Substance use

A drug is anything that you put into your body that alters your state of consciousness. There are two types of drugs, stimulants, and depressants.


Stimulants are a class of drugs that speed up messages travelling between the brain and the body. They can make a person feel more awake, alert, confident or energetic. Stimulants include caffeine, nicotine, cognitive enhancers (study drugs), amphetamines and cocaine.


Depressant substances reduce arousal and stimulation. They do not necessarily make a person feel depressed, rather they inhibit the central nervous system and slow down the messages between the brain and the body. They can affect concentration and coordination, slowing down a person’s ability to respond to unexpected situations. Depressants include alcohol, benzodiazepines, GHB and Kava. Examples of the effects of alcohol as a depressant are shown in the following image:

How do drugs and alcohol affect your mental health?

People with mental health issues experience painful emotions more frequently or will have external situations that make their life more difficult. Some of these individuals may use drugs and alcohol to cope with feelings of sadness, numb feelings of anxiety/shame/guilt or to stop thinking about certain situations. These people will tell you this ‘works’ for a little while, however the substance use often increases over time and can contribute to other issues in areas such as school, relationships, work and financial.

On the flip side, people who don’t have a diagnosed mental health condition may use drugs and alcohol to have a good time or to fit in. However, frequent use can contribute to low mood, low motivation, poor concentration, aggression and ultimately make things worse. Prolonged use of drugs and alcohol has been linked to depression, anxiety, and suicide in young people.

Substance use and sexual assault

Intoxicated individuals can’t provide consent to sexual contact. Sexual contact or intercourse with an intoxicated person who is unable to provide consent is considered sexual assault. Over 50% of student sexual assault involves alcohol. Read more here - Sexual harm, Safer Community

Drinking to get drunk?

Binge drinking is the consumption of large amounts of alcohol over 2 hours or less, resulting in a Blood Alcohol Level (BAC) or 0.08. This typically occurs after the consumption of 4-5 alcoholic drinks. Roughly 40% of university students report binge drinking.

Watch what happens to the chemicals in our body when we drink

Think about a time when you feel you had too much alcohol. What were some of the influences? (Where were you? Who you were with? What was your mood)?

Some of the reasons young people drink too much is that:

  • They wanted to have a ‘really good time’
  • They were feeling a bit sad or lonely
  • They were trying to fit in with your friends
  • They weren’t aware of how much they were consuming

How do I know if I have a problem with alcohol?

  1. Do you often tell yourself you’re ‘just going to have one or two’ but don’t stick to it?
  2. Do you consume alcohol daily?
  3. Do you not consume alcohol during the week, but will every Friday and/or Saturday?
  4. Do you often ‘forget’ parts of a night out drinking?
  5. Have you often neglected things that are important to you (such as attending classes, gym sessions, seeing friends) because you were too hungover?
  6. Are you afraid to ask people if you drink too much?

If you have answered ‘Yes’ to any of these questions, it may be worth having a chat to the Wellbeing Mentors at the Health and Wellbeing Centre about your alcohol use to see how you can learn to reduce your alcohol intake.

How can I reduce the harm of excessive alcohol use?

  • Drink a full glass of water between each alcoholic beverage
  • Eat a full meal before drinking
  • Sip drinks slowly, and avoid taking shots or chugging
  • Don’t mix alcohol with other drugs, since this increases toxicity and harm
  • Have a safe ride home by a designated driver, or use public transport, taxi or Uber
  • Never take your eyes off your drink
  • Learn more & get support

Get Support

Internal resources

  • Health and Wellbeing Centre: Call or drop-in to the Health & Wellbeing Centre located at Peribolos East Ground Floor (PE101), Bundoora Campus, which operates Monday to Friday, 10am-4pm. The Health & Wellbeing Mentors are available to offer drop-in sessions, provide information on accessing supports within the university including mental health, counselling, accessibility support and learning plans.
  • Emergency: In an emergency ring 000 and then security 9479 2222
  • Use our La Trobe University Crisis Line for Out-of-Hours Mental Health and Wellbeing Support. Phone 1300 146 307 or text 0488 884 100. This service operates 5pm-9am on weekdays and 24 hours during weekends and public holidays.

External resources




Self-help worksheets