Drug Addiction

Drug addiction can cause substantial harm to your physical and mental health, your relationships, your career, your finances, and your quality of life, but it is treatable.

Drug addiction treatment

Types of Drug

A range of substances have the potential for misuse and ultimately addiction. Some are illegal; however, others are legal and may be prescribed by medical professions.

Drugs are classified according to their effects on the body and brain.


Drugs that suppress the activity of the central nervous system, creating a calming or sedating effect. Depressants include alcohol, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and GHB.


Drugs that accelerate the activity of the central nervous system, making you feel alert, energetic, excited, and talkative. But they can also make you feel edgy, angry, and paranoid. Stimulants include cocaine, crack cocaine, amphetamine, methamphetamine, and ecstasy (also a hallucinogen).


Drugs which act on the central nervous system to alter your perception of reality, time and space. This can include hallucinations, feelings of insight, mystical experiences, and mood swings—but these experiences are not necessarily positive and can be frightening (“bad trips”). Hallucinogens are also called psychedelics and include psilocybin (magic mushrooms), LSD, peyote and DMT.


Substances that act on opioid receptors, blocking pain and creating feelings of pleasure, dreaminess, and drowsiness. They’re used for anaesthesia and often prescribed to people following surgeries or serious accidents or to manage long-term pain conditions. But mis-used, they can cause addiction. Opioids include heroin, morphine, fentanyl, codeine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, buprenorphine, and methadone.

Other types of drugs include inhalants, cannabis, and new psychoactive substances (NPS), including ketamine, synthetic cannabinoids and khat.

Meanwhile, in the UK, illegal drugs are organised into three different classes, depending on their potential for harm and abuse. Penalties for possessing and supplying illicit drugs depend on their classification.

Class Drug Penalty for Possession Penalty for supply and production
A crack cocaine, cocaine, ecstasy (MDMA), heroin, LSD, magic mushrooms, methadone, methamphetamine (crystal meth) up to 7 years in prison, unlimited fine, or both up to life in prison, unlimited fine or both
B amphetamines, barbiturates, cannabis, codeine, methylphenidate (Ritalin), synthetic cannabinoids, synthetic cathinones (e.g. mephedrone, methoxetamine), ketamine up to 5 years in prison, unlimited fine, or both up to 14 years in prison, unlimited fine or both
C Anabolic steroids, benzodiazepines (diazepam), gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB), gamma-butyrolactone (GBL), piperazines (BZP), khat up to 2 years in prison, unlimited fine, or both (exception anabolic steroids—it’s not an offence to possess them for personal use) up to 14 years in prison, unlimited fine or both

However, not all misused drugs are illegal, and the legality of a drug doesn’t necessarily reflect its risks and addiction potential. Some of the most addictive and dangerous drugs, including opioids and benzodiazepines, have medicinal uses and some people become dependent on or addicted to them after being legitimately prescribed them.

What is drug addiction?

Drug addiction is a physical and psychological dependence on a substance—whether legal or illegal. It’s a chronic disease of the brain, characterised by compulsive cravings for the substance, withdrawal when the substance is discontinued, and inability to stop taking the substance despite harmful effects.

Drug Abuse Symptoms

Different drugs will produce different specific symptoms, but general symptoms of drug abuse include:

  • regular consumption of drugs, including in larger amounts over longer periods of time than intended
  • inability to stop taking the substance despite negative consequences
  • increased tolerance for the drug
  • physical and mental withdrawal symptoms when the drug is discontinued
  • cravings for the drug
  • devoting a large amount of time to obtaining, taking, and recovering from use of the drug
  • missing work, neglecting relationships, and failing to meet other obligations due to drug use
  • loss of interest in activities that don’t involve use of the drug
  • hiding use of the drug from family and friends
  • lashing out at people who identify and object to the mis-use of the substance
  • an altered physical appearances, including neglected personal hygiene
  • engaging in risky behaviour, both to procure the drug and while under the influence of it

Withdrawal Symptoms

Addicts become physically and psychologically dependent on the substance they abuse and experience withdrawal symptoms when they cease taking it. Withdrawal from different drugs will produce different symptoms.

However, common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • anxiety
  • irritability
  • depression
  • tremors and shaking
  • nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • poor concentration
  • poor memory
  • loss of appetite
  • sweating
  • insomnia

Withdrawal from some substances, including alcohol and benzodiazepines, can be very dangerous, even fatal, and should only be done under medical supervision. Symptoms of withdrawal from these substances include:

  • delirium tremens (DTs)
  • grand mal seizures
  • heart attacks
  • strokes
  • hallucinations

Treatment for Drug Addiction

The first step of treatment is detoxing from the drug you have been mis-using and managing any withdrawal symptoms. After you’re clear of the drug and its effects—or in the case of some heroin addictions, switched to a substitute like methadone or buprenorphine—you can begin the process of recovering from the addiction, also called rehabilitation.

There are a range of treatment options for addictions, depending on the drug and the individual. Often treatment plans will expose you to several of these strategies.

  • talking therapies, including CBT
  • medication and drug-based therapies (especially for heroin addiction)
  • treatment of co-occurring psychological issues, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD
  • support groups
  • NADH therapy: NADH is a chemical that occurs naturally in the body and plays a role in reducing fatigue and ageing and increasing cognition. It can be administered intravenously to help people going through detoxification and suffering with addiction.

Additional therapies which may be taken in addition to these treatments include exercise, meditation, yoga, mindfulness, nutritional support, art therapy, and other alternative treatments.

Some of these treatments may be initially undertaken in outpatient or inpatient rehab centres, after which the patient may transfer to a sober living facility before returning to their daily life.

Those who have experienced drug addiction will require long-term follow-up care, to help them rebuild their lives and ensure they don’t relapse.

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