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Alcohol and drugs

The relationship between alcohol, drugs and mental health is complicated.

Everybody's story is different.

Two men chatting on a bench chair

We all have different reasons for our relationship with alcohol or drugs. It could be cultural beliefs, personal experiences, societal influences or simply personal preference. Whatever your reason or experience, our goal is to provide understanding without judgement.

The relationship between alcohol, drugs, and mental wellbeing is deeply personal and complex. Substance use can influence mental health and vice versa. It can also influence physical health, social connections, cultural ties and working life. Navigating these connected paths can be scary, but taking small steps can lead to positive changes in mental wellbeing.

"My whānau, they were really honest about my predicament, like how are you going to figure out how are you gonna deal with that, you know in a healthy way, how are you gonna express your irritation and frustrations in a healthy way." – Listen to the story

Remember, if you’re worried about your own or a loved one's substance use, prioritise compassion and call for help when you need it. No matter how much, how often, what you use or why, we’re not here to judge.

Alcohol and drugs can encompass alcohol, tobacco, vaping, illicit drugs and non-prescribed medication use. On this page, you can find stories, insights and advice about the intersection of substance use and mental wellbeing.

For more information about alcohol and drugs, check out these resources

Need to talk? Call the Alcohol & Drug Helpline 0800 787 797, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

Know Your Stuff provides free drug checking services

Find a needle exchange programme or use the online shop for free

For information about alcohol and drugs, their risks and ways to stay safe, visit The Level

If you’re thinking about your own alcohol or drug use

It's natural to feel a mix of emotions when thinking about substance use. You may feel anger, loneliness, guilt or even jealousy that other people don’t seem to think much about their alcohol and drug use.

“As my mood darkened, my need to find some kind of way to find some light in my world expanded. So it became this survival technique to find whatever I could to make myself feel better. And so at 15, for me that was drugs and alcohol and a sense of belonging.” Watch Hannah’s story

You might be thinking about your alcohol or drug use for many reasons. It might not make you feel good. Someone may have mentioned it to you, maybe you’ve done something to you're not comfortable with or you might be comparing your intake to the recommended limits.

Start by asking yourself these things:

  • Do I want to see any changes in my substance use?
  • Am I open to seeking help?
  • Would I prefer a familiar face or an anonymous conversation?
  • What kind of support aligns with my cultural or personal beliefs?

Everybody’s journey with substances is different. The answers to these questions might change over time. This can be a lot to think about. Take the time that you need.

If you're considering changing your use or stopping altogether, planning non-substance related activities can be helpful. Whatever you choose, looking for activities that bring you peace and connection can help to take your mind off things.

Starting a conversation or asking for support can be daunting but can be really helpful. People who can help and asking for help will help you identify what support different people can provide and ways to start a conversation.

Taking the first step

Listen to their story here

I just didn't want to admit that I had a problem eh. Yeah, and I didn’t want to admit that, you know that, that is completely out of my hands. And that, you know, I've got all these issues and but I was absolutely in denial. And so I think by recognising that, it opened the door for me to start healing.

If someone has tried to speak to you about your drinking or drug use

There’s lots of reasons why someone might have decided to speak to you about alcohol or drugs. People often try to have these conversations if they’re worried or want to make sure you’re okay. No matter their intentions, these conversations can be hard. You might be feeling angry, embarrassed, shocked – or possibly supported or loved.

Things to remember:

  • You have the right to process this at your own pace.
  • You decide the next steps – whether it's seeking help or making changes.
  • Support is available – the choice to reach out is yours.

If you do want to talk, you only need to share what you’re comfortable with. You can ask for support in any way that feels right for you.

What this might look like:

  • Finding a support service to call.
  • Going to an appointment together.
  • Doing drug and alcohol-free activities together.
  • Finding ways to reduce risks like attending drug checking services.
If you’re worried about someone else’s drinking or drug use

Talking to someone about their substance use can be challenging. It's important to approach the conversation with empathy and understanding, respecting their freedom to make their own decisions.

Supporting someone

Seeing a loved one struggle can be heart-wrenching. While the desire to help is natural, it's crucial to approach the situation with sensitivity and respect for their autonomy.

Things to remember:

  • Your role is supportive, not directive.
  • Don’t make assumptions – every individual's experience is unique.
  • Prioritise safer use of alcohol and drugs – check out The Level for more information.
  • Encourage open communication.
  • Give them time and space to make their own decisions.
  • Understand that change does not occur overnight and that recovery can be a complex journey.

If you need support in this journey, consider reaching out to the Alcohol & Drug Helpline. For more information about supporting someone check out our page here.

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