What is Substance Abuse?
Substance abuse refers to maladaptive patterns of substance use (drugs and alcohol) that impair health.
This guidance does not include Alcohol related disorders, which is covered in separate guidance. Click here to go to Alcohol related disorders guidance.
The classification of drugs is complex. Please see the link to DSM 1V Classification at the bottom of the page for a brief summary of the DSM IV (The American Psychiatric Association in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4th edition) classification and definition of terms.
For simplicity, the table below lists the class of drug alphabetically and describes the most commonly abused drugs in the UK.
In the UK, illegal drugs are termed “controlled substances” under the Misuse of Drugs Act and are divided into three different categories, or classes. These classes (A, B and C) carry different levels of penalty for possession and dealing.
The class of drug is not necessarily related to the degree of harm that the drug might cause.
|Class||Drugs||Penalty for possession||Penalty for dealing|
Ecstasy, LSD, heroin, cocaine, crack, magic mushrooms (if prepared for use), amphetamines (if prepared for injection), methamphetamine.
Up to seven years in prison or an unlimited fine or both.
Up to life in prison or an unlimited fine or both
Amphetamines, Methylphenidate (Ritalin), Pholcodine.
Up to five years in prison or an unlimited fine or both.
Up to 14 years in prison or an unlimited fine or both.
Cannabis, tranquillisers, anabolic steroids, Gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB), Ketamine
Up to two years in prison or an unlimited fine or both.
Up to 14 years in prison or an unlimited fine or both
(Correct at May 2008)
Most, although not all of the substances that are abused, are addictive (i.e. they are drugs of dependence). Dependence means that the person has a compulsion to take the drug, increasing difficulty in controlling their drug taking behaviour, often manifested by a progressive neglect of alternative pleasures or interests and an inability to give up despite clear evidence of harmful consequences. Different drugs vary markedly in their liability to produce dependence, which often develops slowly and insidiously as regular drug use continues.
The relative addictiveness of the most common drugs is listed below in descending order of likelihood to cause dependence:
- Street methadone
- Buprenorphine (temgesic)
- Methylphenidate (Ritalin)
- Anabolic steroids
Click on the links for details of:
Amended June 2008