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Problematic drug use

long row of empty alcohol bottles

'Problematic' drug use is when you become dependent upon a drug and cannot function properly without it, or it starts negatively impacting on areas of your personal life such as finances, sex or relationships.

How will I know when my drug use is out of control?

It might be time to stop if any of the following apply to you:

  • You use more than you planned to and for longer.
  • You feel guilty about your drug use.
  • You need to take or drink more and more to get the same effect.
  • You spend a lot of time looking for and taking drugs.
  • You can’t enjoy clubbing or sex without drugs.

You stand a better chance of controlling your drug or alcohol use if you first think about what you do and why, as well as the ups and downs of your drug use. It can be hard to change but there are plenty of places you can get help from - you can start by calling our free helpline THT Direct at 0808 802 1221 for a referral.

Here are 10 achievable steps to help you to move away from problematic drug use:

  1. Keep track of your use - make a note of when, where and why you take drugs (and who with).
  2. Ask friends for help - tell them not to offer or use drugs or talk about them in front of you.
  3. Small steps - set yourself small, achievable goals and accept that any change will come one step at a time.
  4. Be prepared - remember that withdrawal symptoms - such as trouble sleeping, irritability, boredom and mood swings – will ease over time.
  5. Get rid of drugs and drug-related objects - having them around can act as a trigger to use. If cutting down, put them out of easy reach.
  6. Know your triggers - avoid things that trigger your use: states of mind, places, people, objects, types of sex etc.
  7. Stay busy – boredom is your biggest enemy. Overcome it with anything not linked to drugs: exercise, hobbies, shopping or spending time with family and friends who do not use drugs.
  8. Stay active – all forms of exercise - be it swimming, walking, and gym - give you a natural high (endorphins), relieve boredom, give you energy and boost the immune system.
  9. Take care of your body – you need sleep, healthy food and to avoid stimulants such as caffeine, cola and energy drinks.
  10. Get support – you don’t have to do it on your own. Ask at your clinic for a counselling referral or check out the links to the right for more information.

It is also worth remembering that, while not illegal, drinking alcohol to excess and smoking also have serious health implications.

Being HIV positive means that your body needs a lot of help to support it. Cutting back - or quitting - drinking can be a very healthy step, as is giving up smoking. Smoking is especially harmful for people with HIV, increasing their heart attack and cancer risk even more than it does for people who don’t have HIV.

More about HIV and substance use:



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  • The page states that "It can be hard to change but there are plenty of places you can get help from." yet doesn't suggest any places

    The page also states that "Get support – you don’t have to do it on your own. Ask at your clinic for a counselling referral or check out the links to the right for more information." yet there are no links to orbs that help with drink and drugs - poor show guys

    Posted 20:15 Thu 02 Oct 2014

The Information Standard: Certified member

This article was last reviewed on 31/3/2015 by Anna Peters

Date due for the next review: 31/3/2018

Content Author: Richard Scholey

Current Owner: Health Promotion

More information:

Problem drug use: a definition, DrugScope (2010)

Overcoming Drug Addiction, Melinda Smith, MA, Jeanne Segal, PhD, HelpGuide.org, December 2014