Information about


Substance Addiction

Our favourite drugs

Caffeine is our favourite drug. It is contained in tea, coffee, many soft drinks and colas, some confectionery, included in many medicines and available in over-the-counter stimulant preparations such as Pro Plus.

Apart from medicines in general the next most commonly used drug is alcohol, followed by the nicotine in cigarettes and other tobacco based products.

These and other drugs can be broadly categorised in a way that helps with understanding how a person might be affected when using them:

Before and After


Such as alcohol, tranquillisers, heroin, methadone and solvents slow down the central nervous system, affecting co-ordination and reaction times. Alcohol, for instance, used to create feelings of relaxation and disinhibition in social settings, can be inappropriate and cause problems in the workplace. Due to slow reactions, depressant use is particularly dangerous whilst driving or operating machinery.

Such as amphetamines ('speed'), ecstasy, cocaine, mephedrone. tobacco and caffeine increase the heart rate and give the user a sense of increased alertness and energy. People using some stimulants can become aggressive. Illicit stimulants might be used recreationally but the following day at work, a user can feel tired or depressed. Employees may also use stimulants to enable them to work long shifts but repeated and regular use could lead to problems or dependence.

Such as cannabis, ketamine and 'magic mushrooms' change the way people think, feel and perceive their surroundings. They can enhance appreciation of surroundings but can also cause anxiety or paranoia. As they can distort the user's sense of time and perception, these drugs would again be dangerous in 'safety critical' jobs. Whilst none of the hallucinogens mentioned cause physical dependence, a user may become psychologically dependent on their effects. Cannabis is the most commonly used illegal drug in the UK.

The most commonly used drugs

When it comes to illegal drugs,the most commonly tried drugs are:




Amyl Nitrites (Poppers)



The 2011/12 Crime Survey for England and Wales found that 6.9% of 16-59 year olds claimed to have used cannabis in the last year. Cocaine was the next most common drug with 2.2% admitting use.

What is it? Heroin is a browny-white powder sold in paper wraps. It is a processed form of opium. The man-made form of heroin is morphine.

It is sold by the gram or by the bag, and is usually smoked or injected. Smoking heroin is also called 'chasing the dragon'. A small bit of powder is put onto tin foil and heated from below with a lighter. This turns it into a liquid that gives off smoke, which is then inhaled through a tube. If it's injected, it's dissolved in water first. It can also be snorted, swallowed or smoked with tobacco.

How does it make you feel?

The first time people use heroin, they usually get sick, dizzy and sleepy, but after using it a couple of times your body starts to get used to it. It then makes you feel warm, happy, confident, cosy and content. It gives you a croaky voice and your pupils get really tiny - pinned eyes.

When people take higher doses they start to get very sleepy and can fall asleep mid-sentence, and throw up quite a lot too.

Once people are addicted to heroin they get very bad withdrawal symptoms including weakness, sweating, shivering, skin crawling, achey bones, watery eyes, runny stomach and feelings of despair and depression. Heroin is a highly addictive drug and habits can get out of control.

Users also build up a tolerance over time - meaning they need more heroin to get the same hit.

What are the health effects?

The health effects of heroin generally come from the lifestyle that goes with it. Like crack and crystal meth, heroin is a very powerful drug that will gradually wear your life away. Living with a heroin habit is living a nightmare.

Street heroin is never 100% pure and comes cut with all sorts of things that could be dangerous if injected. Worse still, it's impossible to know how strong a batch of heroin is and as such it's very easy to overdose if an especially strong batch comes in (if you inject). Many heroin deaths happen this way.

If you share needles to inject you stand a high chance of getting HIV or Hepatitis C. No one should share needles.

Heroin is an illegal class A drug. The maximum penalty for possession is seven years in prison. For supply, it's life in prison and you can get an unlimited fine for both.

Mephedrone(4-methylmethcathinone (4-MMC), or 4-methylephedrone) (meph, mcat, drone, miaow miaow - NOT to be confused with methadone

A synthetic substance based on the (cathinone) compounds that exist in the Khat plant of East Africa, mephedrone usually comes in powder form, although it can also be found in capsules or tablets.

The drug can be dabbed, snorted or, more unusually, injected. It tastes awful and if you snort it up your nose you will know all about it - it can burn.

Originally used in legal highs like Neodoves from 2007, mephedrone's consistency of strength and easy availability over the internet quickly turned it into one of the most popular drugs in the UK before it was outlawed in April 2010.

The drug affects users in different ways, but small dabs usually bring on a speedy/coke buzz, with increased alertness, liveliness and chattiness, while snorting brings up a more powerful, speedy MDMA-like experience.

Bigger lines can bring on a more euphoric buzz, but like with most drugs, the impact quickly diminishes less with each subsequent dose.

You can usually feel the drug within 15–45 minutes if dabbed; snorting a line gives you an almost immediate hit, peaking after around 30 mins.

Meph usually lasts for around two to three hours, with the MDMA-like buzz fading away fast to be replaced by a more coke/speed experience.

Be warned: the drug is incredibly moreish, and there's plenty of reports of users staying up for binges lasting several days. Don't take large amounts.

Side effects: Like most amphetamine-like drugs, side effects can include teeth-grinding, increased sweating, pumping heart, lack of concentration and an unending ability to talk rubbish for hours on end.

Health risks: Prolonged use can bring on a loss of appetite, lack of sleep, anxiety, paranoia and depression, and there is the possibility of over-stimulating the heart and the nervous system, increasing the risk of a fit.

If you're racking off line after line, your nose is likely to suffer from nose bleeds and burns. A survey conducted by the National Addiction Centre, UK, found 67% of mephedrone users experienced sweating, 51% suffered from headaches, 43% from heart palpitations, 27% from nausea and 15% from cold or blue fingers.

There were six deaths involving mephedrone reported in 2011 in England and Wales.

THE LAW: Mephedrone and related cathinones became Class B substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 on 16 April 2010. Possession is illegal with a maximum sentence of five years in jail and/or an unlimited fine.

Supplying someone else, even your pals, comes with a hefty maximum sentence of fourteen years in jail and/or an unlimited fine.

Although it is legal for those aged 18 and over to buy and drink alcohol, that doesn’t mean it’s any less powerful than other drugs.

Alcohol is a depressant, which means it slows down your body's responses in all kinds of ways. Just enough can make you feel sociable; too much and you’ll have a hangover the next day, and may not even remember what you got up to; and way too much alcohol in a single session could put you in a coma or even kill you.

Effects of alcohol can include:

Reduced feelings of anxiety and inhibitions, making you feel more sociable. Some exaggeration of whatever mood you're in when you start drinking. Causing a wide range of physical health problems, either as a result of binge drinking or from drinking most days of the week over recommended levels. The problems caused by alcohol include cancers, heart problems, high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease, and falls and other accidents. Official guidelines:

For young people – it is recommended that you don’t drink at all if under 15, as this can be especially harmful. The best advice is not to drink alcohol until you’re 18. If you do choose to drink before then, remember to make sure you’re with a responsible adult who will stop you doing anything that could be dangerous;

Never drink more than once a week – and on that one day young men are advised not to drink more than 3-4 units, and young women not to drink more than 2-3 units. For adults – it is recommended men shouldn’t regularly drink more than 3-4 units a day and women shouldn’t regularly drink more than 2-3 units a day (regularly is drinking at this sort of level every day or most days of the week). After a night of heavy drinking, you shouldn’t drink for 48 hours to allow the body to recover.