Helping you get through tough times

Mental health and drugs

Recreational drugs have the ability to affect our mood for longer than the initial high. Known as psychoactive drugs, they include well-known examples such as ecstasy, cannabis, magic mushrooms, heroin and even alcohol.

Random colour absractShort-term effects on mental health

As they can stir up emotions and dampen others, these drugs may trigger mental health problems. Anxiety, depression, mood swings, sleep problems and psychosis can all be brought on by psychoactive substances.

Anxiety – periods of severe anxiety or panic attacks can occur. A person’s heart rate increases, they can sweat, have shortness of breath, trembling and panic over losing control.

Sometimes people feel their surroundings are strange or unreal. They can feel they’re losing their sense of reality and their personal identity.

Drug-induced psychosis – psychoactive drugs can cause delusions and hallucinations.

Mood disorders – at times being depressed, maybe feeling sad, tired, restless and irritable. Then at other times feeling manic, being in an elevated mood or having racing thoughts, delusions and being impulsive.

This swinging between high and low could be a mood disorder. It can be caused by many drugs including cocaine, heroin, amphetamines and methadone.

Long-term effects on mental health

Psychoactive drugs can cause ongoing mental health problems. It’s not clear why it happens to some of us and not others. It might be that using a drug triggers an underlying mental health problem.

Cannabis for example, has been linked to schizophrenia, although it’s a difficult link to prove. If you have a pre-existing risk for schizophrenia (which most people at risk are unaware of), there’s a much higher chance that using cannabis will trigger a schizophrenic episode.

These risks are believed to be greater in younger people and those who smoke it more regularly.

Dual diagnosis

A dual diagnosis is a term used when people have two separate conditions – a drug addiction and a mental health problem.

When dealing with both a mental health problem and an addiction it’s hard to know where one ends and the other begins.

It’s often not clear which problem came first. For example people going through a tough time may use drugs to cope. This can often lead to more problems.

Using illegal drugs to deal with mental health problems can interfere with a person’s recovery. If they’re taking prescribed medication then other substances could interfere with this.

When talking to a health professional about your mental health, it’s important to tell them if you’re taking any recreational drugs.

Getting help

If you’re going through a tough time and are finding it hard to cope, or if you’re struggling to overcome a drugs addiction, visit our face-to-face help section and our minding your mental health section.

If possible get support from family and friends – it’s hard to do it without them.

You can visit your GP who will be able to help. If you don’t have a GP, you can find one at www.icgp.ie.

There are many local, regional and national services you can contact for help. You can find listings at http://drugs.ie/services/ .

The HSE Drugs Helpline can be reached on freephone 1800 459 459, Monday to Friday, from 10am to 5pm. They offer support, information, guidance and referral to anyone with a question or concern related to drug and alcohol use. All calls are confidential.

Content on drugs and mental health adapted from Drugs.ie

Follow us on Twitter

Follow us on Facebook


This article was last reviewed on 29 April 2017

What can I do now?