Alcohol & Drug Problems

Someone has an addiction or addictive behaviour when doing, taking or using something gets out of control to the point where it could be harmful to them.

Alcohol and drug problems are very common. If you use drugs and/or alcohol and they are causing problems in other areas of your life such as your job, relationships, health, finances or emotional well-being, then this may be an issue for you.

Someone has an addiction or addictive behavior when doing, taking or using something gets out of control to the point where it could be harmful to them. If you are worried that you may have a problem with addictive behavior, you will find information on these pages specifically about problems with drugs or alcohol.

If you think you may be drinking excessively you can get information on alcohol-misuse including tests to assess your alcohol use and information on the risks of alcohol misuse.

There are many other common addiction problems such as gambling, and nicotine, and it's possible to be addicted to just about anything, including: work, internet, sex, shopping.

What can I do about it?

If you think you have an alcohol or drug problem, there are lots of ways you can seek help. You could see your GP for advice or contact an organisation that specialises in helping people with alcohol and drug problems. There are local treatment services that will see people even if they're not ready to stop. These services encourage people to talk about their alcohol or drug problems and what help they might be looking for. 

Groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous help many people deal with their addictive behaviour.

Treating addiction Q&A, where Consultant Psychologist Dr Gillian Tober talks about how addiction is treated and how to beat your addiction in the long term.

What causes alcohol or drug problems?

There are many reasons why people can develop an addiction. Addictive behaviour, including using alcohol or drugs, can be a way of trying to forget about problems/worries or block out distressing thoughts or memories. Many people who have become dependent on alcohol or drugs have had traumatic life experiences and be struggling to deal with the effects of these. Unemployment and poverty can increase the risk of someone developing addictive behaviour, along with stress and emotional or professional pressure. Environmental factors, such as being around other people with addictions, are also thought to increase the risk.

Drugs and alcohol are substances which affect the way you feel, both physically and mentally. These feelings can be enjoyable and create a powerful urge to use the substances again. When there is addictive behaviour, not having the substance causes withdrawal symptoms, or a "come down". Because this can feel intolerable, it's easier to carry on using the substance, and so the cycle continues. Often, using these substances gets out of control because you need more and more to satisfy a craving and achieve the "high".

How alcohol or drug problems can affect you

As addiction problems become more serious, attention is increasingly focused on obtaining and using alcohol or drugs, with a loss of interest in other aspects of life, including recreational activity, friends and family. In the case of using drugs and alcohol, an addiction can also have serious psychological and physical effects.

Getting help for drug problems

If you have a problem with drugs, there is a wide range of services that can help. Some of these services are provided by the NHS, and some are specialist drug facilities run by charities and private organisations. If you have a problem with drugs, you have the same entitlement to care as anyone coming to the NHS for help with any other health problem. With the right help and support, it's possible for you to get drug free and stay that way.

A good place to start may be to visit your GP. Your GP can discuss your concerns with you, assess the nature of your problems, and help you choose the most appropriate treatment. They might offer to treat you or refer you to your local specialist drug service. Many drug treatment services accept self-referrals, so if you're not comfortable talking to your GP, you might be able to approach your local drug treatment service directly.

You can find information about local drug treatment services on the FRANK website. If you're having trouble finding the right sort of help, call the Frank drugs helpline on 0300 123 6600. An adviser can talk to you about the different options.

If you are seen at your local drug treatment service, first of all you will be assessed. If treatment is appropriate for you, you will then be allocated a keyworker. Your keyworker will help you organise the treatment you need and develop a personalised care plan with you, and will be your first point of call throughout your treatment. You'll see your keyworker for regular one-to-one sessions during your treatment.

Outside the NHS, there are many voluntary sector and private drug and alcohol treatment organisations that can help you. As well as providing residential rehab centres, voluntary organisations also offer various community services. These include structured day programmes, outreach and harm reduction services, counselling services, aftercare, and housing support services. These organisations will usually be linked to NHS services in your area.

Getting help for alcohol problems

Realising you have a problem with alcohol is the first step to making changes to your alcohol use, but it is often the hardest one.  You may need help if: 

  • You always feel the need to have a drink.
  • You get into trouble because of your drinking.
  • Other people warn you about how much you’re drinking. 

A good place to start can be with your GP, and discussing with them how much you drink will help you work out together what support you might need.  Your GP may refer you to a local community alcohol service. You can ask about free local support groups, day-centre counselling and one-to-one counselling.

If your body has become dependent on alcohol, stopping drinking overnight can be life-threatening, so get advice about cutting down gradually. You may be prescribed medication such as chlordiazepoxide, a sedative, to help with alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can range from not sleeping, agitation, anxiety, sweating and tremors, right through to vomiting, diarrhoea, hallucinations and seizures.

Cutting down and stopping drinking is often just the beginning, and most people will need some kind of help to stay alcohol-free in the long term. Getting support – beyond family, friends or carers – is crucial to understanding and overcoming the issues that are connected to your drinking.

Supporting someone with a drug problem

If you are supporting someone who is using or trying to come off drugs, there are some common issues you're likely to face. It can be hard to accept that the person was or is taking drugs to begin with, and when the reality sinks in, it can be difficult to know what to do first.

If you want to know where to get help FRANK is a good place to start. They have a 24-hour helpline (0300 123 66 00) and website that provide in-depth information about drugs, and advice about drugs-related services.

Your GP can talk to you about the kinds of treatment options and services available. They should be able to give you information about the effects of the drugs the person you're caring for has been taking, including the signs of withdrawal. They will also be able to give details of local support groups.

If you are worried that someone you care for is at risk of an overdose with opiates, you may want to know about recognising overdose and knowing what to do in these situations.

You may not see yourself as a carer or someone with needs of their own. But caring for someone using or coming off drugs can be demanding. If you have someone in your household who is unable to stop using drugs, it can be very stressful, upsetting and frustrating.

Even if your loved one accepts that they have a problem and decides to stop taking drugs, you may need to help them get through the withdrawal and recovery period. There may be some difficult, emotional times during this process.

Sometimes the best option for carers is to let their loved one face the consequences of continuing their drug use. This can be tough as it's natural to want to rescue someone from the harmful effects of their addiction, such as poverty or ill health.

But there are lots of support organisations that can help you care for someone using or coming off drugs. Carers often find that talking to someone who knows what they're going through is really helpful. This could be through workshops, one-to-one sessions with a specially trained counsellor, or simply talking to other carers.

Adfam A national organisation working with and for families affected by drugs and alcohol. It can advise you about financial worries, understanding how to help during different stages of recovery, and coping with difficult behaviour

Families Anonymous run local support groups for the family and friends of people with a current, suspected or former drug problem. Helpline number: 0845 1200 660 (calls costs up to 8p per minute, plus your phone company's access charge per minute)

"The stigma will affect both the alcoholic and the carer," says Lindon. "It can affect their ability to ask for and get help."

Further information for carers is available on our Looking After Someone page and from the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde carers site

Supporting someone with an alcohol problem

If you are a carer for someone with an alcohol problem, finding help can be a frustrating experience, and it may be a struggle to get the recognition and support you’re entitled to. "They have not always been perceived as 'legitimate' carers," says Drew Lindon of The Princess Royal Trust for Carers (now the Carers Trust). "But it is clear from the legislation and the National Carers Strategy that people who take care of problem drinkers should be recognised as carers," he says.

The shame often associated with alcohol problems, as well as difficulty accepting that there is a problem, can be an obstacle to getting help. "The stigma will affect both the alcoholic and the carer," says Lindon. "It can affect their ability to ask for and get help."

Being a carer is hard work and, with so much to do, it can be difficult to find quality time for yourself. Staying well and healthy increases your ability to look after someone. But nobody can plan for every eventuality and we all get ill sometimes. Read about carers' breaks and respite care for advice on getting help with caring for someone and breaks from caring. "Carers for alcoholics need to be seen as partners in care," says Lindon. "They are an essential part of the care and treatment process. They need and deserve support for themselves. "If carers are not supported and their health suffers, who will support the person they are caring for? The health and social care system would not survive without carers' support."

Al-Anon Family Groups offer support to people affected by someone else's drinking. These groups meet weekly to offer understanding and encouragement, and share their experience of dealing with their common problem.

Adfam Adfam is a UK charity working to improve life for families affected by drugs and alcohol. Email: admin@adfam.org.uk

Further information for carers is available on our Looking After Someone page and from the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde carers site

Further information and support

Scottish Drug Services - an online Directory to help people find information on all drug treatment and rehabilitation services in Scotland.

Crew is a drugs charity based in Edinburgh providing non-judgemental, relevant information, advice and support. You can chat online confidentially or join in the conversation on their forums

Scottish Drugs Forum provide information on drugs and harm reduction, including information about specific drugs.

SMART Recovery (SMART) is a science-based programme to help people manage their recovery from any type of addictive behaviour. This includes addictive behaviour with substances such as alcohol, nicotine or drugs, or compulsive behaviours such as gambling, sex, eating, shopping, self-harming and so on. SMART stands for ‘Self Management And Recovery Training’.

Gambling

Nicotine

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

The leaflet ‘Alcohol, Drugs and Addiction’ has information to help the carers of people with alcohol and drug problems (substance misuse)

Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol & Drugs (SFAAD) provide information, help and support for  We support families across Scotland who are affected by alcohol or drugs misuse and raise awareness of the issues affecting them.

SFAAD helpline telephone no.: 08080 10 10 11 

Email: helpline@sfad.org.uk 

Family Addiction Support Service (FASS) is a confidential support service for parents, spouses, partners and adult family members affected by or concerned about a loved one's drug or alcohol use. They offer support, counselling, advice and information.

FASS telephone no.: 0141 420 2050 Mon to Fri 9am to 4pm

Email: info@fassglasgow.org

BSL - Addictions

NHSGG&C BSL A-Z: Mental Health - Addictions

Someone has an addiction or addictive behaviour when doing, taking or using something gets out of control to the point where it could be harmful to them.

Alcohol and drug problems are very common. If you use drugs and/or alcohol and they are causing problems in other areas of your life such as your job, relationships, health, finances or emotional well-being, then this may be an issue for you. There are many other common addiction problems such as gambling, and nicotine, and it's possible to be addicted to just about anything, including: work, internet, sex, shopping.

Please note that this video is from a range of BSL videos published by NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde