Drugs and Substance Misuse

The topic of legal and illegal drugs and other substances pertains to the use, misuse, and regulation of various substances that can impact an individual’s physical and mental well-being. These substances include prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs, illicit drugs, and other substances such as alcohol and tobacco. Understanding the proper use and potential risks associated with these substances is important to make informed decisions about their use and reduce the likelihood of misuse and negative consequences. Misusing drugs and other substances can lead to addiction, health problems, and other negative outcomes. It is also important to understand the laws and regulations governing the use and possession of these substances.

In the United Kingdom, drugs and other substances are classified into three categories: Class A, Class B, and Class C, based on their perceived risk of harm to individuals and society.

Examples of Class A drugs, considered the most dangerous and with the highest potential for abuse, include:

  • Heroin
  • Cocaine
  • Ecstasy (MDMA)
  • Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)
  • Magic mushrooms

Examples of Class B drugs, considered to have a lower risk of harm but still capable of causing harm, include:

  • Cannabis
  • Amphetamines (such as speed)
  • Synthetic cannabinoids
  • Some prescription medications, when misused, such as Ritalin

Examples of Class C drugs, considered to have the lowest risk of harm but still capable of causing harm, include:

  • Some tranquillisers
  • Some painkillers, such as codeine
  • Some stimulants, such as anabolic steroids.

Alcohol and tobacco are legal substances in the UK, but their use and sale are regulated. Nicotine products are legal, but their sale and advertising are heavily restricted.

DrugWhat it doesShort-term effectsLong-term effects
AmphetaminesA stimulant that increases alertness and energyIncreased heart rate and blood pressure, decreased appetite, insomnia, nervousness, agitationIncreased risk of heart attack and stroke, kidney damage, paranoia, hallucinations, addiction, depression
EcstasyHallucinogen and stimulant that increases feelings of pleasure and empathyIncreased heart rate and blood pressure, decreased appetite, insomnia, anxiety, dehydrationLong-term memory problems, depression, anxiety, addiction, kidney and liver damage, heat stroke
CocaineA stimulant that increases energy and alertnessIncreased heart rate and blood pressure, decreased appetite, insomnia, anxiety, agitation, euphoriaIncreased risk of heart attack and stroke, kidney damage, paranoia, hallucinations, addiction, depression
Psychoactive substancesVarious chemicals affect the brain and change perception, mood, and behaviourEffects vary depending on the specific substance but can include hallucinations, changes in perception, increased heart rate, anxiety, and paranoiaEffects vary depending on the specific substance but can include long-term mental health problems, addiction, and organ damage
AlcoholDepressant that reduces inhibition and causes relaxationSlurred speech, decreased coordination, impaired judgment, drowsinessIncreased risk of liver disease, cancer, brain damage, addiction, and accidents
CannabisA psychoactive substance that causes relaxation and changes in perceptionIncreased appetite, dry mouth, decreased coordination, altered perception, euphoriaIncreased risk of lung damage, addiction, anxiety, depression, and impaired memory and learning
HeroinAn opioid that causes euphoria and pain reliefDrowsiness decreased pain, decreased breathing, decreased heart rate, confusionIncreased risk of lung infections, heart infections, HIV, Hepatitis C, addiction, overdose, and death
SteroidsSynthetic hormones that increase muscle mass and strengthIncreased muscle mass and strength, acne, increased appetite, decreased testicular sizeIncreased risk of heart attack, stroke, liver damage, infertility, depression, and addiction
HallucinogensVarious chemicals that cause hallucinations and changes in perceptionAltered perception, hallucinations, increased heart rate, anxiety, paranoiaLong-term mental health problems, addiction, flashbacks, and panic attacks.

It’s worth noting that the effects of drugs can vary depending on the specific substance, the method of use, the dosage, and the individual’s own personal and social circumstances. Also, many of these drugs are illegal in many countries, and their possession, use or distribution can lead to legal consequences.

According to the most recent data from the United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics (ONS), in 2020:

  • Around 8.4% of adults aged 16 to 59 in England and Wales reported using illegal drugs last year.
  • Cannabis was the most commonly used drug, with around 6.7% of adults aged 16 to 59 in England and Wales reporting using it in the last year.
  • The use of powder cocaine, ecstasy and LSD has increased among young adults aged 16 to 24 in the last year.
  • Around 15% of adults aged 16 to 59 in England and Wales reported drinking alcohol at levels that increase the risk of harm to health.
  • Around 10% of adults aged 16 to 59 in England and Wales reported smoking cigarettes.
  • 2.6% of adults aged 16 to 59 in England and Wales reported misusing prescription drugs.

It’s important to note that the use and misuse of drugs and other substances can have serious health and social consequences, including addiction, overdose, crime, and accidents. The ONS data also shows that the use of drugs and alcohol is associated with poor mental health and lower life expectancy.

The legitimate use of substances

There are several reasons why people may use substances legitimately:

  1. Medical treatment: Many people use drugs or other substances as part of medical treatment, such as to manage pain, treat an illness, or manage a chronic condition. For example, someone might take a prescription painkiller to manage chronic pain or take an antidepressant to treat a mental health condition.
  2. Self-improvement: Some people may use substances to improve their physical or mental performance. For example, athletes might use steroids to build muscle mass, or people might take a stimulant to improve their focus or concentration.
  3. Recreational use: Some people may use substances for recreational purposes, such as fun or socialising with others. For example, someone might have a glass of wine with dinner or smoke a cigarette while socialising with friends.
  4. Cultural or religious practices: Some people may use substances as part of cultural or religious practice. For example, some Native American tribes use peyote in religious ceremonies, and some use Ayahuasca in traditional shamanic practices.
  5. Addiction or Substance use disorder: Unfortunately, some people may use substances as a way to cope with underlying problems such as stress, anxiety, or depression, and this can lead to addiction or substance use disorder.

It’s important to note that while some substances can have legitimate uses, the risks of misuse and negative consequences associated with using drugs and other substances are always present, even when used for legitimate purposes.

Why people may misuse substances

There are several reasons why people may misuse substances, including:

  1. Addiction: One of the most common reasons for substance misuse is addiction. Addiction is a chronic brain disease that causes an individual to compulsively seek out and use a substance despite the negative consequences it causes.
  2. Stress and emotional issues: Some people may use substance misuse to cope with stress, anxiety, depression or other emotional issues. They may use substances as a form of self-medication to temporarily relieve negative feelings.
  3. Peer pressure: Peer pressure can also play a role in substance misuse. Some people may feel pressured to use substances to fit in with a group of friends or to be accepted by a certain social group.
  4. Lack of knowledge or education: Some people may misuse substances due to a lack of knowledge or education about their potential risks and negative consequences.
  5. Availability: Certain substances, whether legal or illegal, can be a factor in substance misuse. For example, the easy availability of prescription drugs can increase the risk of misuse.

It’s important to note that substance misuse can have serious health and social consequences, leading to addiction, overdose, crime, and accidents. It’s important for people who misuse substances to seek help through therapy, support groups, medication-assisted treatment or other forms of treatment.

Ethical arguments for and against the legalisation of a specific substance

The ethical arguments for and against legalising a specific substance can vary depending on the substance in question. However, some common arguments for and against the legalisation of a substance such as cannabis are:

Arguments for legalisation:

  • Personal freedom: Supporters argue that individuals should have the right to make their own choices about what they put into their bodies and that criminalising cannabis use infringes on personal freedom.
  • Medical benefits: Supporters argue that cannabis has medical benefits, such as reducing pain and inflammation and can be used to treat certain medical conditions.
  • Economic benefits: Legalisation could generate significant tax revenue and create jobs in the legal cannabis industry.
  • Reduced crime: Supporters argue that legalisation could reduce crime by taking the market for cannabis out of the hands of criminals.
  • Racially Disproportionate enforcement: Supporters argue that the enforcement of cannabis laws has been disproportionately applied to communities of colour, and legalisation would reduce this injustice.

Arguments against legalisation:

  • Harm to health: Opponents argue that cannabis use can lead to negative health outcomes, such as lung damage, mental health problems, and addiction.
  • Impact on youth: Opponents argue that legalisation could lead to increased cannabis use among youth, negatively affecting their development and education.
  • Impact on public safety: Opponents argue that legalisation could increase cannabis-impaired driving and other public safety issues.
  • Gateway drug: Opponents argue that cannabis use can lead to more harmful drugs and that legalisation could increase the overall use of drugs.

It’s worth noting that the above arguments are not exhaustive, and more arguments can be made for or against the legalisation of a specific substance. The decision to legalise a substance is complex, requiring consideration of many factors, including public health, criminal justice, and economic impacts.

Risks of using and misusing drugs and other substances

The use and misuse of drugs and other substances can have a wide range of negative consequences, both for the individual and society. Risks associated with using and misusing drugs and other substances can include physical, mental, and social harm.

Physical risks can include:

  • Overdose, which can lead to serious injury or death
  • Long-term health problems, such as lung damage, heart disease, and liver damage
  • Increased risk of accidents and injuries, such as car crashes or falls

Mental risks can include:

  • Addiction, which is characterised by compulsive drug-seeking behaviour despite negative consequences
  • Mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and psychosis
  • Cognitive impairment, such as problems with memory and concentration

Social risks can include:

  • Loss of relationships, employment, and other opportunities
  • Increased risk of crime, both as a perpetrator and a victim
  • Increased burden on healthcare and criminal justice systems

It’s important to note that the risks associated with using and misusing drugs and other substances can vary depending on the specific substance, the method used, and the individual’s personal and social circumstances. It’s also worth noting that not all people who use drugs or other substances will experience negative consequences, and some people can use drugs or other substances safely and responsibly.

The impact of long-term drug and substance misuse on daily life

Long-term drug and substance misuse can have a significant and negative impact on daily life. Some of the ways that it can affect people include:

  1. Physical health: Long-term drug and substance misuse can lead to a wide range of physical health problems, such as lung damage, heart disease, and liver damage, as well as an increased risk of accidents and injuries. It can also lead to addiction, making it difficult to stop using the substance.
  2. Mental health: Long-term drug and substance misuse can lead to mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and psychosis. It can also lead to cognitive impairment, such as problems with memory and concentration, which can make it difficult to function in daily life.
  3. Social and emotional well-being: Long-term drug and substance misuse can lead to loss of relationships, employment, and other opportunities, which can have a significant negative impact on social and emotional well-being. It can also lead to increased crime risk, both as a perpetrator and a victim, significantly impacting daily life.
  4. Finances: Long-term drug and substance misuse can also lead to financial problems. The cost of obtaining and using the substance can become unaffordable and lead to other financial problems, such as loss of employment or legal fees.
  5. Legal issues: Long-term drug and substance misuse can lead to legal issues, as possessing, using or distributing some drugs is illegal. This can lead to arrest and imprisonment and can have a long-lasting impact on a person’s life and opportunities.

Know how to access sources of help/support relating to substance misuse

Substance misuse can seriously negatively affect a person’s physical, mental, and social well-being. It’s important for individuals struggling with substance misuse to access sources of help and support to address the issue and improve their overall well-being. There are a variety of resources available to individuals who are struggling with substance misuse, including:

  1. Addiction treatment centres: These centres provide a wide range of treatment options, including counselling, therapy, and medication-assisted treatment for individuals struggling with addiction.
  2. Support groups: Support groups provide a safe and supportive environment for individuals to discuss their struggles with substance misuse and to receive support from others who have been through similar experiences.
  3. Addiction hotlines: Addiction hotlines provide confidential and anonymous support for individuals struggling with substance misuse. They can provide information about treatment options, local support groups, and other resources.
  4. Mental health professionals: Mental health professionals, such as therapists and counsellors, can provide individual or group therapy to help individuals address the underlying emotional and psychological issues that may be contributing to their substance misuse.
  5. Medical professionals: Medical professionals can provide treatment and support for individuals struggling with substance misuse, including detoxification and medication-assisted treatment.
  6. Governmental and non-profit organisations: Governmental and non-profit organisations can provide information, resources, and support for individuals struggling with substance misuse, as well as their families and loved ones.

It’s important to remember that seeking help for substance misuse is a courageous step, and individuals need to be kind to themselves and not be ashamed about asking for help. It’s also important to know that recovery is a process, not a one-time event; it’s a journey that requires patience and persistence.

Getting support

There are several helplines and organisations in the United Kingdom that support individuals with substance and drug abuse:

  1. FRANK: The national drug helpline provides confidential and free advice on drugs and substance abuse. You can reach them by phone at 0300 123 6600, or online at https://www.talktofrank.com/
  2. Adfam: A national charity that supports families affected by drugs and alcohol, providing information and advice. You can reach them by phone at 0300 888 3853, or online at https://www.adfam.org.uk/
  3. Addiction Helper: A free and confidential service that provides information and support for struggling individuals. You can reach them by phone at 0800 088 66 86 or online at https://www.addictionhelper.com/
  4. Samaritans: A confidential support service for anyone in emotional distress, including those struggling with substance and drug abuse. You can reach them by phone at 116 123 or online at https://www.samaritans.org/
  5. Action on Addiction: A national charity that provides treatment, support and advice for individuals, families and professionals affected by addiction. You can reach them by phone at 01225 788 998, or online at https://www.actiononaddiction.org.uk/
  6. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA): A fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength, and hope with each other to help recover from alcoholism. You can find your nearest AA group by visiting their website https://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/
  7. Narcotics Anonymous (NA): A worldwide, community-based organisation that supports individuals recovering from drug addiction. You can find your nearest NA meeting by visiting their website https://ukna.org/
  8. The Mix: A national charity that provides support and advice for under-25s in the UK, including those struggling with substance and drug abuse. You can reach them by phone at 0808 808 4994 or online at https://www.themix.org.uk/
  9. The Recovery Village: A national helpline providing advice and support for individuals struggling with addiction, mental health disorders and co-occurring conditions. You can reach them by phone at 0800 088 66 86, or online at https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/resources/uk-addiction-helpline/
  10. The National Association for Children of Alcoholics (Nacoa): A national charity providing support and advice for children of alcoholics. You can reach them by phone at 0800 358 3456 or online at https://www.nacoa.org.uk/

It’s important to remember that help is available, and seeking support is a brave step. Finding the right type of support that fits your needs and lifestyle is important.

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