Illegal Drugs Addiction and Abuse

Drug Abuse and Addiction: What Is It?

Britain has the unwanted title as the drugs capital of Europe, with amphetamine and cocaine abuse taking the lead. More Britons admit to using amphetamines than other European countries. 6.7 out of 1,000 people aged 15-64 have a drug abuse problem, meaning they have a long-term history of opiate, cocaine or amphetamine use, or they inject drugs.

We also have the second-highest cannabis abuse after France, and cocaine use in England and Wales among teenagers and young adults is rising. 11% of all people in the UK have tried amphetamines at some point, compared to 6% in other nations. These are alarming statistics, showing the depth of drug abuse problems in the UK.

People have the misconception that drug abuse and addiction is a social problem that can be solved simply by conjuring enough willpower and discipline to stop using. They fail to understand the chemical changes that happen in the brain when a user starts abusing drugs for recreational purposes. Brain alteration leads to compulsive drug use, which develops into drug dependency and addiction.

There are many reasons why people take drugs. Top of the list would be to escape problems, feel better about themselves, succumb to peer pressure, relieve stress and chase the stimulating ‘high’ most drugs produce.

Addiction is a chronic disease where you have no control over your drug use. You’re aware of the consequences, yet actively seek the next ‘high’. The initial decision to experiment with drugs is voluntary, but when you become an addict through repeated drug usage, you lose self-control and the brain changes affect your decision-making ability.

Introduction to Drug Abuse and Addiction

Do you remember the first time you used drugs? Maybe the effects felt good. You then developed a habit and believed you have absolute control over it. It floods your brain with dopamine and triggers the reward centre of your brain with pleasure, leading you to seek the next high. But now you’re afraid it’s taken over your life. With continued substance abuse, the things you easily derived pleasure from are less pleasurable and you feel like you need the effects of drugs to feel normal and stay balanced.

You may have already built up a tolerance to the drug. Therefore, to feel the same pleasurable high, you’ll need frequent, higher doses of the drug. In turn, this leads to dependency – a state where you’ll need the drug to experience pleasure, be happy, or just feel like yourself. You’ll crave the drug as soon as the high wears off and continuously obsess over where the next dose is coming from. These are signs that you’re developing an addiction.

The Difference between a Drug Abuser and an Addict

The major difference between a drug abuser and an addict is control. A drug abuser is a recreational user. He/she takes drugs occasionally without feeling the need to keep using when the effect of the last high has worn off. A recreational user can perform daily functions, enjoy life, attend social functions and live in harmony with friends and loved ones without the help of drugs.

Addiction works by repeatedly triggering the stimulus of the reward centre of your brain to alter brain process and functions. With each use, simple functions like sleeping, eating, bathing, oral hygiene, work, social life and family responsibilities gradually take a back seat, until feeding your drug habit becomes the centre of your universe.

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When does drug use become drug abuse or addiction?

The key is to figure out before drug use it becomes a problem in your life. It’s not about quantity or frequency of use, but the impact and consequences of it. If your drug problem affects your relationship with your partner, children, work and other relationships, you more than likely have an addiction. If you start experiencing health issues, legal woes or financial problems caused by your drug usage problem, this is a sign of addiction.

Drug Abuse in Teens and Young Adults

Drug abuse is a common problem amongst young adults and teenagers in the UK. These days, teens without a prescription can buy hallucinogens and synthetic stimulants online. Many turn to drugs for help themselves focus during an upcoming test when pressured by friends or just to see what the experience feels like. They may also want to feel more confident in themselves, while social and environmental exposure can also be a factor.

Commonly Used Types of Illegal Drugs and How They Work

Opioids: Opioids are synthetically made narcotics. Drugs in this category include morphine, heroin, oxycodone and methadone. Addiction to prescription painkillers has increased and those who’ve been using opioids for long periods might need drug rehabilitation to get clean. Signs of abuse include slurred speech, constricted pupils, less sensation of pain, nose sores for those who snort, as well as needle marks for injections.

Marijuana: under the category of cannabinoids, you’ll find drugs like marijuana and hash. Derivatives include skunk, weed, ganja, hemp and sinsemilla. Effects include slowed reaction time, euphoria, impaired balance, memory loss, as well as coughing and psychosis in extreme cases.

Amphetamines and stimulants: Amphetamines are some of the most abused drugs in the world. Classified drugs include methamphetamine and amphetamine. Stimulants like cocaine are very addictive and derivates include crystal ice, coke, speed, crack cocaine and methamphetamine. The effects include increased heart rate and blood pressure, increased metabolism, energy boost, tremors, panic attacks, lower appetite, psychosis and violent behaviour.

Other illegal drugs include GHB, MDMA (ecstasy), flunitrazepam ketamine, Salvia Divinorum, PCP and dextromethorphan (DXM).

Types of addictive drugs

Inhalants: illicit drugs made from household items such as paint, gasoline, glue, nitrous oxide, aerosol sprays and room deodorisers.

Depressants: depressants slow down the brain processes by inducing a sedative effect in users. Examples include Xanax, Valium, benzodiazepines and Rohypnol. Alcohol is like a depressant because it slows down body function when you consume too much. Many are legal, but when taken without prescription become an illegally obtained drug.

Stimulants: stimulants affect the central nervous system, causing increased alertness, elevated blood pressure, increased heart rate, glucose level and breathing. Medical uses include ADHD medication, weight loss and asthma. Examples include Ritalin, Adderall, ecstasy, caffeine and cocaine. Many are in fact entirely illegal substances.

Hallucinogens: disrupt communication in the brain and cause users to see things that aren’t real. Examples include salvia, LSD, peyote and Psilocybin.

Opioids: very powerful painkillers that make users feel euphoric. Examples include Vicodin, heroin, hydrocodone, Percocet, codeine and oxycontin.

Dissociatives: drugs that cause users to dissociate from their bodies, making them feel a false sense of invisibility. Examples include PCP, Ketamine and DXM.

Cannabis: is like a hallucinogen; the difference is that the effects are similar to those of depressants.

What about prescription drug abuse?

Valium: Medical prescription for sleeplessness, muscle spasms and anxiety, Abused for its’ sedative effects and euphoric high. Signs of abuse include slow movement, dilated pupils and loss of appetite.

Oxycontin: A powerful opioid for treating severe pain. However, users abuse it for the sedative effect and the pain-relieving compound. Abuse signs include constipation, pinpoint pupils and “stoned” appearance.

Other common prescription drugs abused for their sedative benefits include Xanax, Adderall, Ritalin, Vicodin, Percocet and codeine syrup.

What Is the Cause of Drug Abuse?

Almost all drugs target the brain reward system by overloading it with dopamine. This is a neurotransmitter that controls pleasure, emotion, movement and motivation. Overstimulating dopamine neurotransmitters leads to euphoric ‘highs’ that teach users to repeat drug use to enjoy the pleasurable feeling.

The user continues the cycle of abuse because, with each usage, the brain produces less dopamine and in turn adapts to new dopamine levels. To feel the euphoric high from your previous use, you’ll have to increase the quantity of your next dose.

Signs and Symptoms of Drug Abuse

  • Taking risks under the influence of drugs
  • Neglecting responsibilities at work, school or home
  • Legal troubles
  • Relationship troubles in your family, friendships and at work
  • Red eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Negligence of appearance
  • Mood swings
  • Erratic change in behaviour

The Effects and Health Risks of Drug Abuse

The effects of drug abuse vary, according to each individual. However, there are common signs that manifest in most people with substance abuse disorder. Some drugs, like crystal meth, can induce life-threatening psychosis. Alcohol sometimes leads to acute withdrawal symptoms where alcoholics suffer delirium tremens and seizures. The method of taking drugs also impacts effect it has on your body. Health risks for sharing needles include HV/AIDS, Hepatitis B and C.

Other health risks of drug abuse include brain damage, abdominal pain, cardiovascular problems, liver problems, kidney failure and nausea. Short and long-term memory also get affected by a number of the illegal drugs on the market.

The effect on health

People who abuse drugs open themselves to many health problems that are life-threatening. Driving under the influence is likely to result in an accident and hurt someone on the road. Some drugs, like hallucinogens, produce bad ‘trips’ that makes users want to commit suicide or harm themselves. Other health effects of taking drugs include:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Cancer
  • Liver disease
  • Lung disease
  • Depression
  • Insomnia

If you have an existing medical condition or co-occurring disorder, drug abuse worsens the symptoms and puts you at risk of severe withdrawal effects.

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Effects on the mind

Drugs are toxic chemicals that alter natural brain function. It disrupts the communication model nerve cells used to transport and process information. Drugs affect the brain by overflooding the reward centre or by imitating natural chemical messengers.

Long-term use changes areas of the brain where decision making, judgment, behaviour control, learning and memory occur. This brain changes influence drug addiction and make you unable to exercise control or take the rational decision to stop using and pursue treatment.

Effect on relationships

Due to the impact of drugs on the brain, everything in an addict’s life takes second place to finding and maintaining the desired ‘high’. With continued use, we become obsessed and driven to abandon all relationships. The welfare of children, partners, friends and family cease to matter.

Drug users lie about where they’ve been, what they spend money on and the source of any bruises. Gradually, you’ll start dipping into your children’s saving fund, become aggressive and possibly hit your spouse or say hateful words that you can’t take back.

Social and financial effects

The first place where the effect of drug abuse happens is within the family. Research shows it’s a leading cause of domestic violence, bankruptcy, divorce and others. Often, people under the influence are not aware of their behaviour and are selfish, uncaring and violent in most cases. It leads to financial hardship because they would sell properties, family cars, use any retirement funds, mortgage their homes and take a bank loan to finance their drug habit.

At work, they would change from an efficient, productive staff member to a negligent employee, who’s unable to perform daily functions or keep up appearances. Most likely, they will be fired.

If you’re the family breadwinner, that’s a major loss of income for your partner and children. This is why you should not want to become such a person.

Drug Abuse and Brain Damage

Psychoactive drugs like crystal meth and GHB stimulate the brain by flooding it with dopamine. It’s not surprising that there’s a risk of brain injury or brain damage from long-term use of illicit drugs. Brain damage caused by drug abuse includes:

  • Depriving the brain tissue of oxygen
  • Direct brain damage to brain cells due to drug dependency and frequency of use
  • Reduced supply of nutrients needed by brain tissue (common with alcohol abuse)
  • Altering neurotransmitters, hormones and brain concentration chemicals

Drug Abuse Treatment and Therapy

The intention of drug addiction treatment and therapy is to help individuals stop using drugs. Treatment includes a combination of medically supervised detox, medication to reduce withdrawal symptoms and a variety of therapy treatments, such as CBT, motivational interviewing, contingency management, group counselling and individual therapy. For chronic users, treatment requires regular monitoring and several interventions to maintain sobriety.

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When to Get Help for Substance Abuse?

The moment you feel the need to take drugs frequently – or having built up a tolerance for your prescribed meds and increased the dosage – it’s time to get help for substance abuse. You shouldn’t wait until you develop a dependency on drugs, because at that stage it’s harder to enter rehab voluntarily and withdrawal symptoms are more severe.

Be careful, because even if a medication is being prescribed, once you turn to the black market for additional pills, you become an illegal user.

Treatment Options

Medical detox: The first stage of drug addiction treatment, where your body rids itself of all toxic substances. Withdrawal differs based on the drug, severity of addiction, length of usage and presence of any co-occurring disorders, mental health problems or medical conditions.

Medication: Medication is not a cure in itself, but is administered by a medical professional to help reduce withdrawal symptoms, manage co-occurring conditions, help patients who are experiencing acute symptoms and prevent relapse.

Therapy: This is an essential part of addiction treatment. The goal is to help you unlearn negative actions and behaviour resulting from drug use, in exchange for positive behaviour that encourages sobriety and healthy living.

Follow-up care: Drug rehabilitation continues for life. Former addicts never take sobriety for granted and understand the importance of attending meetings, visiting your counsellor, staying healthy and practising coping skills they learnt in rehab. Programmes here include sobriety meetings, individual therapy and community-based recovery support systems.

Withdrawal and detox

Detox not only cleanses your body of addictive drugs, but it’s the start of the healing process after chronic drug addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the first priority is stabilisation, to prevent life-threatening consequences from sudden cessation of the drug. After stabilisation, you would be monitored by a team of medical professionals, as the body releases all traces of the drug.

Withdrawal symptoms manifest when you stop taking drugs. The symptoms could be moderate or mild or short-term users, but fatal in chronic users, long-term users, polydrug abusers and people with mental health issues or co-occurring disorders. Withdrawal lasts three to seven days in most addicts but extends up to a month in cases of acute withdrawal or post-acute withdrawal. Medications include Acamprosate to reduce symptoms of longer withdrawal in patients with severe addiction. Other medications include disulfiram, naltrexone and buprenorphine.

Inpatient and outpatient drug addiction treatment

Residential drug addiction treatment is effective for people with chronic substance abuse disorders and individuals with severe problems. Licensed rehab centres provide 24-hour care to residents and utilise a range of therapeutic methods to help residents live a crime-free, sober life after treatment.

Outpatient rehab facilities are not as structured or restrictive as inpatient programmes. The usual duration is 10-12 weeks, receiving treatment at a local rehab centre. The meetings are conducted in the morning or at night, allowing patients go to work or continue their daily activities. It is advised for people who have a strong network of family and friends, mild-moderate drug users and individuals who’ve not used drugs for a long time.

Finding the best drug abuse programmes and centres

The major consideration when looking for the best drug abuse programme is a centre that caters to your drug addiction with techniques and treatment options that address the symptoms and treat any psychological problems. Check their license and accreditation. Examine treatment protocols to ensure it fits your personality and where possible, choose a facility with aftercare programmes.

Once you’ve conducted your research and narrowed down the list, there are services that can proffer advice with regards the best recovery centres that offer comprehensive treatment plans for your addiction.

Drug addiction support

Support groups are crucial to your recovery journey. At all stages of your addiction journey, you’ll find help from recovering addicts who’ve been where you are. Hearing their addiction stories, how they hit rock bottom, their coping mechanisms and strategies for sobriety will motivate you on your own journey.

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, people who attend meetings and actively participate in support groups increase their chances of remaining sober. They’ll provide information to maintain physical health, sober buddies, sponsors and other forms of support you’ll need on your journey.

Examples include 12-step programmes, SMART Recovery, Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other groups.

Drug Abuse Statistics: Know the Facts and Dangers

  • Drug addiction alters brain chemistry. The longer you use drugs, the harder it is to quit.
  • In most cases, it’s possible to reverse brain damage caused by alcohol and substance abuse through addiction treatment.
  • Drug abuse could lead to medical problems involving your kidneys, liver, stomach, heart and other organs.
  • Individuals who use needles increase the risk of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis infection.
  • The use of stimulants like cocaine leads to brain tissue death.

Drug addiction facts worldwide

  • About 15.3 million people suffer from substance abuse disorders.
  • The World Health Organisation reports that alcohol abuse leads to 3.3 million deaths annually.
  • Nearly 250 million people aged 15 to 64 used at least one drug in 2014.
  • According to the United Nations, 14% of the estimated 12 million people who inject drugs live with HIV.

Drug addiction facts in the UK

  • There were 8,621 hospital admissions in 2015/2016 from drug-related disorders.
  • 2,479 drug abuse-related deaths were reported in 2015.
  • Almost one in three European drug overdose cases happened in the UK.
  • Eight people out of every 1,000 Britons are high-risk opioid users.
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Information: Drug Addiction Videos

The best way to learn about drug abuse and its devastating consequences is to hear it directly from the lips of those who’ve battled addiction and lived to tell the tale. This can happen by contacting a hotline or clinic where people in recovery will help you work out your own problems. However, if you want an initial insight into the treatment process, online videos are a good starting point.

On YouTube, there are several channels you can follow. The number of videos uploaded daily (related to addiction recovery) never runs out and covers every area from addiction to detox to withdrawal to rehab to aftercare.

Wired in Recovery seeks to empower drug users to get help for substance abuse. They post interviews with recovering addicts to motivate people and let them know that sobriety is possible.

Sobriety Television makes documentaries about addiction and the recovery journey. They conduct interviews with former addicts and addiction experts. It is a useful resource to learn more about addiction. A few links to explore include:

Illegal drug use and addiction directory: News, features and pictures

It’s important to stay connected to the news and learn about the latest discovery that could help in your journey to sobriety. Many of these blogs and websites have become a pivotal part of dealing with alcoholism and drug addiction. Directories and resources include:

Addiction blog: if you’re looking for extensive information on drugs and alcohol, Addiction Blog reviews current trends in chemical and behavioural addiction, including the latest treatment of new and existing addictions.

Smart recovery: A leading programme for self-empowerment and addiction recovery, SMART uses scientific tools to help members maintain sobriety. The blog has helped many recovering addicts stay focused on recovery and review their progress.

Drug Addiction Support: This is a drug addiction directory for people who are looking for help to find information on addiction treatment. Recovering addicts who’ve used services can rate the treatment centre based on the efficacy of its programme.

Get help

You don’t have to battle addiction on your own. Call an addiction helpline and a confidential counsellor will help you find the best treatment facility, where you’ll get help for addiction. The longer you keep taking drugs, the more it disrupts your brain function and makes it harder to quit or complete treatment successfully. Rehab treatment is the best way to take back control and rebuild broken relationships affected by drug use.


Frequently Asked Questions

What is drug addiction?

Drug addiction is a disease that alters our behaviour and brain, leading to an inability to control usage of drugs or to quit – even when we know the consequences of drug abuse.

What is drug dependence?

Drug dependence is a situation where the body has built up a tolerance to drugs. As time passes, you’ll need higher doses to feel the effects until you’re dependent on the drug to perform normal functions or experience any kind of pleasure.

What are the medical consequences of drug addiction?

When you become addicted to drugs, there’s a constant risk of overdosing, every time you don’t control the dosage or have more than the previous time. Overdosing leads to seizures, coma and sometimes death. Chronic drug users experience problems like liver and kidney failure, respiratory problems, malnutrition, memory loss and permanent brain damage.

What happens to your brain when you take drugs?

With most drugs, your brain is flooded with dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for feeling pleasure, learning, memory and movement. Over time, your body stops replenishing dopamine, because it’s become used to higher doses. The functions controlled by dopamine change, until fulfilling your drug cravings becomes your only priority.

Why do people use drugs?

Many people use drugs for the sedative effect, especially prescription drugs. Others use to escape reality, feel pleasure, increase libido, become more aware, hyper-focused and to feel the pleasurable high from illicit substances.

Why do some people become addicted while others do not?

There are no single factors that determine the risk of addiction. However, the more risk factors you have, the higher the chances of addiction. Risk factors might include genetics, environment, gender, exposure to drugs and medical history.

Do celebrity rehabs work?

Individuals at celebrity rehabs enjoy more amenities and freedom than recovering addicts at lower-end rehabs. The amenities at luxury facilities resemble what you would see at a high-end hotel, but without the drinks. Regardless the price paid, the goal is to use all available resources to help the recovering person maintain sobriety and learn how to positively manage stressors and triggers in the outside world. So-called “celebrity rehabs” however provide some additional benefits including pools, gyms, and similar.

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