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A drug is any kind of medicine or chemical that changes how your body or brain functions. There are legal drugs (including alcohol), which you can buy over the counter or get from a health professional, and illegal (or ‘street’) drugs. It’s possible to become addicted to both legal and illegal drugs.

Addiction is when there’s an uncontrollable urge to consume a drug because of a physical or mental dependence on the chemical in the drug. Usually, this is because the substance has a pleasurable or satisfying effect, or helps to stop bad feelings (in the short term).

Are all drugs addictive?

Some drugs are more addictive than others. While not all drugs are physically addictive (causing physical withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking them), they can still be psychologically addictive, meaning you’re mentally dependent on them.

What are the signs of drug addiction?

There are many types of drugs that people can become addicted to, so there are many different signs to be aware of. If you’re concerned that you might be developing an addiction, here are some general signs to look out for.

Social and behavioural signs

People with a drug addiction may:

  • avoid people who don’t take drugs
  • avoid places where it's not possible to take drugs
  • feel distressed and lonely if they don't take the drug regularly
  • rely on drugs to cope with emotional problems
  • be dishonest with friends and family to hide their drug use
  • have financial problems and debts
  • sell or steal things to pay for drugs
  • take dangerous risks, such as driving under the influence of drugs
  • self-blame and have low self-esteem, especially after trying unsuccessfully to quite
  • get into legal trouble. 

Health signs

Drugs and alcohol can cause a range of problems for physical and mental health, even after the acute effects of taking the drug have worn off. These include:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • having unusual ideas (e.g. paranoia, delusions)
  • hallucinations
  • attention problems
  • memory loss
  • weight loss
  • sexual dysfunction (e.g. impotence).

What can I do about my drug use?

If you take drugs regularly and you have some of the signs listed here, it’s important that you talk to a doctor or a mental health professional (such as a drug counsellor or a psychologist) as soon as you can. Continuing to take drugs might seem like the only way to feel better, but it can lead to some pretty serious consequences, including ongoing mental and physical health issues, or even death.

Recognising the problem is the first step in getting help for addiction. No one can force another person to undergo treatment for a problem they don’t believe they have.

Talk to a doctor or a health professional

Try using ReachOut NextStep which will guide you through a few key questions and help you find the support that's right for you.

Don’t go cold turkey

It might seem easier to just stop taking drugs and to manage withdrawal on your own, but this is actually the most difficult way to go about it. It can also be physically dangerous, depending on the drug and level of addiction. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to a health professional, start with a trusted friend or family member.

If you're looking for more info on individual types of drugs, check out Your Room's A-Z of Drugs.

Remember that if you do have a drug problem, the first step in overcoming it is to acknowledge it. You'll find plenty of support services that can help you here, and you can filter by type of service and location. 

What can I do now?