The misuse of illicit drugs can cause varying risks to your health, both psychologically and physically on a short and long term basis. The long-term dangers include:
- Liver failure and kidney damage
- Unpredictable behaviour, which can:
- Lead to injuries and fatalities in some cases
- Affect social life and families
- Affect educational future
- Nausea, confusion, hallucinations and paranoia
- Loss of appetite and malnutrition
- Cardiovascular problems, including:
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate
- Constricted blood vessels
- Heart attack and heart failure
A Crime Survey for England and Wales shows that 1 in 12 adults aged 16-59 had taken an illicit drug in England and Wales in 2015, which equates to an estimated 2.8 million people, and over one-third of adults had taken drugs at some point during their life. In 2015, 2.2% of adults were classed as frequent drug users, frequent drug use has been defined as taking a drug more than once a month.
Different drugs produce different effects, and cause varied short and long term dangers. The most common types of drugs can be placed into three categories; sedatives or depressants, stimulants, and hallucinogenic.
Sedative drugs such as alcohol, heroin (the most addictive drug) and tranquillisers can lead to memory loss, anxiety, decreased concentration, depression and an overdose if too much is taken that may result in a coma, and even death. They can be especially dangerous for people who suffer from heart or blood pressure problems. Heroin and tranquillisers can be injected, causing damage to your veins and arteries. The risks of sharing needles can put you in danger of serious infections like HIV, hepatitis B and C.
Stimulant drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy, and amphetamine can damage the brain cells and cause anxiety or panic attacks, and heart attacks especially when taken in large quantities. They can also be particularly dangerous for those who suffer from heart or blood pressure problems, even healthy people can suffer from a fit or heart attack after consuming too much. Stimulant drugs can lead to users feeling depressed and suffer from problems with anxiety, paranoia and panic attacks.
Hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD and magic mushrooms, can produce disturbing experiences that can lead to erratic behaviour by the user. The short term effects of hallucinogenic use can include distorted perceptions, panic and increased heart rate and blood pressure, amongst many other effects. Hallucinogenic drugs can cause flashbacks that may occur days, weeks or years after the drug was taken.
The dangers of drug use can depend on a variety of factors:
- The quantity taken
The more that is taken, the greater the danger. Consuming too much of a sedative drug can lead to an overdose. a stimulant drug can lead to panic attacks and psychotic behaviour, taking a hallucinogenic drug in large doses can cause disturbing experiences.
- How often the drug is taken
Consuming a drug regularly is putting your health at a greater risk, especially if the body hasn’t had time to recover between doses. You are able to develop a tolerance to some drugs leading the user to take a larger amount, which can lead to an overdoses. However, drugs such as LSD do not build a tolerance.
- Foreign substance in drugs
Many drugs, particularly in the form of powder or pills, have other substances mixed in with them, this can change the effect of the drug and cause unpredictable effects.
- Drug combination
Consuming a mixture of drugs at one time can produce unpredictable effects. Taking similar types of drugs an increase the negative effects, for example, mixing two sedative drugs can fatally slow down your heart rate and breathing, or mixing stimulants can put too much strain on the heart.
- Consumption methods
How a drug is taken can have a varying degree of risk on your health, for example, injecting drugs can lead to vein and artery damage, and an increased risk of infection from serious diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis B and C. Eating or drinking drugs can be risky because the effects tend to take time to take place, and users may take too much because of this. Regularly snorting drugs such as cocaine can cause damage to the nasal membranes.
The short and long-term dangers of drug addiction can vary depending on the type of drug taken. Here are some of the most common dangers associated with drug abuse:
Long-term dangers of drug abuse:
- Kidney damage and failure
- Liver failure
- Heart disease and failure
- Lung damage
Short-term dangers of drug abuse:
- Memory loss
- Increased blood pressure
- Higher heart rate
- Increased body temperature
The dangers of different drugs
Part of the amphetamine family, methamphetamine is a class A stimulant and can cause negative short term effects such as feeling agitated, paranoid, confused and aggressive. Other short-term effects include increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and unpredictable behaviour. There is evidence that long-term use can cause brain damage. Other long-term effects include damage to blood vessels, liver, kidney and lung damage, severe tooth decay and depression. Continued use can cause a decrease in natural feelings of hunger, which can lead to extreme weight loss and malnutrition.
9% of adults in the UK have taken Ecstasy at least once during their lifetime, and 4% of users are classed as frequent users (more than once a month). Ecstasy is a class A drug, also known as MDMA, the drug produces energising and psychedelic effects. Ecstasy is the second most used drug among young adults, aged 16-24, after cannabis. The short-term effects of ecstasy include a perceived increase in energy levels, a distorted perception of time, hallucinations, blurred vision and muscle cramping. Ecstasy is known to affect the body’s temperature control, increasing the chances of overheating and dehydration. Research into long-term users of ecstasy suggests users can suffer from memory loss, depression and anxiety. Ecstasy has also been linked to liver, kidney and heart problems. There were 97 registered deaths in England and Wales in 2012 involving ecstasy.
Heroin is a class A drug that is manufactured from opium poppies, this highly addictive drug can be smoked, snorted, or injected resulting in dramatic effects. The speed and intense effects of heroin contribute to its harmful nature and addiction. The short-term effects of heroin can include reduced sensation of pain, a decreased body temperature, itchy skin, a sensitivity to light, and confusion. Combining heroin with other substances, particularly sedative or depressant drugs can lead to dangerously low breathing, lack of oxygen to the brain, heart problems, coma, and death. The long-term effects of heroin use can include damaged teeth and gums, a diminished immune system, lack of appetite leading to malnutrition, and sleeping problems. There were 579 registered deaths in England and Wales in 2012 involving heroin.
9% of adults in the UK have taken powder cocaine at least once during their lifetime, and 13% of users are classed as frequent users (more than once a month). Cocaine is a class A stimulant drug with short-lived effects. The short-term effects of cocaine include a perceived increase in energy levels, hypersensitivity to sight, sound and touch, and a temporary lack of appetite and need for sleep. Some cocaine users have reported feelings of anxiety, panic, and paranoia. Some long-term effects of cocaine include malnourishment, movement disorders, loss of smell when snorted, bowel decay when consumed by mouth, and a higher risk of contracting HIV, hepatitis C, and other blood diseases when injected. In 2012, there were 139 deaths involving cocaine in England and Wales.
29% of adults in the UK have said to have taken cannabis at least once in their lifetime, and 39% of users are classed as frequent users (more than once a month). Cannabis is a class B drug and is the most commonly used drug in the UK, followed by cocaine. The short-term effects of cannabis can include anxiety, paranoia, memory loss, and a lack of concentration and motivation. Cannabis has been linked to long-term mental health problems.
Deaths and Hospital Admissions
A survey produced by the Health & Social Care Information Centre, Statistics on Drug Misuse: England, 2014, delivers information on drug misuse among adults and children, and the health outcomes of drug abuse. The results of this survey show that in 2014 there were over 7000 hospital admissions with a primary diagnosis of drug-related mental health and behavioural disorder. There were nearly 14,000 admissions with a primary diagnosis of poisoning by drugs, and there were nearly 2000 deaths related to the misuse of illicit drugs.
DNA Testing for drug use
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