Alcohol and drugs

Pint of beer  Man looking at tablets while holding his head

Alcohol and drugs are the two most common addictions people battle on a daily basis.

The Northern Trust Addiction Service aims to offer help, guidance and advice to those who are experiencing problems with alcohol and drugs by providing an individually tailored, non-judgemental, confidential and accessible service.


Alcohol is popularly consumed in the UK and is the nation’s drug of choice. Alcohol in moderation can be part of a healthy balanced diet, however it can be easily misused.

Alcohol is a casual factor in more than 60 medical conditions including mouth, throat, stomach, liver and breast cancer; high blood pressure, cirrhosis of the liver and depression. In 2010, alcohol use was the third leading risk factor contributing to the global burden of disease after high blood pressure and tobacco smoking.

Alcohol misuse costs in the UK are over 21bn per year in health care, crime and lost productivity costs. It is estimated that in Northern Ireland £680m is spent annually addressing alcohol misuse. This includes costs to healthcare, policing, probation and prison services, social services and workplaces (though absenteeism).

In the UK there were nearly 9,000 deaths directly related to alcohol in the UK. There were 1.2m alcohol related hospital admissions in the UK in 2011/2012. In Northern Ireland there were 284 alcohol related deaths registered in 2010.

The Department of Health recommends that people follow sensible drinking guidelines to control and monitor the amount of alcohol they drink and to ensure that they are not at risk of binge drinking.


Drug use occurs in all classes and communities even though the drugs used and the way they are used varies from area to area. The latest statistics from the Crime Survey for England/Wales 2011/2012 suggest that cannabis is the drug most likely to be used. Powered cocaine is the next most commonly used drug following with ecstasy.

In Northern Ireland cannabis use is also most commonly used within all Health and Social Care Trusts. (Drug Prevalence Survey 2010/11: Regional Drug Task Force (Ireland) and Health & Social Care Trust Northern Ireland Results).

People take drugs for a wide range of reasons such to feel more confident and excited. Others use drugs to relax and possibly to forget about their problems and possibly to numb pain whether physical or emotional.

The effect of drugs depends on the type of drug taken. Depressant drugs such as anti-depressants, solvents and cannabis act of the central nervous system and slow down brain activity and the way the body works. Stimulant drugs such as speed and cocaine have the opposite effect and speed up the brain and how the body works. Hallucinogen drugs such as magic mushrooms and LSD act of the mind, distorting the way users see and hear things. Opiate drugs such as heroin, morphine and codeine have a pain killing effect and reduce pain.

There are a number of risks from taking drugs and if you are worried about someone you know and suspect that they may be taking drugs there are various signs of drug use that you can look out for.

There are a number of organisations which deliver support and help for those concerned about drugs or alcohol issues, as well as offering a variety of education programmes for young people and adults on alcohol and drugs.

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Page last updated:05 June 2017