to allow your body to recover. This will also save you money.
Decide how much you want to use each day and stick to it.
When you take drugs it can be easy to skip meals or opt for food that are the easiest to get. Making sure that you have foods on hand that are nutritious and easy to prepare can make you more likely to eat properly, see ‘Healthy living’ for more ideas.
What can I expect to happen if I stop taking drugs suddenly?
People who have been using drugs may experience some withdrawal symptoms when they stop. These symptoms can differ depending on what drug you use, however the main symptoms of withdrawal are:
- sleep problems.
- feeling less hungry.
Having withdrawal symptoms may seem difficult, but they can be signs that your body is recovering and re-adapting to being drug-free. They tend to be short-term, only lasting about 7-10 days.
The withdrawal process can be trickier for people with a mental illness however, because of greater sensitivity to changing chemicals in the brain. This is why you should only withdraw from drugs in consultation with a doctor.
What kind of mental health services are available?
Managing your mental illness well can also help you get a handle of your drug use. That is why it is important that you start to look at what mental health support and treatment you are entitled to.
Dual diagnosis services
In most parts of the country there are now services especially for people who have a mental illness and a drug problem at the same time.
These dual diagnosis services work with you and your case manager to make sure that both your mental health and drug problems are being treated.
You can find out about your local dual diagnosis service by asking your local community mental health service or the mental health branch in your State or Territory.
General Practitioners (GPs)
GPs should be able to tell you about the local mental health and drug and alcohol services.
It is a good idea to use the same GP regularly if possible. This way you get to know and trust your doctor so that you can talk about any difficulties you are having.
If you don’t have a regular GP, try to find one who is right for you. Ask family and friends, a local pharmacist or at a community health centre if they can recommend someone.
Psychiatrists are trained to help you with any concerns you might have about your mental health, especially when you are dealing with the extra challenges that drug use can bring.
Psychiatrists can work in the public system (at community mental health services) where there is no charge, or in private practice where there may be a charge, mostly claimable under Medicare. If you do not have a psychiatrist, a GP can give you a referral.
Community mental health services
If you are in the public system and want to get long-term care you should ask about getting a case manager at your local community mental health service.
Case managers are like a ‘one stop shop’ for mental health services, and work with GPs and psychiatrists to providing information on various issues relating to mental illness (including education and support around drug use) to you and your family as well as referring you to relevant community agencies.
To find out about the closest community mental health service, contact your local council.
Community support agencies
Community support agencies provide psychosocial rehabilitation programs, supported accommodation, and a range of recreational and creative activities.
These services can help you meet others, learn new skills and join in the life of your local community.
Availability of theses services varies widely around the country. Contact your local community mental health service for referral to services an agency in your area.
What can family friends and workers do to help support someone who is trying to change their drug use?
Research shows that people who have some kind of supportive relationship generally find it easier to tackle their drug problem. Having someone around to encourage you is important because there is someone to talk to if times get tough, and to help you learn new ways of dealing with old problems.
This support person could be a case manager or other support worker. It could be a neighbour, friend, someone in your family, or even a psychiatrist or GP. It can be anyone who knows you’re trying to change your drug and alcohol use and agrees to help keep a friendly eye on how you’re going.
The following things are important when thinking about who to ask to be your support person:
- Trust – remember your support person needs to be someone you trust, and who will take a real interest in how you are getting on.
- Being available – no one person can be available all the time, but think about how available a person is – in person, by phone or email – before you ask them whether they will be your support person.
- Familiarity – being a support person means being familiar with you and your life. This is likely to be someone you’ve known for some time and are comfortable talking to
- A positive attitude – a good support person sees the bright side of life. It can make all the difference to have someone with a positive approach to life helping you.