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How to reduce or quit drugs

Many different services are available to help you or someone you know quit drugs.

Why quit drugs?

It’s never too late to quit using drugs.

Reducing or quitting drugs can improve your life in many ways. It can:

  • improve your physical and mental wellbeing
  • reduce your risk of permanent damage to vital organs and death
  • improve your relationships with friends and family
  • help you reconnect with your emotions
  • increase your energy
  • help you sleep better
  • Improve your appearance
  • save you money

Recovered addicts say that they’ve never felt better after quitting drugs, although this can take time. Knowing why you want to quit drugs can help you to stay motivated during the withdrawal process.

What quitting drugs feels like

When you reduce or quit using drugs your body goes through a detoxification process (detox) or withdrawal.

Symptoms vary between people, and between drugs, and range from mild to serious. They can last from a few days to a few weeks — it's different for every person — but they are temporary. Cravings for the drug will sometimes be weak and at other times very strong. Learning how to manage them is important for staying drug-free.

Find out what withdrawal symptoms are for specific drugs.

Preparing to quit drugs

Reducing or quitting drugs can be hard — you may have become dependent or addicted. It’s a good idea to be prepared for what’s involved.

Admit you have a problem

The first step in quitting drugs is to admit that you have a problem. If you’re not sure, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you taking drugs first thing in the morning or to get through the day?
  • Do friends or family worry or complain about your drug use?
  • Do you lie about how much you’re using?
  • Have you sold possessions or stolen to pay for your drug habit?
  • Have you participated in dangerous or risky activities, such as driving under the influence, having unprotected sex, or using dirty needles?
  • Do you feel that you’ve lost control of your drug taking?
  • Are you having problems with relationships?

If you answered yes to any of these questions it might be time to accept that you have a problem and ask for help.

See your specialist alcohol and other drugs service or local doctor

It’s important to talk to your specialist alcohol and other drugs (AOD) service or doctor about reducing or quitting drugs. They can help you get appropriate help and support.

It takes courage for someone to admit they may have a problem with drugs or alcohol. Recognising you might have an issue and asking for help is an important first step to making a change.

For free and confidential advice about alcohol and other drug treatment services, you can call the Alcohol and Other Drug hotline on 1800 250 015. It will automatically direct you to the Alcohol and Drug Information Service in your state and territory. These local alcohol and other drug telephone services offer support, information, counselling and referral to services. You can also visit a specialist alcohol and other drugs service or doctor directly.

If you’ve become addicted or dependent on drugs, it might be dangerous to quit on your own. Your AOD specialist or doctor can refer you to treatment such as detox, medication and counselling to help you manage withdrawal symptoms.

Remember, conversations with these services are private and confidential.

Know your triggers

Keeping track of your drug use can help you identify habits, emotions, and social situations that trigger the desire to take drugs.

It can be hard to completely avoid all those situations, but steps you can take include:

  • avoiding places where you know drugs and alcohol will be available
  • surrounding yourself with friends who don’t use drugs
  • knowing how to resist temptation
  • learning how to cope with stress and relax without drugs
  • distracting yourself with activities like exercise or listening to music

Make a plan

Making a plan and writing it down can help you commit to quitting.

Setting goals for your recovery helps you stay motivated and can make the process less stressful. It’s important to set realistic goals — both short and long-term. Be specific and make them measurable.

Some examples of realistic, short-term goals are:

  • I will see my doctor this week
  • I’m going to walk for half an hour 3 times this week
  • I want to be drug free for 2 weeks straight

Long-term goals might include:

  • being drug-free for a year
  • having friends that are healthy and sober and provide support
  • rebuilding family relationships by having regular get-togethers

Reward yourself for success — with an enjoyable, drug-free activity such as going to a movie, or planning a holiday — and take it easy on yourself if you mess up.

It’s OK to fail, just don’t give up trying.

Ways to reduce or quit drugs

There is no treatment that works for everyone. Just as drugs affect each person differently, treatment needs to be individual. It’s important to find a program that works for you.

Treatment options range from counselling through to hospital care — it depends on which drugs are involved and how serious your dependence or addiction is. They include:

  • going cold turkey — you stop taking drugs suddenly, with no outside help or support
  • counselling and lifestyle changes — individual or group therapy can help you learn to cope without drugs. This can be successful if your drug use has been mild. Peer support groups are often run by recovered addicts — their personal experience can be helpful to others
  • detoxification (detox) — you stop taking drugs and have medical treatment (known as pharmacotherapy) while your body clears the drug from your system
  • rehabilitation (rehab) — this is a longer term treatment where you stay in a hospital or clinic, or at home. It also involves psychological treatment to help you deal with issues that may have contributed to your drug use

If you have mental health issues your treatment will need to address that at the same time for your overall treatment to be effective.

Support services

Quitting drugs on your own is difficult — it’s much easier with support. Tell your friends and family that you’re quitting so they can help you.

There are many support services available to help you. You can:

Remember, your AOD specialist or doctor can also direct you to support services that are appropriate for your needs.

What if I relapse?

If you have a relapse and start using again, remember that recovery doesn’t happen overnight. Take the opportunity to remind yourself why you are quitting, forgive yourself and refocus on your plan.

Talk to your doctor. They can work out how to best resume treatment, or they may suggest a different type of treatment.

When you’re back on track, learn from what happened:

  • What triggered the relapse?
  • What went wrong?
  • What could you have done differently?

Discover more about managing a relapse on the Alcohol and Drug Foundation website.

A relapse can be deadly!

If you’ve developed a tolerance for a particular drug over time and then quit taking it, your tolerance levels drop. If you have a relapse and use as much of the drug as you did before quitting, you can easily overdose.

If you, or someone you know, is in danger of overdosing, phone 000 immediately and ask for an ambulance.

Helping someone quit drugs

Watching someone you care about use drugs is stressful. Their behaviour can be erratic and talking to them about their problem is challenging.

Here are some tips on how you can help:

  • Learn about the effects of drugs — this will help you understand why quitting can be hard.
  • Show that you care without judging — being calm and respectful may encourage them to be open and honest with you.
  • Be positive and encouraging rather than negative and nagging — remember relapses may happen, but they don’t mean the person can’t try again, and succeed.
  • Offer practical support — sometimes just being there is enough, but you can offer to go with them to parties or join them for a walk or run.

Find more tips on helping someone quit drugs on the Alcohol and Drug Foundation site.

Is addiction hereditary?

Research shows that genetics does play a part in whether someone is likely to become an addict, but it’s not the only factor. Other factors include a person’s:

  • environment — for example, growing up amongst addiction where drugs are more available
  • temperament — for example, being more sensitive to stress or more impulsive

Scientists continue to learn about the role of genes in drug addiction so they can develop new ways of preventing and treating it.

Last updated: 
16 July 2019
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