Drug use or abuse by the today’s youth is one of the most difficult social problems which is being faced by our society at present. According to the British Crime Survey (2005), thirty three per cent of men and 21 per cent of women among the group of young people (between the age of 16-24 years), in England and Wales were reported to be taking illicit drugs. Commonly, these drugs are used by the young people either in a manner or a quantity which is different from what is directed by the physician.
When drugs are used in this manner for illegitimate purposes, it is known as drug abuse [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: fourth edition (DSM-IV), 1994]. Drugs being used in this manner include either illicit drugs, which are forbidden by law and prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) drugs which are medically used for different purposes. Excessive drug abuse in the long run can result in development of drug dependence or addiction.
In this dissertation, I shall be discussing about the various commonly abused drugs, the implications of their abuse on the society, and the legal framework and treatment options available against drug addiction in the U. K. I shall be also making a general comparison between UK and Greece in the issue of drugs. Drug abuse and dependence are the two ends of the spectrum of ill effects associated with excessive use of drugs, with the drug abuse being the mildest form and dependence being the most severe form of illness.
Drug abuse has been defined by DSM-IV (1994) as excessive use of drugs which is not for medical indications. Drug abuse is characterized by intense desire to obtain a particular drug, which takes preference over all the other activities of living, resulting in social and interpersonal problems, failure to fulfill obligations at work, school or home, involvement in illegal activities and tendency to continue using drugs even in physically hazardous situations (driving a vehicle), with one or more symptom occurring at least once during the 12 month period.
According to Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: revised fourth edition (DSM-IV-R), 2000 drug dependence is defined as compulsive use of a drug despite development of severe and devastating negative consequences and is associated with three (or more) of the following symptoms occurring at any time in the same 12-month period: development of tolerance towards the drug which is being used, development of withdrawal symptoms when the drug is not consumed, the same drug has to be used to obtain relief from withdrawal symptoms, the substance is consumed in either larger amounts or for longer duration of time than intended, the person has made numerous unsuccessful efforts to control substance use, great deal of time is spent on drug related activities ( e. g. procuring, using or recovering from effects of drugs), important social and occupational activities are given up because of the time spent on substance use and the person continues to use substance despite the knowledge regarding its possible physical or psychological harms. Tolerance to drugs develops when a person has to consume increased quantities of drugs to experience the same desirable symptoms which he had been previously experiencing.
This is so as consumption of same quantity of drug as consumed previously results in diminished symptoms (DSM-IV-R, 2000). Drug dependence causes the body to become physically or physiologically dependent on a particular drug forcing the body to adapt in such a way that when these drugs are stopped or their dose is drastically reduced, a constellation of signs and symptoms (called withdrawal symptoms) develop (DSM-IV-R, 2000). This is often accompanied by development of social deterioration and violent behaviors. Psychological dependence is characterized by the development of intense desire or craving to consume the drugs when their usage is suddenly stopped or their dosage is markedly reduced.
Psychological dependence from abuse of drugs can last much longer in comparison to physical dependence and is one of the major reasons for relapse (Leshner, 1999). On the other hand, drug addiction is characterized by the continued use of a specific drug despite the awareness about its ability to cause physical, psychological or social harm. Addiction is also characterized by compulsive drug -seeking behavior and may or may not be associated with physical dependence (DSM-IV-R, 2000). Drug abuse besides affecting psychological and physical health also disrupts social functioning and can result in increased levels of violence and crime in the society (Leshner, 1999).
Though no single cause can be defined, which leads to drug abuse by young people, social-environmental factors and peer pressure have been thought to be the most important factors which result in drug abuse (Deborah, 1989). Signs pointing towards probable development of drug abuse in young people include: sudden development of prominent changes in behavior, deteriorating relationships with family and friends, development of new group of friends or acquaintances, frequent involvement in unlawful activities like stealing, lying, violence and crime, sudden development of aggressive and violent behavior, reduced performance at school or college and decreased interest in activities which were previously found to be enjoyable etc (Deborah, 1989).