Types of drug
The drugs abused by people for a variety of reasons are typically psychoactive drugs, which means they alter one’s behaviour, and also thought process and mood, due to their effects on the central nervous system. These drugs are often classified as hallucinogens, stimulants, or depressants. Legal highs (which are no longer legal) also fall into one of these categories.
Illegal drugs (including former legal highs) are classified legally as category A, B or C with class A being viewed as most serious, and are dangerous and unpredictable as they affect different people in different ways. Click the buttons below to see how illegal drugs are seen in law and also what can happen depending on different drug classes.
Drug addiction can be physical or psychological – we have classed DrugDrive as Physical Health but you should also consider MindDrive and ChangeDrive to understand the mental implications of addiction.
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Facts About Drugs
in 2017 due to drug poisonings including legal medical drugs in England and Wales (ONS)
9% of adults aged 16 to 59 had taken an illegal drug in the last year in England and Wales in 2016-17 (Home Office Crime Survey 2017/18)
reported they have taken drugs in 2016 (up from 15% in 2014) in England (National Statistics on Drug Misuse)
53% of all deaths caused by drugs involve an opiate (heroin being the largest %-age) (ONS)
use in 2017 up from 371 in 2016 in England and Wales (ONS)
8.4% of young adults aged 16 to 24 have taken Class A drugs in England and Wales in 2017, up from 6.8% in 2007/08 and compared to 3.5% of all adults aged 19-59 (Home Office Crime Survey 2017/18)
was the Home Office estimate for the cost of illicit drug use in the UK in 2010/11 (Public Health England)
17% of state prisoners in the US reported they committed their crimes to obtain money to buy drugs (Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring ADAM II study in US 2013)
Do you have a drug problem?
You may have a problem, even though you believe that you can quit any time you like. Many people are unaware they have crossed the line from habitual use to addiction . It's only when you try to cut down or quit that you find you are unable to.
Many drugs are very addictive, including heroin, cocaine and crystal meth, but so are many prescription medications. You can develop an addiction even if you have been prescribed a medication by a doctor.
If you are worried about your drug use, you should consider your drug-taking carefully and watch for the signs of drug abuse and addiction. Think about how often you take drugs and whether you're taking more than you used to get the same effect.
Check if you're neglecting other responsibilities in favour of taking drugs. Are your family and friends commenting about your behaviour? Are you continuing to take drugs even though it's causing people you love real problems? If so, maybe you have a problem that needs to be addressed.
Are you worried someone you know has a drugs problem?
Look at the information in the tab below.
Click on any of the tabs on the right to see more information
Our most used drug is caffeine, in tea, coffee, colas, and further in some confectionery. Excluding medicines, the next is alcohol, followed by nicotine from cigarettes. The most common illegal drug is cannabis, followed by cocaine and ecstasy (MDMA).
Stimulants affect the central nervous system and cause feelings of extreme well-being, increased mental and motor activity. Examples include cocaine, crack cocaine, amphetamines (speed) and ecstasy (which is also a hallucinogen).
Depressants are chemicals that slow down the central nervous system and suppress brain activity causing relief from anxiety. The most common depressants are alcohol and cannabis. Others include barbiturates and benzodiazepines (e.g. valium, xanax, temazepam).
Opiate and opioid drugs provide pain relief, euphoria, sedation and in increasing doses induce coma. Examples include heroin, morphine, opium, methadone, dipipanone and pethidine.
Hallucinogens affect a person’s perception of reality. These include cannabis, LSD, ecstasy and psilocybin (magic mushrooms).
New psychoactive substances (illegal highs) These are synthetic substances created to try to mimic the effects of existing drugs in the categories above, to get around the law. They used to be called 'legal highs' but all such substances have been deemed illegal since May 2016 and the Psychoactive Substances Act.Most have unknown effects in addition to their intended effect, and trying them is therefore extremely hazardous.
The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) produce regular reports, and this chart from the UK Country Drug Report 2018 shows the use by young people in England and Wales in 2017.
Click on any of the tabs on the right to see more information
Drug Use in the UK
There are reports on drug usage published by NHS Digital based on work by the Office of National Statistics - you can download these below. This chart is from this report and shows the position with drugs in the UK in 2017.
This report states that overall drug use in the United Kingdom although stable for the last three years is less than the level of 10 years ago. In general, MDMA / ecstasy users are younger than cocaine and amphetamines users.
A more up to date report dated March 2020 before the pandemic really started can be seen below. It said there had been no overall change in drug use or class A use in the least year. In terms of people who had taken a drug in the last year,1 in 5 people aged 16-24 had, 1 in 11 people aged 16 -59 had, and only 1% of people aged 60-74 had.
Cannabis remains the most popular drug in the UK, followed by powder cocaine.
Click on any of the tabs on the right to see more information
Drug use in Europe
Courtesy of Statista - figures from 2019
Cannabis is the most widely used drug in Europe, with over a quarter of people using it at some point in their lives. Cocaine is next, with just under 5% using it in their life, then MDMA with 3.6% having used it.
"Spain and France had the highest number of cannabis users in Europe, followed by Italy and Holland.
In terms of problem drug use, the Czech Republic is highest with 12.1 per 1,000 inhabitants, followed by Holland (11.9), Spain (11.5) and France (11.4). The UK is 9th with 8.7 per 1,000 inhabitants.
Problem drug use is defined by the source as injecting drug use or regular use of opioids, cocaine or amphetamines.
Britain had the highest share of the population who had used cocaine in the last 12 months at 2.7% of the population, followed by Spain and Holland.
Sweden was the the copuntry in Europe with the highest incidence of drug deaths (81 per million popluation).
Drug use in USA
Courtesy of CDC WONDER site - figures from 2019
In 2019 nearly 50,000 people in the USA died from opioid-involved overdoses. This includes prescription pain killers as well heroin and synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
"This started to increase in 2017 - pharmaceutical companies had been telling people from the 1990s that patients would not become addicted to prescription pain killers and the medical profession prescribed them in greater numbers.
This has become a public health crisis in the USA in its own right, as well as increasing the spread of infectious diseases including HIV and hepatitis C.
Some figures and statistics sourced from NIH, the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.”
Some other facts:
- Roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.
- Between 8 and 12 percent of people using an opioid for chronic pain develop an opioid use disorder.
- An estimated 4 to 6 percent who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin.
- About 80 percent of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.
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Feeding the habit: Crime and drug addiction : Drugsland
BBC video on a drug user
This video from the BBC shows the police pursuing a habitual drug user and burgler.
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Your Drug May Be Your Problem
The only book to provide an uncensored description of the dangers involved in taking every kind of psychiatric medication, it was also the first and only book to explain how to safely stop taking them.
Illegal Drug Use in the United Kingdom
Prevention, Treatment and Enforcement (Routledge Revivals)
First published in 1999, Illegal Drug Use in the United Kingdom provides a comprehensive review of information and interventions available in drug misuse in order to inform local drug policies.
New Guide to Medicine and Drugs
The Complete Home Reference to Over 3,000 Medicines
Filled with a wealth of pharmaceutical knowledge, you can explore over-the-counter, prescribed, and illicit medicines and drugs.
Drug Use for Grown-Ups
Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear
From one of the world’s foremost experts on the subject, a powerful argument that the greatest damage from drugs flows from their being illegal, and a hopeful reckoning with the possibility of their use as part of a responsible and happy life.
The gender dimension of non-medical use of prescription drugs in Europe and the Mediterranean region
In recent years, the non-medical use of prescription drugs (NMUPD) has caused increasing public concern around the globe. Women constitute a special risk category for NMUPD and understanding gender as it relates to this phenomenon is now a critical requirement for effective policy and practice.
Understand the mental health effects of drug / alcohol misuse – Mind, the mental health charity
The National Crime Agency has information about the threats posed by illegal drugs
Drugs can affect your mental health. Rethink have information on this and what you can do about it.
The Mental Health Foundation have a section on how different drugs affect your mental health
Download the Mind booklet on understanding the mental health impacts of recreational drugs and alcohol.
Read the paper ‘Addiction and Substance misuse pathways by Gordon Morse, Chief Medical Officer of Turning Point, a health and social care organisation, which describes the cost to health services of drug (and alcohol) abuse and the options for treatment in an easy to read set of slides.
The report Highways and Buyways is a snapshot of the UK drug scene in 2016 by DrugWise. It is a very hard-hitting story describing what happened on the streets at that time. Don’t download unless you are prepared for the full story – warts and all.
The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction produce the European Drug Report 2021 – download it here