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Why they use drugs/alcohol

Find out more about why people use drugs and alcohol, and what addiction means

Family members are often at a loss to understand why their loved one uses drugs or alcohol.  Many (especially parents) blame themselves, but it is important to know that you are not responsible for your loved one's choices.

There are many reasons why someone might experiment with drugs or alcohol, including:

  • to help them cope with difficult feelings or circumstances
  • to ‘self-medicate’ mental health problems
  • socialising in a context where it is ‘normal’, or as a result of peer pressure or to ‘fit in’
  • to have a new experience (especially during adolescence when young     people often take more risks)
  • because they enjoy the feeling of increased confidence, energy or relaxation that drugs can bring.

Most people who use drugs don't become dependent. It is not fully understood why some find it harder to regulate their own drug or alcohol use and become dependent or addicted, while others can simply stop.

It is important to realise that if someone has an addiction, they are no longer able to ‘just stop’ drinking or taking drugs.  Addiction creates and results from changes in brain chemistry which can make a person's 'need' for drugs overpower all other considerations. Understanding this can help family members take it less personally if their loved one seems to act selfishly, no longer care or almost seem like a different person.

It is normal to feel scared, frustrated, angry and confused when you find out that a family member is using drugs or drinking dangerously.

Read more about specific drugs at DrugScience,