Drugs and alcohol

Drugs and alcohol

For the people who take them, illegal drugs can be a serious problem. They're responsible for between 1,300 and 1,400 deaths a year in the UK and destroy thousands of relationships, families and careers.

Drug and alcohol services (from Health in Herts, Public Health, Herts County Council)
There is a wide range of drug and alcohol services available in Hertfordshire, although not all services are available in all districts, and some people may have to travel to other areas to get the service they need. Some of these need a referral from a professional, such as a GP or support worker, others have open access to whoever needs them.

Almost half of 16 to 24 year olds living in England and Wales have tried illegal drugs. The five most commonly taken substances all pose serious dangers.

According to the 2012/13 British Crime Survey, the five most commonly used drugs in the UK are:

  1. Cannabis The survey found that 6.4% of 16 to 59 year olds reported using cannabis in the last year. There's evidence of a link between cannabis and mental health problems, such as schizophrenia. Research has shown that smoking cannabis joints is even more damaging to lungs than smoking cigarettes. Long-term use can cause lung disease and cancer. Cannabis can also lead to paranoia and loss of motivation.
  2. Cocaine This is the second most commonly used drug, with 1.9% of respondents admitting to having taken cocaine in 2012/13. Cocaine is highly addictive. People who are young and healthy can have a fit or heart attack after taking too much coke. It can also cause panic attacks. 
  3. Ecstasy The study revealed that 1.3% of 16 to 59 year olds had taken ecstasy in the last year, although its use is decreasing. Ecstasy can cause panic attacks or psychotic states. There have been more than 200 ecstasy-related deaths in the UK since 1996. The drug has been linked to liver, kidney and heart problems.
  4. Hallucinogens The report found that 1.3% of participants had used hallucinogens (including LSD and magic mushrooms), which are Class A drugs. Possession can get you up to seven years in jail. The side effects, which are random and occasionally very frightening, may include flashbacks.
  5. Amphetamines Amphetamine use was recorded among 0.8% of 16 to 59 year olds. The number of people charged with offences involving amphetamines (also known as ‘speed’) has dropped dramatically in the past five years. Amphetamines are very addictive, and the comedown can make you feel lousy and depressed. They put a strain on your heart, and users have died from overdosing.

Drugs advice  
To find out more about specific drugs, go to the A-Z of Drugs on the FRANK website.   

For confidential advice about all aspects of drugs and drugs use, call the FRANK helpline on 0800 77 66 00.

Mephedrone and other legal highs
Legal drugs, often referred to as 'legal highs', are substances used like illegal drugs such as cocaine or cannabis, but not covered by current misuse of drugs laws.

They include a number of drugs such as mephedrone (also known as meow meow and M-CAT) and salvia (which is sometimes called herbal ecstasy).

Although these drugs are marketed as legal substances, this doesn’t mean that they are safe or approved for people to use. It just means that they’ve not been declared illegal to use and possess. They are still normally considered illegal to sell under medicines legislation.  More information can be found at Talk to Frank

Alcohol
More than 10million people in England drink more than the recommended daily amount.

Men should not regularly drink more than three to four units of alcohol a day and women should not regularly drink more than two to three units a day.

'Regularly' means drinking this amount every day or most days of the week.

According to Alcohol Concern, up to 22,000 deaths a year in England and Wales are associated with drinking too much alcohol. That's twice as many as 20 years ago.

The number of units in a drink depends on its size and strength. With some strong beers and ciders, a pint or a bottle can contain three units or more. So can a single large glass of wine.

A single large measure of spirits can contain nearly one-and-a-half units. A double can be nearly three units. You can't count one drink as one unit. You have to check how strong and how large your drink is to know how many units of alcohol are in it.

Some experts warn that we could be facing an epidemic of liver disease. "Liver disease is rife in people in their 20s and 30s," says Dr Rajiv Jalan, a liver consultant at University College Hospital in London. "If we don't do anything about it, we're looking at a cirrhosis epidemic within 15 to 20 years."

Lots more information on the dangers of alcohol, including the NHS Alcohol Tracker app for the iPhone is available here.

content provided by NHS Choices

Last modified: 

21 Apr 2015