Drug Addiction: Causes, Effects, & Treatment | Detox Plus UK

Drug addiction in the UK and around the world is a pressing issue that affects individuals from all walks of life.

With its profound impact on physical and mental health, as well as society as a whole, understanding and addressing drug addiction is paramount.

In this blog post, we will delve into the complexities of drug addiction, shedding light on its causes, consequences, and the available avenues for treatment and support. Whether you or someone you know is grappling with drug addiction or if you seek to broaden your knowledge on this topic, this comprehensive guide aims to provide valuable insights and resources.

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What is drug addiction?

Learning how drug abuse and addiction develop—and why it can have such a powerful hold—will give you a better understanding of how to best deal with the problem and regain control of your life.

The three stages of drug addiction: 

  1. Preoccupation /anticipation
  2. Binge/intoxication
  3. Withdrawal /negative effects 1

These are the main components of the addiction cycle. Each stage leads to the next with a certain inevitability, as the affected person becomes powerless in their struggle to stop taking drugs 1

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As the brain changes over time to adapt to an ever-increasing exposure to drugs, alcohol or behaviour, the brain’s reward system shifts from positive reinforcement motivation to negative reinforcement motivation. At this point, the addicted brain prioritises the drug or behaviour above basic human needs, such as love, connection, shelter and even food 2

When an addicted person experiences a negative consequence resulting from their drug use, they may well want to stop using drugs. However, the alterations to the brain circuits and its neuroplasticity compel them to continue in their drug-seeking and taking behaviour, regardless of the risks and possible consequences involved 3

Even when a person manages to stop taking drugs and detox, the changes to the brain are long-lasting and remain. These changes drive a person to experience frequent relapses in their disease.

Drug addiction can be effectively treated through drug detoxification (clearing the body and brain of the addictive substance), rehabilitation (addressing thoughts and behaviours related to addiction and their underlying causes), aftercare (addressing environmental issues, social issues, personal relationships, occupational issues and financial issues) and continued personal growth in the maintenance stage of recovery. 

The key to long-lasting recovery is change. A person must make profound changes to their life, coping mechanisms, thought processes and behaviour to avoid addiction relapse.

Signs & symptoms of drug addiction

The DSM-5 sets out the symptoms of drug addiction, which professionals use to diagnose the deadly disorder.

Symptoms of drug addiction include: 

  • Compulsion – compulsively seeking and taking drugs
  • Loss of control – regularly losing control of drug-taking 
  • Preoccupation – continually think about and plan where and when to get and take drugs.
  • Continuation despite negative consequences – continuing to take drugs despite suffering adverse consequences socially, mentally, physically and occupationally. 
  • Progression – building a tolerance to drugs, taking increasing amounts of drugs or more substantial types of medicines, or progressing from smoking to injecting. 
  • Craving – physically and mentally craving drugs
  • Relapse –  drug addiction is a chronic relapsing disease. A person attempting to stop taking drugs will often experience relapse. Relapse is a constant threat to a person who finds recovery.  
  • Excessive time spent using or recovering from drug use – a person addicted to drugs will have their life consumed by drugs, to the point that they will show little interest or invest time in anything else 4

Drug addiction is also often accompanied by drug dependence. Physically, a person suffering from drug dependence will need to take drugs frequently to avoid drug withdrawal symptoms. 

Drug withdrawal symptoms develop when a person addicted misses a regular dose of drugs or becomes tolerant of the amount of medications they are taking. Drug withdrawal symptoms are easy to spot; they disappear with the use of more drugs.

A further set of symptoms manifests in addictive behaviours. If you are worried about a family member’s drug use and wonder if they are addicted, spotting these behavioural symptoms will give you the confidence to challenge them and hopefully get them professional help. 

Behavioural characteristics of a drug addict include: 

  • Secrecy – Hiding the number of drugs they use
  • Dishonesty – Frequently lying to cover up drug use
  • Problems with your relationships – such as fights with your friends and family members
  • Frequent intoxication – a person addicted to drugs will frequently be intoxicated
  • Denial – Denying they have a problem with drugs and maintaining they have control (even when it’s evident to all around them they have lost control) 5
  • Frequent mood swings – one minute, they may be deficient and anxious; the next, they are energetic and euphoric.
  • Committing crime – As addiction progresses, a person with an addiction may commit a crime to get money for their drugs, or a crime may be achieved if drugs are in your system at work or when driving. 
  • Loss of interest in things they used to enjoy – AA people with an addiction will be so consumed by their drug use that they lose interest in hobbies, sports, work and spending time with family and friends.
  • Social withdrawal –  addiction causes social withdrawal. A sufferer will gradually disconnect themselves from family and other significant relationships.
  • You use to avoid or relieve withdrawal symptoms – You may witness a person sweating excessively, shaking, suffering frequent stomach upsets and cold and flu-like symptoms.

How drug addiction progresses


Much like any chronic disease, drug addiction is progressive and presents in levels of severity. The longer it goes untreated, the more severe the consequences tend to be to the sufferer and their family. 

Treatment programmes need to be entirely bespoke to account for the severity of the addiction, as presented in each person. For example, a person addicted to drugs but still able to hold down a job and function in society will not require as intensive aftercare support as a person who has lost the ability to work, is in the criminal justice system and is homeless. This is always worth bearing in mind when considering an adequate drug treatment programme 6

Why do some people become addicted to drugs?

Suffering from drug addiction is as confusing for the person afflicted as it is for those who love and care for them. Sadly, despite significant scientific advances, there is still a considerable lack of understanding among the general public. 

Even in recovery circles, there can still be an air of judgment when a recovered person relapses back into active addiction or when a person cannot get clean and sober. Often, they are told by their peers that they didn’t do enough, didn’t try hard enough, or didn’t want sufficient recovery. Let’s put this right straight away: drug addiction is not a choice, nor is it the consequence of poor morals, lack of willpower or lack of knowledge. 

No one, growing up, thinks to themselves – ‘I know, I want to be a drug addict when I grow up. I want to destroy everything I touch and cause indescribable emotional pain by hating myself and hurting all those who love.’

Why is it that two different people raised in the same household, treated in the same way and presented with the same morals can react completely differently when taking drugs? Why is it that some people can use drugs yet not become addicted? Why is it that some people become addicted so quickly and easily? What is the common factor that causes substance abuse?

Firstly, it is essential to realise that everyone is unique and different when answering these pertinent questions. Therefore, their reasons for becoming addicted can also be very different. There is no single cause or reason for a person becoming addicted to drugs. 

What causes drug addiction?

No one knows why precisely one person can become addicted to drugs whilst another does not. However, certain risk factors for developing it have been identified. The more risk factors a person has, the higher their chances of developing an addiction.

Risk factors for drug addiction include:

Genetics – Genetics have been identified as contributing to around half of a person’s risk for developing an addiction. Mental health illness, gender and ethnicity can also be contributing risk factors relating to a person’s genetics.

Environment – Many factors relating to a person’s environment can contribute to them developing an addiction. Environmental factors for substance abuse include Early exposure to drugs in the home, poor parenting from primary caregivers, peer pressure, economic status, trauma, physical or sexual abuse and stress. 

Teenage drug use –

The earlier a person starts to use drugs, the greater the likelihood of developing substance abuse. This is especially true of teenagers as the human brain continues to grow until age 25 years old 7. Abusing drugs during the teenage years can significantly impact a child’s development socially, mentally and educationally. Substance abuse during developmental years can also affect how the brain develops, as drug use impacts areas of the brain that control impulse, decision making and judgement. In teenagers, young people are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviours such as trying drugs and not considering the consequences.8

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Drug and alcohol misuse around children can be a leading factor in a child developing an addiction.

Commonly abused recreational drugs

Certain drugs can cause a physical drug dependence to develop – fast! Addictive prescription drugs are well known for leading to drug dependence.

In 2019, Public Health England called for an urgent landmark review of the following types of commonly prescribed addictive drugs after it was revealed that as many as 1 in 4 adults (26% of the adult population) could be addicted to prescription medications. The purpose of the review was to implement safer prescribing guidelines. Sadly, for many, this review came too little, too late. 11

The most addictive prescription drugs include:

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In addition to addictive prescription drugs, illicit drugs such as cannabis, heroin, illegal opioids, crack cocaine, Cocaine, and ice (crystal meth) all commonly lead to drug addiction.

Frequent heroin or alcohol use can lead to drug or alcohol dependence. While stimulant drugs such as Cocaine incite such a profound euphoric high, users will repeatedly seek to feel the experience.

Cannabis is known to be the most commonly abused drug around the world. Research indicates that up to 30 per cent of cannabis users may suffer from a substance use disorder. 12

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The Latest Facts on Drug Addiction

  • Each year, around two-thirds of all drug poisoning deaths are caused by drug misuse. In 2018, in England and Wales, there were 2,917 deaths relating to drug misuse; out of a total of 4,359 drug poisoning deaths, 14
  • The rate of drug misuse deaths recorded for England and Wales is two and a half times more for males than females 14
  • The National Records of Scotland reported that the number of drug-related deaths recorded in Scotland in 2019 was 6% higher than the previous year. 2019 recorded a total of 1,264 drug-related deaths, 15

Drug use statistics for the UK

  • In 2018/2019, Cannabis was the most widely used drug in the UK 16
  • In 2018/2019, Cocaine was the second most commonly used drug in the UK 16
  • In 2018/2019, around 1 in 25 adults in the UK had taken a Class A drug in the past year, 16
  • In 2018/2019, 8.7% of young adults (aged 16 to 24) had taken a Class A drug in the past year 16

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Getting help for addiction

We at Detox Plus specialise in drug addiction treatment, following the recommended treatment approaches and principles of effective treatment.

There are three main stages to effectively treating drug addiction, they are:

  1. Drug Detoxification – A medical detox is provided using approved pharmaceutical medications and high medical and therapeutic supervision and monitoring levels. A Drug detox safely removes the addictive substance from the body so that the body and brain are clear of intoxication and addictive chemical influences. 
  2. Drug Rehabilitation – Using evidence-based treatment methods, the principles of effective addiction treatment are applied through a bespoke intensive drug rehabilitation programme 13
  3. Addiction Treatment Aftercare – Ongoing supportive measures are applied to ensure the person feels supported on leaving treatment and is assisted back into society, using what they have learned 13

For some who suffer from drug addiction, residential addiction treatment is necessary to break the addictive cycle. 

Our drug rehabs provide a safe space for a person to undergo Detox and intensive rehabilitation therapy, addressing the root causes of their addiction and healing them.

Treatment in drug rehab is delivered by qualified therapists, counsellors, nurses and doctors. All of whom are committed to helping you or your loved one make a full and lasting recovery from addiction.

Relapse prevention techniques and coping mechanisms are instilled in all of our patients to give them the very best chance in life and recovery,

If you are worried about your drug use or the drug use of someone you love, get in touch with us, and we will be able to offer advice and support.

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