Drugs and your mental health

Colm Caldwell discusses drug abuse

As we all know, a big thing that comes with college years is experimentation with drugs. Many will find that they enjoy nothing more than lounging around after smoking a nice fat joint of cannabis whilst others will dance the night away with the help of a bit of MDMA. Some will enjoy chatting until the early hours of the morning under the influence of cocaine whereas others will momentarily want to detach from reality by sniffing some ketamine. All of this is without even mentioning alcohol. Whatever drug you try, you should not feel ashamed or guilty for your ventures into the world of illicit substances. After all, more than half of the students in Ireland have used drugs in some shape or form this past year, with cannabis being the most popular drug (Kelleher, 2022). I’m not here to tell you not to experiment with drugs. I’m here to tell you what happens when you abuse them like I did. 

When I first attended college, in UCD way back in 2016, I relied heavily on cannabis to get me through the days. I was suffering from depression at the time and weed plastered over the cracks. Above all, it allowed me to sleep. I smoked it all day almost every day that first year of college and when you factor in the other drugs I was doing such as MDMA, ketamine and cocaine, you can see why my mental state was a ticking time bomb. Instead of seeking out professional help, I relied heavily on drugs to escape my problems. I paid for this lifestyle with a psychotic episode at the end of first year of college. It was terrifying. A psychotic episode is a period of psychosis where you essentially lose touch with reality. It consists of delusional and disordered thinking and can include hallucinations. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn my lesson and continued doing drugs consistently for the next three years, culminating in a second episode and then finally a third episode about two years ago that nipped my drug use mostly in the bud (old habits die hard).

“The problem with this approach is that you’re only bottling things up and eventually your anxieties, fears and insecurities will boil over.”

After my first episode, during which I stayed in a psych unit for a couple of weeks, I refused to seek professional help. I felt the drugs helped like nothing else could. I know many out there who are reliant on a particular substance feel the same. It’s easier to get out of your head by doing drugs than to actually get what’s in your head out. Talking about your problems is very scary when you’ve never done it before. Doing and abusing drugs allows you to put this scary prospect off indefinitely. The problem with this approach is that you’re only bottling things up and eventually your anxieties, fears and insecurities will boil over. For me, them boiling over took on the form of psychosis and a psychotic episode.

So, what are we to do when we feel down and see no way out of it other than getting off your head on drugs? We talk. To a friend. To a professional. To anyone. If you do what I did you may well end up paying for it in a similar manner as I did and trust me that is not something you want to happen. Over the course of my three episodes I ruined family relationships, friendships and just my life in general. All because I never had the bravery to talk to anyone about what I was going through and relied on drugs to let me kick the problem down the road, until the road came to an unceremonious end, three times, resulting in two hospitalisations.

“Drug use is okay, using it to mask your problems is not.”

So, what are you to take away from this? In my opinion, experimentation is fine, abuse is not. Exploring your mind is grand, permanently living in an altered state of mind is not. Drug use is okay, using it to mask your problems is not. If you feel like you are the type of person who has come to rely on drugs for your mental wellbeing in any way then it is time for you to seek help. Reliance is not normal. Reliance is not healthy. The best approach to drug use is abstinence, but temptations are everywhere in college and sometimes abstinence isn’t an option either because of peer pressure, budding addictions or someone just really liking drugs. 

Recreational drug use can lead you down an incredibly dark path. Recreational can become habitual all too easily and often it is mental health problems that take someone from the former to the latter. Before you know it you’ll be sucked in and you’ll find it hard to crawl your way back out again, at least without professional help. So, seek professional help, early and often. Take control of your drug use and don’t let it take control of you. You’ll thank yourself for it later.

“Take this as a way for you to learn from my realisations instead of having to go through it yourself.”

A good organisation if you’re struggling is firstly the Trinity Counselling Service, which is free for all students. However, its waiting time can be too long for some. Pieta House do incredible work in suicide prevention if you feel like you’re on the brink. You can also find addiction counselling services in your local area on Drugs.ie and Askaboutalcohol.ie. This is to name but a few services. If you are in fact struggling with your mental health and substance abuse, please reach out to someone. I really don’t want you to have the same experience as me if it can be prevented. Take this as a way for you to learn from my realisations instead of having to go through it yourself.

Many people, including myself, believe drugs should be decriminalised for personal possession because they are part of the human experience for a lot of people and a health-based approach to drug use, like they have in Portugal, has seen incredible dividends being earned by society as a whole. Maybe in time we will see this come to pass in Ireland too and consequently systematic drug abuse carried out by students can be treated more efficiently at its root. Overall this article is intended to show you that it can all go wrong all too quickly, easily and with very serious consequences. So, look out for your mates, look out for yourself and enjoy your sessions responsibly and safely.