Substance misuse

Expert guide on alcohol and drug abuse

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Around 3.5 million people used drugs in the last year and 8.2 million people have an alcohol disorder. Alcohol and drug abuse costs the government around £38 billion each year. Substance misuse is a term which refers to alcohol and drug abuse – or the continual misuse of any mind altering substance. The most common problem of this kind is alcohol abuse but people also misuse drugs including heroin, crack, cannabis, cocaine. Social care professionals work with adults and young people who abuse drugs and alcohol – and who may have also have additional problems including mental health problems – and try to help them into drug abuse treatment or treatment to tackle alcohol misuse. Latest news on alcohol and drug abuse

Drug abuse

This government has placed a stronger emphasis on drugs than alcohol and there has been a drugs tsar, local drug action teams, drug abuse treatment orders for those who abuse drugs, a 10-year strategy launched in 1998 and replaced by an updated drugs strategy unveiled in 2002.

In 2008, the government launched another 10-year drug strategy .

The four strands of work within this are:

• Protecting communities through tackling drug supply, drug-related crime and antisocial behaviour

• Preventing harm to children, young people and families affected by drug misuse

• Delivering new approaches to drug treatment and social re-integration

• Public information campaigns, communications and community engagement.

The National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse was set up in April 2001 to increase the availability and effectiveness of treatment for drug abuse in England.

In summer 2008, the independent  UK Drug Policy Commission published Tackling Drug Markets and Distribution Networks in the UK which showed that attempts to tackle the UK’s £5.3bn illegal narcotics market were ineffective.

Scotland has its own new national drugs strategy, launched in May 2008.

The Drugs Bill was published in December 2004.

All you need to know background information about the Drugs Bill

Alcohol abuse

However, in April 2004, alcohol services began to creep further on to the government’s agenda after analysis showed that alcohol abuse was costing £20 billion a year.

An Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy was produced with four key aims:

• To improve the information available to individuals and start a process of change in the culture of drinking to get drunk.
• To better identify and treat alcohol abuse.
• To prevent and tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder and deliver improved services to victims and witnesses.
• To work with the industry in tackling the harms caused by alcohol.

And in June 2008, after rising concern about alcohol intake among teenagers, the government published its Youth Alcohol Action Plan.

The Action Plan sets out the government’s five priorities:

• Stepping up enforcement activity to address young people drinking in public places.

• Taking action with industry on young people and alcohol.

• Developing a national consensus on young people and drinking.

• Establishing a new partnership with parents on teenage drinking.

• Supporting young people to make sensible decisions about alcohol

All you need to know background information about alcohol services


Useful articles and jobs 

Alcohol abuse articles

Drug abuse articles


Alcohol and drug abuse: – Facts and figures

* It is estimated that 20,000 adolescents become adult problem drug users every year

* There are about 10,000 professionals working with people who abuse drugs

* For every £1 spent on drug abuse treatment, at least £9.50 is saved in crime and health costs.

* The number of individuals entering drug treatment programmes in 2004-5 was 89% higher than in 1998.

* Drug-related deaths in England rose from 1,573 in 2006 to 1,752 in 2007. This compares also with 1,388 in 2003, which was the lowest number since 1998.

* Men accounted for 79% of drug-related deaths in 2006 in England and Wales, according to the NHS Information Centre. Hospital admissions in 2006-7 were higher for men: 4,715 compared with 2,019 women.

* Figures released in July 2008 by the Home Office and the Information Centre for Health and Social Care showed a continuing trend downwards in drug use among 11- to 15-year-olds.

* Among 16- to 24-year-olds, the overall use of illicit drugs is at its lowest level since 1995.

* British Crime Survey data for the quarter to September 2007 showed a 21% increase in drug offences. However, this may be partly due to the growing police powers to issue cannabis warnings.

* Average national waiting times for drug abuse treatment fell almost three-quarters between 2001 and 2005 – from 9.1 weeks in December 2001, to 2.4 weeks in September 2005.

*In Scotland between April and June 2007, 70% of those offered and appointment for assessment were offered a date within 14 days of referral. And 88% of those offered an appointment for treatment were offered a date within 14 days of the care plan being agreed.

* Approximately 3.8 million people in England are dependent on alcohol

* Between 780,000 and 1.3 million children affected by parental alcohol problems

* One in 11 children live in a family with alcohol problems

* The Institute of Alcohol Studies estimates that up to 40,000 deaths each year are attributable to alcohol, if falls and accidents are included.

* Alcohol misuse is associated with 150,000 hospital admissions each year

* Alcohol misuse costs the NHS up to £1.7 billion each year

* In 2006 11- to 13-year-olds were consuming on average 10.1 units of alcohol a week. In 2001, the figure was 5.6 units.

Useful links

Alcohol abuse information (Department of Health) – general information about the government’s alcohol policy

Alcohol Concern – alcohol abuse charity

National Association for Children of Alcoholics – advocacy group for children affected by parental drug and alcohol abuse

National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse – health authority, created by the government, to improve the availability and effectiveness of drug abuse treatment

Frank – free confidential drugs information for adolescents and parents

Addaction – charity working with people who abuse drugs and alcohol

DrugScope – independent centre of expertise on drugs

Turning Point – social care charity

Action on Addiction – research charity dedicated to seeking new ways to prevent and treat nicotine, alcohol and drug abuse.

Every Child Matters (substance misuse) – government policy aiming to significantly reduce the numbers of young people affected by substance misuse.


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