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Substance abuse, misuse and addiction

The misuse of alcohol and other drugs can have a damaging impact on individuals, families and communities. It is important to get support if you or someone you know needs help to manage a substance use issue.

What is substance misuse?

Substances refers to alcohol and other drugs (illegal or not) as well as some substances that are not drugs at all (such a petrol or glue) that can have a mood altering effect. People use substances for multiple and complex reasons including to relax, have fun, dull emotional or physical pain, or to get away from problems or difficulties experienced in life. The misuse of substances may lead to a dependence on the substance to cope in certain situations. The use of substances to reduce emotional or physical pain or to get away from problems may be effective in the short term however may have serious long-term consequences on health and wellbeing.

Some substances are highly addictive, while others are less addictive. When a substance is addictive, it means that you often need more of the substance to experience the same effects, you might have cravings and urges to use the substance and experience symptoms of withdrawal when not using the substance.

Withdrawal refers to changes the body goes through when you cut back or stop using alcohol, drugs or other substances. These may include irritability, fatigue, mood changes, aches and pains, cravings and/or insomnia. The experience of withdrawal may differ for people depending on the individual person, type of substance and how long it was used for.

It is important to be aware that suddenly stopping the use of alcohol and other drugs can be dangerous and cause harm. You can discuss your options with a health professional or a drug and alcohol service.

If you are supporting someone who is experiencing difficulties with substance use, consult with a doctor, another health professional or a drug and alcohol service.

Below are some common signs of substance misuse but be mindful that these are just some examples and each individual may experience and respond in different ways.

  • Finding it difficult to meet responsibilities
  • Withdrawing from activities or not enjoying activities that used to provide satisfaction e.g. work, family, hobbies, sports, socialising.
  • Taking part in more dangerous or risky behaviours e.g. drink driving, unprotected sex, using dirty needles.
  • Behaviour changes e.g. stealing, exhibiting violence behaviour toward others.
  • Conflict with partner/family/friends, losing friends.
  • Experiencing signs of depression, anxiety, paranoia or psychosis.
  • Needing more substance to experience the same effects, cravings and urges to use the substance and symptoms of withdrawal when not using the substance.
  • Having difficulty reducing or stopping substance use.
  • National Alcohol and Other Drugs Hotline: 1800 250 015 (available 24/7). This service is free and offers confidential advice about alcohol and other drugs, offers support, information, counselling and referral to services. 
  • Family Drug Support (FDS): 1300 368 186 (available 24/7). This service provides support and information to families, friends and carers of people who have problematic alcohol and other drug use across Australia.
  • Stimulant Treatment Line: 9361 8088 or 1800 101 188 (outside Sydney) (available 24/7). This service is a confidential service offering information, education and counselling around your own or someone else’s stimulant use.
  • Opioid Treatment Line (OTL): 1800 642 428 (Monday to Friday: 9:30am to 5:00pm). This service provides information, advice and referral to opioid treatment options.
  • Counselling Online (24/7). Online counselling and support for people with a dependence. counsellingonline.org.au
  • Alcoholics Anonymous Australia 1300 222 222 or visit aa.org.au
  • Narcotics Anonymous Australia 1300 652 820 or visit na.org.au
  • Quitline: 13 78 48 or visit quitnow.gov.au
  • Mensline Australia: 1300 78 99 78 (24hrs)
  • Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
  • Sobriety App - I am Sober is an addiction buddy useful for quitting any activity or substance.

For local services and centres in your area, visit the Lifeline Service Finder Directory


For Crisis Support contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 (available 24/7), chat online at lifeline.org.au (12pm – 6am AEDT) or text 0477 13 11 14 (12pm - 6am AEDT).

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