Drugs and Alcohol

What is a drug?

A drug is a chemical substance that acts on the brain and nervous system to change a person’s mood, emotions, or state of consciousness. In the UK, many drugs are illegal because of the harmful effects they have on your health. Alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco are legal drugs, but this doesn’t mean that they are not harmful.

Why do people take drugs?

People take drugs for all sorts of reasons – because they think it might be fun, to try to forget their worries, or because their friends do.

How do drugs affect your mind and body?

How a drug affects someone depends on many things, such as what type of drug it is and how much is taken. The same drug can affect you differently depending on how you feel when you take it and who you’re with.

Some drugs are stimulants – they make you feel more alert and energetic. Examples are cocaine, crack, ecstasy, poppers, speed, and tobacco. People taking cocaine usually feel wide-awake and confident, but the effects don’t last that long (around 20-30 minutes for snorted cocaine). This means people are often tempted to take more and their use of cocaine can increase rapidly. High doses can cause convulsions, breathing difficulties, or heart failure. The risk of overdosing increases if you mix drugs. Drinking alcohol and taking cocaine together can be particularly dangerous because the substances interact in the body to produce a toxic chemical that can damage the liver and heart.

Some drugs slow you down and can make you feel calm and sleepy, such as alcohol; cannabis; gases; glues and aerosols; GHB; and tranquillisers. Drinking alcohol in small amounts can make people feel more relaxed and sociable. Too much alcohol can lead to slurred speech and blurred vision, clumsiness, headaches and dehydration. Binge drinking can make you more vulnerable to risky situations, like having unprotected sex, being the victim of assault, or getting into trouble with the police. Long-term excessive use of alcohol is linked to a range of cancers.

Some drugs affect your mind and distort the way you see, hear, feel, and smell things. Drugs that have these effects are cannabis, ecstasy, ketamine, LSD, and magic mushrooms. Ketamine usually comes as a grainy white powder which is snorted or bought as a tablet. It can make you hallucinate for up to three hours (depending on how much is taken). It stops you feeling pain, so you are in danger of injuring yourself without realising you’ve done it.

Does everyone take drugs?

The most commonly used substances among young people are tobacco, alcohol, and cannabis. Cocaine and ecstasy are also popular but are used a lot less in comparison to these three. Although it might seem normal to “experiment” with drugs, most young people haven’t tried illegal drugs: 18% of 11-15 year olds reported use of illegal drugs in 2011

What is Chem Sex?

Chemsex is a term commonly used to describe the sexualised use of recreational drugs (or chems), particularly amongst gay and bisexual men. The drugs used most commonly are:

People may use the drugs in the following locations:

Some people may find that they get stuck in a cycle with chemsex where it can cause sexual problems, mental health issues or difficulties with relationships, work and finances.

If you have any concerns around chemsex Unity services can help you make changes around sex and drugs which are right for you.


If you are using recreational drugs during sex there are a number of things you can do to try and help reduce some of the risks. Terrence Higgins Trust’s Friday/Monday website https://www.fridaymonday.org.ukhas dedicated advice on reducing harm with chems.

Further information about chemsex can be found here.

Where can I get help and advice?

If you are worried about your own or a friend or family member’s drug use, or if you just want some reliable information, you can call the free confidential helpline at 0300 123 6600 or text 82111. There is also a minicom number for the heard of hearing 0300 123 1099. For more information visit the talk to FRANK website 

Locate a confidential service

Find your local Pharmacy or Clinic and book a confidential appointment.

Online Accounts

Find out More