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What is substance misuse?

Substance misuse is the continuous use of drugs or alcohol regardless of the negative consequences to the user, their family, friends and the community.

What can cause substance misuse?

Substance use often starts when people are young and can be influenced by friends and family. Most people who use drugs don't go on to become dependent, but those that do can cause serious harm to themselves and their families. While initially they may have enjoyed the effects, they may find it increasingly difficult to enjoy life without substance use.

There are many reasons why people choose to use drugs and alcohol, some people may find that substance use helps them to deal with difficulties in their lives, and this can often lead to increased use. This may then cause problems for the users health, finances or within their relationships influencing them to use more, creating a vicious circle.

Some people use substances to manage physical or emotional pain, often providing short term relief, but leaving long term negative consequences.

Drugs change the way you think, feel or behave. Some reasons people might want to take them include:

• Recreational use - to bring feelings of excitement and confidence • Experimental • Coping mechanism - as a means of escape to forget problems and anxieties • Normalised - with peers where using substances is part of usual lifestyle behaviour

What problems are caused by substance misuse?

Substance misuse can have severe consequences to the individuals physical and mental health, it can lead to family breakdown, financial difficulty, homelessness, arrest, unemployment and in some instances death.

Health Risks of Drug taking

Many websites offer information on drugs and their effects, but it is essential that you get hold of information that is responsible, reliable, honest and trustworthy. The Frank website has a wealth of information on a vast extent of drugs including their effects and dangers. Take a look at some of our helpful links for a more detailed look at specific drugs and their effects, below we list a few health effects caused by a number of common drugs.


How does cannabis affect your health? Cannabis can impact on your mental health causing feelings of anxiety and paranoia, regular use has also been associated with psychotic illnesses and you are more at risk if you have a family history of mental health problems. Cannabis affects how your brain works, so regular use can make concentration and learning very difficult. Mixing it with tobacco is likely to increase the risk of heart disease and when smoked can lead to lung diseases including asthma and lung cancer. Studies have found frequent use can have an affect on your fertility.

Cannabis is addictive; it is possible to become psychologically dependent on cannabis. And some people do experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking it.


How does cocaine affect your health? Taking cocaine is particularly risky if you have high blood pressure or already have a heart condition. If you've had previous mental health problems, it can increase the chance of these returning. If you snort cocaine, it can damage the cartilage of your nose. If you inject it, you are at higher risk of dying due to an overdose, and your veins and body tissues can be seriously damaged. If you share needles, you put yourself at risk of catching HIV or viral hepatitis. It is possible to die from an overdose from Cocaine as it can overstimulate the heart and nervous system, which can lead to a heart attack. Taking cocaine when you're pregnant can damage your baby. It may cause miscarriage, premature labour and low birth weight.

Cocaine is highly addictive and can cause a very strong psychological dependence.


How does mephedrone affect your health? Mephedrone can overstimulate your heart and nervous system. It can cause periods of insomnia, and its use can lead to fits and to agitated and hallucinatory states. It can also make you feel paranoid and anxious. It causes vomiting and headaches in some users. It has been identified as the cause of a number of deaths.


How does ecstasy affect your health? Taking ecstasy can also cause anxiety, confusion, paranoia and even psychosis. Long-term use has been linked with memory problems and depression. Ecstasy use affects the body's temperature control and can lead to dangerous overheating and dehydration. But a balance is important as drinking too much fluid can also be very dangerous for the brain, particularly because ecstasy tends to stop your body producing enough urine, so your body retains the fluid.

Ecstasy can be addictive, as users can develop a psychological dependence on this drug. It is also possible to build up a tolerance to the drug and a need to take more and more in order to get the same effect.


How does speed affect your health? Can make you agitated and aggressive, and can cause confusion, paranoia and even psychosis. You can also become very depressed and lethargic for hours or days after a period of heavy use. Taking speed can be dangerous for the heart, as it can cause high blood pressure and heart attacks. It can be more risky if mixed with alcohol, or if used by people with blood pressure or heart problems. Injecting speed is particularly dangerous, as death can occur from overdose. Speed is usually very impure and injecting it can cause damage to veins and tissues, which can also lead to serious infections in the body and bloodstream. Any sharing of injecting equipment adds the risk of catching hepatitis C and HIV and AIDS.

Regular use of amphetamines can become highly addictive.


How does Heroin affect your health? Overdoses can lead to coma and even death - as it can cause respiratory failure, You can quickly build some tolerance to heroin but if you then stop using just for a few days, your tolerance will rapidly drop leading to a risk of overdose if you simply take the high dose you previously took. If heroin is taken with other drugs, including alcohol an overdose is more likely. There's also a risk of death due to inhaling vomit because heroin sedates you and stops you coughing properly. Injecting heroin can do serious damage to your veins and arteries and has been known to lead to gangrene (death of body tissue, usually a finger, toe or a limb) and to infections. Any sharing of injecting equipment adds the risk of catching hepatitis C, HIV and AIDS.

Heroin is highly addictive and people can quickly become very dependent on it.

Glues, Gases and Aerosols

Because glues, gases and aerosols are everyday household items some people think they are safe to use, but they're not. Abusing glues, gases and aerosols killed more 10-15 year olds than illegal drugs combined. They can kill the first time they are used.

Tolerance can build up within a few weeks in regular users, so you might need to use more to achieve the same effects. You can become psychologically dependent on volatile substances.

'Legal Highs'

What are 'legal highs'? New psychoactive substances commonly known as 'Legal highs' are substances which have similar effects to illegal drugs (such as cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy) but that are not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act. These new substances are not yet controlled as there is not enough research about them available.

'Legal highs' cannot be sold for human consumption so they are often sold as bath salts or plant food to get round the law. Just the fact that a substance is sold as legal to possess, doesn't mean that it's safe, they can carry serious health risks. 'Legal highs', like mephedrone, Ivory Wave and 5-IT, have been directly linked to emergency hospital admissions and, in some cases, deaths.

Some drugs marketed as legal highs actually contain some ingredients that are illegal to possess.

The main effects of almost all 'psychoactive' drugs, including 'legal highs', can be described using three main categories:

• Stimulants 'legal high' - amphetamines can make you overconfident and disinhibited, and can induce feelings of anxiety, panic, confusion, paranoia and can even cause psychosis. They can put a strain on your heart and nervous system. You may feel quite low for a while after stopping using them.

• 'Downers' or sedative 'legal highs' - act like benzodiazepines, cannabis or GHB/GBL, in that they can make you feel relaxed or sleepy and reduce concentration and slow down your reactions. They can make you feel lethargic, or forgetful, and can make you physically unsteady and at risk of accidents. They may cause unconsciousness, coma and death, particularly when mixed with alcohol and/or with other 'downer' drugs.

• Psychedelic or hallucinogenic 'legal highs' act like LSD, magic mushrooms and ketamine. They create altered perceptions and can make you hallucinate. They can interfere with your judgement, which could put you at risk of acting carelessly or dangerously, and of hurting yourself, particularly in an unsafe environment.

Many of these risks are increased if the 'legal high' is combined with alcohol or with another psychoactive drug.

For further information about new psychoactive substances 'Legal Highs' please take a look at 'legal highs'.

If you or someone you know has a problem with drugs please call the Shropshire Recovery Partnership on 01743 294 700.


If you would like further information, please consult the 'helpful links' section on this page.

Fact Zone

BZP was mentioned in the British Crime Survey for the first time in 2010. Around 23,000 people aged 16–59 reported using the substance in the last year.
The first ecstasy death was recorded in 1989 and since then, there have been over 300 deaths. One of the most widely reported drug deaths was Leah Betts who died from the effects of water intoxication, believing that drinking lots of water would protect her from the possible side effects of ecstasy.
VSA can kill, you can never know what effects gases, glues and aerosols will have so sniffing is dangerous. It kills more young people aged 10 -16 than any illegal drug. It can kill a user instantly on their first attempt.
With no quality control of illegal drugs, you can never be sure of what’s in the substance you’re taking. It could be cut with cheaper drugs like tranquilisers or even toxic substances such as drain cleaner.
The drugs that cause most harm to the individual, families and the wider community are heroin and crack. These drugs account for most of the cost of drug Treatment and drug enforcement and are the drugs most likely to generate crime in order to fund drug purchase.


Helpful Links