Levels of drug use

Just because someone uses drugs, doesn’t mean they have a problem. You may not like what they are doing, but try to suspend your beliefs about whether drug use is right or wrong before considering whether your loved one has a drug problem.


Many people use drugs – and it doesn’t always lead to addiction or dependence. Some people are able to use drugs without any adverse impact on their mental health, success at work or relationships. But others will swiftly move from experimentation to dependence.

So how do you know if your loved one has a problem?

First, consider what they use, how much they use and how often. You may feel comforted by being able to recognise when one level of use starts to cascade over onto the next level.

Experimental use

It is recognised that many young people experiment with drugs. Some stop after the first time because they are no longer curious. Others go on to recreational use.

Recreational use

This is where the drug is used regularly and becomes part of the person’s social life. At this stage drug use might be contained to certain situations, such as smoking cannabis with their friends every Friday night or using ecstasy when they go clubbing.

Problematic use

Drug use is considered problematic when the amount and frequency of use increase. The user has built up a tolerance and needs more and more of the drug to get the same impact. Drug use may now be impacting on family and other aspects of life, but the user might feel they have less control over the situation.

Dependent use

A dependent user does not feel in control of their drug use. The World Health Organisation says dependence or addiction means there is a psychological drive to keep taking the drug, despite the harms experienced from continued use. If they stop, there might be withdrawal symptoms, varying in severity depending on the drugs to which they are addicted.

While drug dependence sounds frightening, a supportive treatment regime has helped many hundreds of thousands of people conquer drug dependence. If you would like more information, or help assessing your loved one’s drug use, call the Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797.

BenYou don’t realise how much it’s consumed you until you’re clean.

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Tips for loved ones

  • Accept the person has a problem needing attention.

  • Don't try to talk to the person about your concerns when they are under the influence of drugs/alcohol.

  • Don't cover up or make excuses for the mistakes they make when they are intoxicated.

  • At every opportunity, let the person see the consequences of his or her behaviour.

  • Don't nag, scream or lecture. It will only cause feelings of anger and resentment.

  • Don't accept rude or physically abusive behaviour as normal or understandable. It is never OK for you to be mistreated by anyone.

  • Don't feel guilty if you are upset because they have broken a promise to you. People with drug problems often make promises that they can't keep, and it is natural that you would feel disappointed or hurt.

  • Don't judge the person as weak, stupid or lacking in willpower because they can't control their drug use. Drug dependency can happen to anyone.

  • Don't feel sorry for the person with the drug problem. When you feel pity, it is more likely that you will try to take care of the person rather than encourage them to get the help they need.

  • Don't blame yourself for the problem. Other people's actions do not cause drug dependency.

  • Do learn all you can about drug problems.

  • Do make sure you have at least one person who you can talk to about your feelings and worries.

  • When the person opens up and admits they need help, assist them to access appropriate support services.

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One is too many, I know if went and had a blast I would be screwed again

Greg