Drug Abuse

Drugs affect the brain and central nervous system which brings about a change in mood; often, people take drugs to lift their moods and experience a ‘high’. Drug abuse is usually characterised by regular use of illegal drugs.

Drug abuse is increasingly common, especially amongst young people aged between 16 and 24. Drugs are increasingly available, with young people finding it easier than ever before to track down their drug of choice; research also shows that children are being offered drugs at an earlier age than ever before.

Each year, drug abuse costs the NHS millions of pounds and over 140,000 people receive treatment for drug misuse in this country each year.

Why do people take drugs?

People may take drugs for a number of different reasons; drug abuse can become increasingly regular over a period of time or it may develop quickly as a result of an event or trigger. Common reasons for taking drugs cited by people that use drugs include:

  • A way out: drugs are seen by many as an escape from daily life, especially those that come from deprived areas or a tough family background
  • Enjoyment: many users enjoy the feeling taking drugs gives them and are willing to cope with the side-effects in return for the brief ‘high’
  • Curiosity: many people are curious about drugs and take them to see what happens; in many cases, this may put them off drugs for life, but some may enjoy the experience and decide to take drugs more often in the future
  • Peer pressure: many people, especially young people, take drugs to fit in with the crowd and feel like they’re part of the gang
  • Emotional reaction: many people may use drugs to cope with an event which has challenged them emotionally, such as a bereavement or losing their job, for example
  • Boredom: many children that grow up in underprivileged areas get involved in a cycle of sitting about and taking drugs from an early age; they often feel there is nothing else to do and no point in trying to make anything of themselves

Casually taking drugs is not only harmful to health but it also makes drug addiction a much more likely reality; addiction can have serious implications for both physical and mental health.

Drugs and the Law

Drugs are classified according to how dangerous they are (Class A are the most dangerous); the Misuse of Drugs Act classifies drugs as follows:

Class A: heroin, cocaine, ecstasy

Class B: cannabis, amphetamines (such as speed) and barbiturates (powerful sedatives)

Class C: ketamine, tranquilisers and GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate)


The penalties for being caught in possession of drugs or dealing drugs are extremely severe and may include lengthy stays in prison. Sentences for dealing are usually much stricter than those for possession; dealing a Class A drug could lead to a life sentence.

What are the most common drugs?

The most commonly used drugs in the UK are listed below:

Guide to Drug Abuse

Drug Abuse Intro




Drug addiction the implications





Long term effects of drug abuse

Short term effects of drug use


Spotting the signs of drug abuse

Support for people with drug dependencies