A Personal Account of Drug Use and Mental Health

I was aware that drug use permeated British university culture before I moved here. Conversations with friends and pop culture gave me the impression that casual substance use was expected, if not the norm among students. Leeds, I knew, was a “good night out” (wink wink). I had tried ecstasy and cocaine a few times, the first time about six months before university. The experience had left me a bit shaken. I hadn’t expected the comedown to be so rough. I had been warned about the day after, I knew I would feel depleted and exhausted. I did not expect to crawl into bed, unable to cope with the colourless world. I felt talentless, ignorant, a fatty lump of nothing. I recovered after a few days and waited a little while to do it again.

I felt low in the months before coming to university and the distance from what my life was until then gave me the chance to think about why. I had issues in my personal life to handle but not grave enough to warrant feeling as if I were in a blue fog every day. I pulled out old messages, my diary and spoke to friends. I came to the conclusion that in the few weeks after a comedown, it was harder to cope with all the daily trivials that life threw my way. It seems obvious now but at the time I hadn’t made the connection: the intense emotional experience that defines the highs and comedowns were making other issues in my life harder to handle. I knew I was on a downward emotional slope and I realised that drugs pushed me further down the decline, making me less grounded.

Coming to a university where drug use seems so commonplace gave me the opportunity to talk about it. It was by observing friends and discussing their reactions that I realised no one else seemed to be quite as prone to tears after a night out. I talked about it with a thoughtful friend of mine who has some interesting insights. He’s experimented with drugs more than me and says ketamine helped him work out personal issues with his family and sexuality. “People don’t seem to realise how differently drugs can affect people, from individual to individual and substance to substance. I see people doing fat lines of ketamine and K-holing, not ready to wrestle with being confronted with their deeper level of consciousness. They group drugs together, treating it as if it were cocaine or some other less psychological drug. That’s really dangerous since ketamine is an entirely different beast. It should also never be mixed with alcohol since the combination can affect the respiratory system and have terrifying results.”

I spoke to another friend whose experience mirrors mine. She has struggled with her drug use: “when I used to come down from drugs it had a very negative effect on myself, although it was similar to alcohol, the first few times weren’t that bad. Gradually I would start exhibiting bad behaviours such as excessive levels of anxiety, anger and sometimes even hallucinations (partially also from sleep deprivation). I find these mental effects affected me more than my friends that I was with and it has become clear through counselling that stimulants have an extremely negative impact on my pre-existing mental health disorders. Long-term effects are clear as well, for weeks or months after taking drugs this can impact my moods, episodes and personal relationships. Although I’ve gone through all this with drugs, most people would think I’d want to get away from them but I think drug use can be safe and fun, just like the use of alcohol. However, it can also be abused and used for the wrong reasons like alcohol.”

My goal in writing this isn’t to discourage people from doing drugs. I don’t want to sound like a moralising schoolmum; I’m not in a position to tell anyone what to do. I know that right now it’s not good for me yet, and I’ll wait until I feel settled in to consider occasionally including it in my life. I wish that when I found myself struggling with my mental health in the recent past, someone could have had this conversation with me.