Substance misuse
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Substance misuse


 Content Editor

​What is substance misuse?
Drug and alcohol misuse is a complex issue. While the number of people with a serious problem is relatively small, someone's substance misuse and dependency affects everybody around them.

Public Health England promotes a balanced and ambitious treatment system and will support local commissioners by providing high quality information and intelligence about drugs and alcohol, expertise, bespoke support, and by benchmarking performance and sharing best practice.

Substance abuse covers misuse of a range of mind-altering substances. It can have a severe impact on your functioning as well as your physical health.

Substance abuse or misuse is formally defined as the continued misuse of any mind-altering substance that severely affects a person’s physical and mental health, social situation and responsibilities.

Alcohol dependence is the most common form of substance misuse, but any drug, including heroin, cocaine, crack and cannabis, comes into this category, as does the misuse of glue and aerosols.

Substance abuse may also include smoking cigarettes or drinking excessive amounts of coffee. Although not strictly a form of substance abuse, the eating disorder bulimia nervosa does involve the misuse of food.

Most forms of substance abuse may give you a temporary feeling of wellbeing or of being in control, but all of them can ultimately damage your health.

The most severe forms of substance misuse are normally treated by specialist drug and alcohol rehabilitation services.

For people with mental health problems who are also substance misusers, the mental health team normally encourages contact with a specialist substance misuse service for help. There is also a lot you can do to help yourself.

What leads to substance abuse?
There are many reasons why you may start to use any of these substances. You may begin because of curiosity, rebellion, or influence from peers. You may find the experience enjoyable and want to repeat it. It may start when you are unhappy or stressed or trying to cope with problems in your life.

Drugs, alcohol, nicotine, solvents and even food can start as ‘props’ to help you get through difficult times. But the feelings of relief are only temporary and, as the problems don’t disappear, you may use more and more of these substances and risk becoming dependent on them – which in itself creates new problems. 

All drugs can be divided up according to the main effect they have on users.

Where to get help for drugs
Your GP is a good place to start. They can discuss your problems with you and get you into treatment. They may offer you treatment at the practice or refer you to your local drug service.
 
If you're not comfortable talking to your GP, you can approach your local drug treatment service yourself.
 
Visit the Frank website to find local drug treatment services.

If you're having trouble finding the right sort of help, call the Frank drugs helpline on 0300 123 6600. They can talk you through all your options.

How can we help you?
If you feel you have a substance misuse problem, seek help and advice from your GP.

If you feel you are in mental health crisis, visit our help in a crisis page for advice and support.
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