Author: Charles Frank

Prescription drug abuse Symptoms and causes

what is misuse of drugs

Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug in the UK (Roe & Man, 2006). At FHE Health, our experienced staff can help you understand whether you are misusing drugs, abusing drugs or dealing with a full-blown addiction, and we’re here to help. We know that admitting there’s a problem is difficult, but once you’ve done just that, you can start moving toward a better, healthier and sober lifestyle. Some people fear that they may become addicted to medicines prescribed for medical conditions, such as painkillers prescribed after surgery. But you can reduce your risk by carefully following your health care provider’s instructions on how to take your medicine.

  1. Legal drugs include over-the-counter medications, prescription drugs, alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and marijuana.
  2. It is therefore evident that drug misuse places a considerable economic burden to the health service and the society as a whole.
  3. As outlined in Chapter 5, organisations for people who misuse drugs, such as the 12-step fellowship of NA, were formed in the US before the drug treatment field had fully defined itself as a medical specialism.
  4. Transmission of both hepatitis A and B continues even though there are effective vaccines.
  5. Euphoria resulting from use then potentiates further use, particularly for those with a genetic vulnerability (see below).
  6. This plan may involve regular attendance at support group meetings and follow-up therapy sessions to ensure that the patient has the tools and techniques to help them maintain a happy and healthy lifestyle.

Individuals want to fit in, they want to feel better, they want to perform better at work, in school and in sports. What may have started as a way to feel better or even as a way to escape can quickly turn into misuse because your brain and body need the drug to feel normal. People who misuse drugs should be given the same care, respect and privacy as any other person. For amphetamines, the acute effects are broadly similar except that they are long lasting (normally 4–8 hours), due to slower metabolism. Overdoses may lead to dangerously elevated body temperature, convulsions or even death.


Much of the current treatment of drug misuse in services directly provided or purchased by the NHS focuses on the treatment of opioid misuse. In large part, this is reactive to the drug problems with which service users present, who may themselves be informed by awareness of relevant treatments as well as their own perceptions of whether their drug use is problematic. Few services are focused solely on the treatment of cocaine and cannabis misuse; often these problems are only addressed when the primary presenting problem is opioid misuse. In particular, the provision of treatment is almost non-existent for adults who primarily misuse cannabis, although young people are more likely to receive such treatment. The main treatments for opioid misuse are opioid substitution therapies (methadone and buprenorphine), with stabilisation of the drug user being the treatment aim, leading to improved physical health, well-being, social stabilisation and reduced criminality and costs to society.

what is misuse of drugs

The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 has been the foundation for laws surrounding pharmaceutical drugs. Meridian Psychiatric Partners offers therapy sessions and other treatments to help you resolve any type of drug problem. Most initiation of cocaine use occurs around the age of 20, with the risk of cocaine dependence occurring early and explosively after first use, and persisting for an average of 10 years (Anthony et al., 1994). See how Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington are regulating legal, non-medial cannabis use (PDF). Cannabis use typically begins in early adolescence with heaviest use in the 15–24 age group (Harkin et al., 1997), which may in part be explained by strong peer influences (Frischer et al., 2005).

In addition to formal, structured treatment, there is a long tradition in North America and Europe of community-based, peer-led self-help groups for people with substance misuse problems. The most well-established of these deliver the principles of 12-steps, which has its origins in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Two such organisations especially relevant to people who misuse drugs are Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Cocaine Anonymous (CA). The 12-step fellowships of AA and NA largely predate the existing drug treatment field as a medical specialism. NA was founded in the US in 1953, and the first UK meeting was held in 1980 (White, 1998).


It is also known as substance use disorder (SUD) since people who abuse drugs experience significantly altered thinking, behavior, and body functions. Twelve-step treatments have traditionally taken account of service-user experience and indeed such experience forms the bedrock of these programmes. Recently, harm reduction and maintenance-oriented services have started to formally involve service users and take account of their experience. In addition, the NTA was established as a special health authority to increase the availability of drug treatment in the UK and improve its quality.

Other ways that drugs can get into the body include topically (via mucous membranes) and rectally or vaginally (via suppositories). Legal drugs include over-the-counter medications, prescription drugs, alcohol, tobacco, caffeine and marijuana. In contrast, those with an addiction have a disorder that affects most if not all aspects of their lives. They often miss work or school, endanger their families physically and/or financially, suffer health problems, get into legal trouble, and other serious issues because of their substance use. But despite these, they are unable to change their habits to improve their situation. This is why many people with drug addiction become jobless, homeless, or separated from their families.

Most use tends to decline steadily from the mid 20s to the early 30s (Bachman et al., 1997). Cannabis dependence persisting through adulthood is the most prevalent among those with sustained frequent use, as high as 40% among those who have used almost daily (Kandel & Davies, 1992).

Psychiatric comorbidity is common in drug misuse populations, with anxiety and depression generally common, and antisocial and other personality disorders in opioid-using populations (Regier et al., 1990, 1998). Around one in five of the people in the NTORS sample had previously received treatment for a psychiatric health problem other than substance misuse (Marsden et al., 2000). Among people who misuse opioids, who form the predominant in-treatment population in the UK, most individuals develop dependence in their late teens or early twenties, several years after first using heroin, and continue using over the next 10–30 years. In a long-term outcome study (up to 33 years) of 581 male opioid users in the US, 30% had positive (or refused) urine tests for opioids, 14% were in prison and 49% were dead (Hser et al., 2001). Longitudinal data from the US also showed that the average time from first to last opioid use was 9.9 years, with 40% dependent for over 12 years (Joe et al., 1990). Although it is the case that problem drug users can cease drug use without any formal treatment (Biernacki, 1986), particularly for individuals with primary cocaine or cannabis misuse, for many it is treatment that alters the course of opioid dependence.

Any time you are taking medications or using a substance in a way other than it is intended to be used, it can have serious effects on your physical, mental and emotional health. Left unchecked, a substance misuse issues can spiral and become an out-of-control addiction that is affecting every area of your life, from your job to your daily activities to your relationships with friends and family. Being able to draw a distinction between substance use, substance misuse and substance abuse is the first step in accurately assessing your issue and figuring out your next steps. Because commonly abused prescription drugs activate the brain’s reward center, it’s possible to develop physical dependence and addiction. On the other hand, willpower is not enough to change the behavior of a person with a drug addiction. As their bodies are already chemically dependent on a substance, they would need pharmacotherapy.

Substance Misuse

The former takes a drug to treat a specific ailment, whereas the latter uses a drug to elicit certain feelings. Drug addiction, also known as severe SUD, is a brain disorder that manifests as the uncontrollable use of a substance despite its consequences. People with drug addiction have a physical and/or psychological need to take a substance because they suffer intense or debilitating withdrawal symptoms when they go without that substance. The British response to drug problems dates back to the report of the Rolleston Committee of 1926.

Substance use also involves tolerance, physical dependence and psychological dependence that often lead to addiction and addiction risks. Drug use is a valid societal concern because of its effects on individuals, families and communities. Exploring drugs and drug misuse further will encourage a better understanding of drugs and the implications they can have. The key difference between a person who misuses drugs and a person who abuses drugs is their intent.

In the literature, drug misuse is seen as both a ‘problem of the family’ and a ‘problem for the family’ (Bancroft et al., 2002). The evidence that points to traumatic family experiences, such as childhood neglect, homelessness, abuse, loss and bereavement, increasing the likelihood that a person will go on to have drug problems (Kumpfer & Bluth, 2004) can be seen as a problem of the family. Despite the increase in treatment research, current UK practice is not underpinned by a strong evidence base and there is wide variation in the implementation of psychosocial treatment across services.

Recent cohort studies have shown that mortality rates from methadone-related death are decreasing (Brugal et al., 2005). The terms drug misuse and drug abuse get thrown around a lot and are used almost interchangeably, but is this actually accurate? Drug misuse and drug abuse each have their own medical definitions, and certain criteria must be satisfied to be classified as abusing drugs versus just misusing them. In this article, we go more in depth on the actual definitions of these terms and what they mean to finally answer the question of what is drug misuse and abuse once and for all. Schedule II drugs have high potential for misuse and a high risk of physical and psychological dependence. Since drug misuse isn’t a disorder, a simple reprimand may help remedy the issue.

Having multiple health problems and taking multiple drugs can put people at risk of misusing drugs or becoming addicted. Drugs are classified into 5 categories or schedules depending on the medical uses or the risk of dependency and misuse. The risk of misuse of a drug is a determining factor in a drug’s classified schedule. Schedule I drugs have high potential for misuse and schedule V drugs have the least risk of being misused. The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) identifies and lists drugs and their schedule.