Are you wanting to make changes to your alcohol and other drug use?

There are many different things you can do. Everyone's situation is different.

Here are some suggestions from people who have been there:

Photo by Erika Giraud on Unsplash

Tips to start talking

Talking with others can help you get a different perspective on how things are going. It can also help you explore what is happening in your life. These steps can help you prepare to talk with someone about your alcohol and other drug use.

Reflecting on these questions can help you figure out what you want to talk about. You might want to write down your thoughts.

  • What is it about your drug use that you are curious about?
  • Has something changed recently that has got you thinking about this?
  • Is it new or has it been going on for some time?
  • What do you want to get out of talking with someone?

Having an idea of what you want to talk about can help you get your message across and let the person know what you’re going through.

Sometimes, it is comforting to talk about personal stuff with people you are close with, and sometimes being close with the person can make things even harder. The most important thing is finding someone who you feel comfortable with.

  • Who do you feel comfortable talking to about personal things?
  • Are they someone you could talk to about your alcohol and other drug use?
  • Are they able to leave their judgements at the door? And if they can’t, are you OK with that?

Sometimes, you may not be able find someone who can be that person for you in that moment. There are other options available. You could get in touch with the Alcohol Drug Helpline over the phone (0800 787 797), by texting them for free (8681), or visiting their website to find other support options.

See Support options to find out what else is available.

The place you have the conversation can be just as important as what you are talking about and who you are talking to. Whether it is at home, a park or in your car, it can be useful to have a think about where the conversation might happen.

  • Where are some places that you feel comfortable and safe in?
  • Are they easy to get to?
  • Does it give you enough privacy to talk openly about your drug use?

You may not always be able to choose where a conversation happens, but it can be helpful to have a few places in mind that you’re OK with.

Whether an opportunity to talk comes up naturally or you have a pre-planned time locked in, consider when it might be best to talk to someone. Having to cut short a deep and meaningful conversation is not ideal.

If planning it out:

  • Agree on a time to meet that allows you to talk without distractions or interruptions.
  • Agree to meet at a place that you are able to talk openly in. For example, you could go for a walk in a public park or go for a drive together.
  • Plan in some extra time in case you need to ease into the conversation or want time afterwards to unwind.

If playing it by ear:

  • Remember what you’ve thought about leading up to this point. 
  • Look out for opportunities to bring up what you want to talk about, but also be aware that the perfect opportunity may never come up. Sometimes, it’s best to just be straight up and say, “Hey, I wasn’t really sure how to bring it up, but there is something I wanted to talk to you about.”
  • Brace yourself for unexpected reactions – they could be as nervous about the conversation as you are.

Remember, you have made the decision to talk to someone about your drug use, and that’s massive. Even if you decide to look at some of this or none of it, you are heading in a positive direction.

Setting boundaries

Talking about your alcohol and other drug use can bring up a wide range of emotions. Everyone has their own stories, experiences and views on drug use. Whatever people's views are, it is important to understand what you are comfortable sharing.

Thinking about what you are going to say and getting it out there can be two different experiences. What’s on your mind may be hard to articulate. Have a think about what you are comfortable discussing and how to let the person know. It can help make the conversation feel less overwhelming.

  • Try to draw a line in the sand about what you are comfortable talking about. It can let you know how far to go with the conversation and gives you something to fall back on.
  • Let them know what you’re OK with. It gives a clear understanding of what you want to talk about and lets them know where to leave it.

Talking about your alcohol and other drug use can bring up strong feelings. Make sure you have a few ways of managing these emotions that might come up.

  • Free call or text 1737. This service is available 24/7 to support anyone feeling stressed, anxious, worried, depressed or needing advice on mental health and addictions issues.
  • Check in with others for support. It doesn’t have to be a serious conversation or one where you tell them everything, but it can be helpful having someone to talk to.
  • Have a few activities or tasks to help you unwind after a heavy conversation. This could involve music, movies, cooking, exercising or anything that helps you feel better and takes your mind off things.
  • Call the Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797 or text them at 8681 for free. They are a good place to start if you want advice on making changes or want to talk about your use. It is free and confidential.

For more information about helping yourself, see Finding support.

Keeping on top of your health

There are many ways you can look after yourself. Good nutrition, exercise, sleep and taking time out for yourself (NEST) can be beneficial across many areas of your life. This can be even more important when using drugs or recovering from them.

Working through the NEST acronym can help you think about your wellbeing, identify how you can look after yourself while using alcohol and other drugs and reduce some of the unpleasant effects from a comedown or withdrawal.

What you choose to eat and drink can influence how you feel, your bodily processes and your ability to recover.

Depending on what you may have taken, eating may be the last thing you want to do. Whether it is feeling nauseous from drinking too much the night before or having little desire to eat from using methamphetamine, your body needs nutrients to refuel and recover, even if you don’t feel like it!

If you are planning on using drugs:

  • Eat sizeable meals beforehand. Many drugs can influence your appetite both during and after use. Eating beforehand can give your body as many nutrients as possible as it may be some time before you next feel like eating.

During drug use:

  • Stay hydrated. Many drugs can increase how often you go to the bathroom or how physically active you are or alter your awareness of your body’s needs. Ensuring you drink water regularly throughout can help your body cope with what is happening such as replacing any fluid lost from peeing (alcohol) or sweating (MDMA).

In the days following drug use:

  • Eat well regularly. Try eating healthy meals regularly throughout the day as this will give your body what it needs to recover.
  • Stay hydrated. Your body may take some time to replace any fluids lost as you may be feeling the effects of this for several days.

Physical activity can reduce stress and boost your mood – even a small amount is helpful. This could be a walk around the block or a run around the park. Getting active at home or out and about can be a great way of improving or maintaining your wellbeing.

If you use drugs regularly or plan on using, including some physical exercise in your routine can help strengthen your body’s ability

If you are planning on using drugs:

  • Light exercise – doing this beforehand or on the same day should be OK as your body would not have been placed under too much stress. It may not be at 100% so keep that in mind before you start.
  • Moderate to heavy exercise – if possible try to do this on other days as your body may have gone through a lot depending on the activity and will be focused on recovery. All that hard work takes it out of you! You may be dehydrated or sore and you may experience the effects differently as your body is not at its normal level.

In the days following drug use:

  • Light exercise – getting the body moving can help release some of those feel-good chemicals, which can help with how you are feeling. It may also allow for a change of scenery if you plan on getting outside.
  • Moderate to heavy exercise – keep in mind that your body may be recovering from a lack of sleep, good nutrition or dehydration and may not perform as usual.

Alcohol and other drugs usually disrupt your sleep patterns, which can seriously affect your mood. You may want to sleep more, find it harder to get to sleep or have broken sleep. Plan your day so you can sleep better at night.

If you are planning on using drugs:

  • Plan for less sleep. If you are using stimulant drugs that speed up your bodily functions like MDMA or methamphetamine, you may not feel like sleeping and may be awake longer than you are comfortable with. This can also be the case when drinking as you may be going to bed late or in the early hours of the morning.
  • You may be tired for some time. Recovering from this lack of sleep may take several days.
  • Small naps are fine. Depending on how tired you are feeling, you might want to sleep during the day to compensate. If you do, try keep naps to a few hours as this may disrupt your normal sleeping pattern in the evening where those larger periods of sleep can happen.

Create time to relax and unwind, even for just 5 minutes. That can go a long way to reduce stress and improve mood. Keep in mind that downtime is different for everyone.

If recovering from the night before, you may not be feeling 100%. Do what works best for you in your situation.

  • Give yourself time. Pad out your day with longer breaks in between tasks or events or clear the morning. It may take longer to complete your routine.
  • Give yourself space. Plan out the following day to allow for some breathing room before you are needed. It could be watching movies in your room or going for walk or drive to a local park. It’s OK to step away.
  • Take it easy. Your body needs time to recover. This may be 1 day or several, but doing what you can to minimise stress afterwards can help you get back to your usual self.

For more information on how to be safer when using drugs and alcohol, see Safer using.

Managing cravings

Cravings are when you feel a strong urge or desire to use a drug. It is likely that you will have cravings while withdrawing.

These things can help:

  • Plan your day. It’s easier to manage cravings when you know what your day will look like.
  • Distract yourself. Activities like doing the dishes, exercising and going outside can make it harder for your brain to focus on the cravings.
  • Hold off on making a decision about whether to use or not (give it a few minutes).
  • Take some time to reflect. Feeling hungry, angry, lonely or tired may be adding to cravings or urges to use.
  • Keep well hydrated. This helps your body to recover faster.

Cravings can make your body feel like it is tense and stressed, even when it isn’t. Techniques that calm your body down or release that tension can help you have a clear mind when deciding what you want to do. Here are two that might help.

Breathe slowly and calm your body down:

  • Breathe slowly and evenly into your belly for 3 seconds.
  • Hold your breath for 2 seconds.
  • Breathe out slowly and evenly for 6 seconds.
  • Repeat as many times as needed until cravings lessen or you feel better.

Release muscle tension:

  • Get into a comfortable position and slow down your breathing.
  • Clench your hands into a fist.
  • Hold the fist for a few seconds then let it go and feel your hand muscles relax.
  • Next, tense other muscles and hold the tension in each one for a few seconds before letting go and moving on to the next.
  • You can start anywhere on your body, but if you would like a step-by-step method, use this order to help you along – forearms, biceps, shoulders, face, abs, glutes, thighs, feet.
  • As you let go of the tension in your feet, let your whole body relax.

Managing withdrawal

 Cutting down or stopping regular use of alcohol or other drugs can lead to withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal is your body adjusting to not having alcohol or other drugs after you’ve been using for an extended period of time.

Most people only experience mild withdrawal symptoms that pass after a few days. If you’ve been using higher amounts or for longer periods of time, you might experience more unpleasant symptoms. These can last from 1 week to a few months depending on what you were using.

Withdrawal from some drugs can be managed at home, while other drugs require medical supervision to stop using or cut down. Examples of drugs that require medical supervision for stopping are:

  • alcohol – if you have used daily for several years
  • benzodiazepines – if you have used any amount for an extended period of time.

Examples of drugs that may require medical supervision for stopping are:

  • prescription opiates like tramadol, codeine or oxycodone – if you have used for an extended period of time
  • methamphetamine – if you have used for an extended period of time.

If you are thinking of cutting down on these, it is important to speak with your GP or health provider first to make sure it is done in a safer way.

These tips will help you manage any withdrawal symptoms you may experience:

It is harder to predict what withdrawal symptoms you will experience if you have been using more than one drug.

The length and intensity of your withdrawal depends on things like:

  • what you have been using – what they are, how you used them (drinking, smoking, snorting, injecting), how much you used, how often and for how long
  • how physically and mentally well you are
  • how supportive the people around you are
  • what spaces in your living environment are drug or alcohol free (or could be made that way)
  • how your living environment can help you through withdrawal (easy access to the bathroom, noise, temperature).

Withdrawal symptoms are usually at their highest 2–4 days after you last used. Some symptoms (low mood, poor sleep, fatigue) can last for a few weeks.

Think about these things to get prepared:

  • What will you tell the people you are living with?
  • How can you stay away from people who are using alcohol and other drugs?
  • Who can you speak to for support?

If you have been drinking alcohol regularly and heavily for a long period of time, quitting drinking without medical support can be dangerous. If you have been drinking large amounts of alcohol for a long time, call the Alcohol Drug Helpline (0800 787 797) to check if you need medical support to detox (getting the alcohol out of your system).

Common withdrawal symptoms from alcohol and other drugs can be self-managed. These include:

  • feeling restless, irritable, anxious or agitated
  • difficulty sleeping, sometimes with intense dreams or nightmares
  • difficulty concentrating or remembering things
  • craving whatever you were using
  • feeling sore
  • not feeling like eating.

Some less common withdrawal symptoms may require you to see a health professional. While withdrawing, call your local doctor, clinic, accident and emergency (A&E) or the Alcohol Drug Helpline (0800 787 797) for support if you experience:

  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • sensitivity to sound, light and touch
  • low mood or suicidal thoughts
  • a fast or irregular heartbeat
  • heavy sweating or chills
  • shakes or tremors.

While withdrawing from alcohol or other drugs, call 111 for urgent medical help if you experience:

  • high blood pressure
  • hallucinations
  • delusions and psychosis
  • seizures
  • confusion and disorientation
  • loss of consciousness.

Disrupted or broken sleep is normal when going through withdrawal. Try these things to help you sleep better at night:

  • Be physically active during the day.
  • Have 1 hour of winding down time before bed, doing simple activities like listening to music or reading a book.
  • Get up at the same time every morning.
  • Avoid napping during the day if you can.
  • Write down what’s on your mind to avoid those thoughts going round and round in your head.
  • Avoid coffee, caffeine, energy drinks and cigarettes before bed.
  • Try drinking non-caffeinated hot drinks to help relax.
  • Have an extra blanket on the bed. You can easily pull it over you if you get cold or take it off if you feel hot. You may go through patches of feeling hot and cold while going through withdrawal.

These guides from Matua Raki can help you recognise and manage withdrawal symptoms. 

  • Managing your own withdrawal. This booklet will help you understand what’s going on in withdrawal. It also includes suggestions about how to make it easier on yourself and the people you care for 
  • P**d off. If you are stopping regular methamphetamine use, this guide can help you to manage the withdrawal symptoms at home.

Choosing to stop using

Some people choose to stop using a substance or all psychoactive substances.

That choice can be challenging at times, and these are suggestions from people who have made that choice:

  • Make a list of things and people that are important to you.
  • Think about what your warning signs are when staying at home or out and about. Think about your ‘soft limits’ (early warning signs) and your ‘hard limits’ (signs that you need to do something different straight away).
  • Think about what you can do to destress or relax without using alcohol or other drugs. It’s OK to be bored – you may need a bit of practice to get used to it.
  • Keep an eye out for unhelpful thoughts and replace them with positive ones.
  • Go outside for some fresh air and sun.

Staying in contact with supportive people can help. You can choose who you want to connect with. Connect with people who care about you.

Here are some ways to connect:

  • Call, text or use social media to contact people.
  • Meet up for a coffee.
  • Visit local attractions (cinemas, museums, parks).
  • Have ‘virtual’ dates with friends and whānau who are further away.

There are many alcohol and other drug support services. For more information on what support is out there, see Finding support. To talk through your options with someone on the phone, call the Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797 or them at 8681 for free.