“Did drinking and/or using drugs in the past cause my mental health problems now?”

rave ecstasy clubbing Es

“Did I get away with it?” 

It’s a question many people, from their 30s onwards really start to wonder. It’s probably a question that many people have asked since humans first started taking mood-altering substances in an excessive way, including alcohol of course.

I’ve seen it pondered and been asked it many times. That is especially by people involved in the amphetamine-fuelled punk scene – but even more so from those who partied in the clubbing and rave culture of the late ’80s and throughout the ’90s.

Those clubbing and rave days were pure hedonism. In the beginning – I first saw signs of it in Spain in 1986 and in London at the end of 1987 – the then new electronic house music from Chicago and Detroit was found to be perfect to dance to all night on either LSD or increasingly ecstasy. In the beginning, both “aciiiid” and “ecstasy” were often chanted throughout the night. Can you feel it?!

Due to many social factors of the day back then and the sheer buzz of the newness of all of this, within months popping an E, a pill, a disco biscuit or a few and moving your body all night long to house music swept across Britain and then around the world. It was phenomenal how it took hold and there’s been nothing quite like it since.

Era of the new generation

I was there in London as a long-haired 21-year-old when I knew a new era was here. It chased away the selfish greedy yuppie-ism, literally, within a few months. In 1988 I saw a group of young yuppies out in a West End club one night in their suits and gelled-up hair end up without shirts on and with their ties round their heads as bandanas! We had entered the era of the new generation.

“Anything and everything goes” became the way then. Joints, acid and E replaced alcohol. In the main, spirituality replaced the craving for materialism. After the selfishness and “no society” directive of the politicians in power in the 1980s it was a breath of fresh air and amazing fun.

This new scene had definite echoes of the hippy era, including the hedonism of the ’60s all-night “happenings”. In fact the word “rave” had been around to describe hedonistic parties for a few decades, starting in the late 1950s in London when it was used for the bohemian parties of the beatnik set and then into the hippy culture that developed from that beatnik scene.

But from the late ’80s onwards it was claimed by a new generation and has never been used so much since. Due to Britain’s archaic laws and the stuffiness of its politicians and general society back then, illegal raves were organised everywhere. It just made the excitement even greater.

I was one of many people who didn’t seem to stop dancing and staying awake all night for the next few years. Actually a decade and more! In London, like many cities around Britain back then, you could go out and dance at least until the early hours every night of the week, and as had been the norm in Spain for a while, some clubs and raves only started in those early hours and then went on all day or even for days on end.

It took hold of nearly everyone I knew who was young. Of course, not everyone got off it, you could still dance all night and have a brilliant time with mates and making new mates without taking drugs. But dancing all night became the norm, even it seemed for people who previously had thought a big night out was a pint on a Friday night.

People who were at the start of “respectable” careers packed it all in to get involved full-time with this new scene. That meant both being a part of the partying – but also everything from DJing to organising clubs and raves to designing flyers to dealing pills and potions.

There was definitely a collective insanity about it all. In Britain, young people from all over the country came together like never before and never since.

It did become increasingly druggy, with people trying all sorts of stuff, including some ending up on harder drugs to come down from the “party” stuff. There were inevitably an increasing number of casualties.

“Did I get away with it?”

Of course, looking for an answer to “Did I get away with it?” is not just limited to those who were part of a scene like this. Many other people know that, for instance, in their teens and 20s onwards they indulged too much and too often.

More specifically, many people wonder now would they be suffering from their mental health problems if they had not excessively drank and/or used drugs as they did in the past? A great number are convinced it definitely was their excessive use of the past that has caused their mental health problems of today.

Neither I nor anyone knows that full answer for sure. But as I understand it, while a lot of what went on in someone’s past regarding what they consumed in terms of drinks and drugs could well have affected them negatively in a physical sense, it’s not always the case that it will do emotionally or in mental health terms. 

It is without doubt that excessive use of alcohol and other drugs causes physical harm. Too much alcohol use can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease and cancer of such as the colon, mouth and throat. Then, a drug like speed has been shown to cause increased risk of stroke, brain bleeds, heart muscle deterioration and significant gastrointestinal problems. In mental health terms, excessive alcohol and other drug use has been linked to mood swings, impaired cognition, hallucinations, paranoia, anxiety, self-harm, depression, psychosis and suicide.

But the drink and drugs are not necessarily the cause of these mental health problems.

Look back for the answer

In my 20 years of experience in the recovery world, I have seen that virtually all of what’s known today as mental health illness starts in childhood. It is most often to do with some form of a lack or complete “failure of love”. It causes internal dis-ease and disorder.

From childhood on, teenage years into adulthood – and often for someone’s entire life – that person is then developing coping methods. We are really shaped, our thinking patterns and belief systems moulded, during childhood, especially in those first few years. 

As philosopher Aristotle (384–322 bc) put it: “Give me a child until he is 7, and I will show you the man.”

For someone who’s grown up in a house where there is some form of a failure of love, what are considered to be their character traits are most often actually their self-defence and coping systems. It is not their true self, the perfect little being they were born as who is here for an amazing reason.

Visible crisis

So it’s not usually the drinking and drug-taking that has caused the mental health problem (or spiritual sickness as I think is more apt) – or at least solely caused it. What excessive use and abuse of alcohol and other drugs can do is make it much more obvious that there is a problem.

It’s why psychiatrist M Scott Peck (1936–2005), author of recovery classic The Road Less Traveled called alcoholism (and think all addiction too) the “sacred disease”. He said: “…the great blessing of alcoholism is the nature of the disease. It puts people into visible crisis…”

It brings people to their knees sooner than most other mental health illnesses. Consequently, with no denial that there’s any problem, those people are more likely to seek the help they desperately need much more swiftly. It enables the humility – often through the humiliation of where their lives have gone and that they feel helpless and powerless – to ask for help. Humility is one of the essential qualities needed for successful recovery along with such as honesty, courage, open-mindedness, self-discipline and dedication.

Frequently the drinking and drug-taking are a part of someone’s coping system. It may look abnormal to many people – but in actual fact it is a way of dealing with something abnormal about their growing up.

Our 21st Century western society plays its part too. As physician, addiction expert and author Dr Gabor Maté puts it: “Illness in this society, physical or mental, they are not abnormalities. They are normal responses to an abnormal culture. This culture is abnormal when it comes to real human needs.

“It’s not a conscious choice; it’s more an automatic decision the young self makes to stay afloat in stressful emotional waters. Through no conscious will of your own, and for perfectly understandable reasons that had to do with your own emotional survival and thus were valid at the time, you have developed a personality style that has turned out to be bad for your health in the long run.”

All we need is love…

All children need to have their needs met. They need food and shelter – and they need to know they are loved and approved of by their parents (and any key caregivers). They need to know this regularly and in abundance throughout childhood. They are new to this world, they need to feel that they are as beautiful and brilliant as they are and here for that amazing reason, as we all are.

But all too often and to varying degrees this simply doesn’t happen. A child that never sees their parents because they are out working all the time, or who are there but who choose the bottle or other drugs over them; a child who never sees gentle love in their parent’s eyes or who is continually told “not now” and ignored is likely to feel the negative impact. If they are born as a sensitive soul, the impact goes deeper. Some children, tragically, get the complete opposite of the gentle love they need – and they are constantly belittled, criticised, shouted at or abused physically or sexually.

If a child doesn’t feel the love of these God-like figures that are our parents or other caregivers when we are children, then the rest of their life can be about attempting to find that love and approval, about battling that overwhelmingly painful feeling of being unloveable.

Standing outside oneself

I danced all night for the first time in London in 1988, Brixton Academy – and then danced in many other clubs, places and towns around Britain and didn’t stop until 2001, but with a life by then in total chaos and despair. Since January 2002 I’ve been sober, clean and serene and helping loads of people in that 20 years. That includes loads who had got on one or two for too many years…

Of course, there was loads of fun going on too! Many people see the late ’80s and the ’90s as the best time of their lives. I look back on it now and see that it was like this, a brilliant time to be young. Maybe the best.

But what I also see now is that the club and rave scene gave through the pills, shared love of the music and togetherness there was between everyone an amazing feeling of love. For many people it gave the loving family they’d never had. So Es don’t cause depression, they probably seemed to help for a few years push down (depress) some trauma, toxic shame and some overwhelmingly painful feelings and sensing about a failure of love. 

When it really began in the late ’80s, the new club and rave scene was driven by house music, but also ecstasy. The word “ecstasy” derives from words meaning “standing outside oneself”. For many who didn’t like what was going on in their insides it was the greatest antidote for a while. It can be the same with other drugs including the legal liquid one alcohol, and behavioural addictions to such as work, relationships, food, gaming, shopping, sex, gambling and so on.

Mental health issues develop in a multitude of ways and due to complex reasons. It is very difficult to know why some people suffer while others don’t seem to at all. (In fact they may be struggling, perhaps most people are, but some are just much better at hiding it than others.)

Over the years what I’ve found is that there’s always a solution to any problem, but what I’ve also found is: you have to go where you least want to go to find that which you most need; and you need a guide/mentor/sponsor to do this – because nobody can do this alone and it’s never on our own terms. But there is always a solution.

For me, what worked and that I help others with is to do the 12 Steps that are well known to work to beat addictions, but if adapted they also work phenomenally as well for any mental health or emotional problem. Es gave a chemically enhanced taste of what everyone can find that’s already inside us – and the “spiritual awakening” they gave the new generation of the late ’80s/’90s is what the 12 Steps promise and deliver if anyone does them thoroughly and honestly.

A chemical taste 

Renowned psychiatrist Carl Jung said of alcoholism that it was: “The equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God.” Put simply he means that drinking excessively is a “low-level thirst for God”.

In the hippy and rave scenes there was obviously a spiritual element and attraction about those scenes. It was something that many people were trying to find through such as marijuana, LSD and ecstasy. But there was also the wonderful togetherness of people, as with all of the cultural movements. In itself that understanding that “everyone is one” is purely spiritual.

Before people started dancing and raving all night on it, ecstasy had been nicknamed “empathy”. It had even been used in relationship counselling. It is a drug that gave people taking it at the raves and in the clubs a chemically enhanced taste of togetherness, a family, that they really needed, that gentle love – because maybe it was missing for many of them from their family of origin. This can be said in a similar way for any of the cultural “tribes”, and in many ways for sports fans too.

I do miss a lot about those years of fantastic togetherness too. What a beautiful thing we had! But most of us probably didn’t realise it at the time. We found love and a family. That says to me that we must be here for each other, live in the now and make the very most of our life – and do our very best to be our greatest ideal, one day at a time, forever.


  1. Annette Cooper on October 2, 2021 at 3:18 pm

    Great read, I was abused as a child and from a very cruel family….ecstasy gave me that door opening I was looking for, to be loved and to find self love and true expression. It lead me on to train as a therapist so that I can help others who have been abused. I don’t regret a second of it….I would be careful to do it now again after 20 years of it….I’m not sure I want it, because I have everything I need now so drugs are less craved for. Life is for living and that’s what I’m doing now. I had a mental breakdown in 2012 and all the childhood abuse came up for this first time, it was a scary time in my life and it took 8 years to come to terms with it. I study mental health now as part of my therapy work and professional development.

    • David Hurst on October 2, 2021 at 6:54 pm

      Thank you for your kind words and your honesty too Annette. Wishing you all the very best and much love.

  2. Coral on October 12, 2021 at 9:36 pm

    Hi, I’ve just read this from your Facebook comment on Raved in the 90’s, and I must say your soooo spot on!!!
    I had a brilliant childhood, but something happened to me, when I was 16, that even now, 40 years later, my family don’t know. I turned to drink until I was 19, and then settled down, after getting married with a family. 12 years later my parents divorced, and I lost 2 family members, and also got divorced myself. I then turned to hard drugs, although I’d been back in the rave scene for a few years doing E’s recreationally. 20 years later, I’ve been clean 18 months from the hard stuff, but only coz I’ve got an awesome keyworker!!! Yes, I still rave, and yes I still do E’s, but it’s not every day, or week! I know my limits now, I don’t let drugs control me now, and I’ve got the support of an amazing crew, who know my past. Oh, I was also diagnosed with BPD, at age 56…….Shane it wasn’t sooner.
    Great article

    • David Hurst on October 13, 2021 at 11:06 am

      Hi Coral, Thank you so much for your positive message. It means a lot to hear this, and I also thank you for your honesty. If you’d ever like to chat, please get in touch. I would be especially interested in talking to you about BPD. Also, of course about raving and dancing to House Music all night long! Much love, David.