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Updated: 08/02/2019

Published: 07/01/2019

A Guide to drug addiction. Have you ever been addicted?

She woke up gasping for air, heart racing and a dull ringing in her head. Cold chills and flu-like aches wracked her entire body as the same background music played in her head.


“Just a little bit won’t hurt”.


No amount of counseling or awareness really prepares you for the onslaught of withdrawal.

This happened most nights to Elaine. 

Other times it was the same routine, but followed by intense vomiting. Sometimes she would cough up blood too. Elaine was 22 and this was how her body was reacting after she had quit cold turkey after four years of intense intravenous substance abuse. Her poison was heroin and she had finally made the call to get clean.

Picture of sad young lady who has taken drugsElaine was 17 when she first tried Heroin with her boyfriend Jack 26. 


However, Elaine is not alone in her struggle; there is a prevalence of substance abuse globally. Just imagine, out of every 20 people, at least one is suffering from a drug related dependency. Drug dependencies and related disorders are highest in the United States and Eastern Europe with an alarming 5 to 6 percent of the population affected.

How did it get to this? Drug related crime is in many cases harshly punished, so why is there no deterrence in the increasing rates of drug abuse? Or maybe the penalties are not harsh enough?


According to the “World Drug Report”, released in June 2018 by United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) the world is facing a drug crisis. A record global figure of 164 million people were facing drug or alcohol related addictions in 2016.


The abuse of prescription drugs has been on the rise in the last ten years as well. However, at its current rating it has evolved into a major threat to public health worldwide. The most harmful medications so far are opioids, medically prescribed for pain treatment/management. Opioids account for 76% of prescription drug abuse related deaths.


The “problem drug” for most of North America, Britain and Australia remains Fentanyl and its various equivalents. While the usage of Fentanyl is significantly higher in North America, the drug is a headache for law enforcement in most first world countries.


swayr says:

"Drug misuse is a major social issue in many developed countries. Especially in the US, UK, AUS and CA. 

Take our poll and read swayr's ultimate guide to social issues:  What will be the most important social issue this year in your opinion?


Also take our poll on: Should Cannabis be legalised for medical use or is it open to abuse?



What actually is a drug addiction?

Addiction qualifies as “severe substance abuse”. According to the fifth edition of “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the inconclusive terminology of substance abuse has been replaced with a lengthier category of “substance use disorders”.

There are three levels,

  • Mild
  • Moderate
  • Severe

Based on the extent of use, if an individual faces clinical and functional impairment of health and mind, it is regarded as a case of addiction. Other factors include inability to meet social and personal responsibilities. A diagnosis of “substance abuse disorder” can only be made if a patient exhibits impaired judgment, social performance and a lack of physical control. These symptoms are apparent in anyone using excessively.


If you take a look at how the IHME, “Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluationdefines addiction, it’s clear that they use WHO's International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) for it. An important fact to remember here is that, while the “DSM-5” refers to tobacco related dependencies as addictive behavior, WHO’s classification talks of alcohol and all illegal drugs (prescription drugs are also included) minus tobacco. Some of the more commonly abused examples are Cocaine, Opioids and Amphetamines.


How do I know if I’m an addict?

Women drinking alcohol wine with friendsHow often do you drink? Every day? How many a day?

Fondness of drinking or binge drinking does not qualify someone as an addict. According to the WHO provided guidelines, a person “may” be diagnosed with a “substance abuse disorder”, if, they meet at least three out of the following criteria.

  • The concerned must have a strong urge or need to take a substance (not taking the substance leads to altered performance).
  • The affected should exhibit loss of control. The user will not have any authority over substance linked behavior like the quantity, administration, onset or extent of use. 
  • If someone exhibits physiological symptoms (withdrawal) upon reduced or discontinued usage.
  • The user has developed resistance to minor dosage. If a larger quantity of a drug is required to induce the desired state; it is clear evidence of tolerance. A common phenomenon in drinkers and opioid abusers.
  • There is an increased neglect of all other interests and responsibilities. Time is consumed in obtaining and administering the substance. The pursuit of the drug is at the core of every activity.
  • Persistent use; despite apparent problems and dangers of continued use, an addict would still carry on. A good example is liver deterioration caused by unchecked alcohol consumption. Another example can be that of a cocaine addict or any chemical drug user. They face related issues of damaged cognitive ability and severe mood swings yet persist in their use because of an extreme dependency. Usually a user of this level is beyond reasoning.


There is a lot of stigma and judgment attached to drug use and abuse. People still think that it’s a matter of will. Drug addiction is a medically defined “disease” (even if it is self induced), just like a heart problem if left untreated, it can be fatal.

It is not always just a test of will. Addictions can be physical.

If an addict shows helplessness towards controlling their usage, show empathy not disdain. Chemical dependencies are very real. The usage itself has adverse effects on the mind and body. But the road to recovery is equally hard, if not more.


Brain Behavior on Drugs


 Ashleigh Heidmann, 26, former alcoholic, Netherlands


Ashleigh is one of swayr's 'faceless people'. Real life individuals who contribute to our community to be able to give you an in the moment perspective. Ashleigh was contacted through the Online Addiction Recovery Support Group

“I would always feel left out and less confident but when I was drinking, I felt happy…if I can say that. So I loved it. As I got older it got worse and I was drinking every night regardless of what day it was. I had an evening job, so I would sleep through the day. Everything seemed to revolve around drinking.”


Research has proven by studying the brain scan of users (especially chemical drug users) that due to drug dependencies they exhibit lower levels of dopamine or D2 receptors. Just like any other disruptive disease, addiction negatively affects health, regular bodily functions and causes organ damage. Addiction can be prevented and treated, but if it thrives, with time the impact becomes irreversible and can even cause disability or death.


Addiction needs to be understood more in medical terms rather than sociological ones.

How Dopamine decreases over time with use of CocaineImage shows how dopamine levels decrease over time with the use of Cocaine. Sources: National Center for Biotechnology Information and Volkow  et al. 


Dopamine is a key player in the brain’s “reward circuit”. Drugs create euphoria, calm or happiness like signals. Once the reward center is flooded with dopamine the system demands that the person repeat the behavior that created the feelings.


Normally, these signals cause human beings to repeat behaviors that help them thrive like eating, love and/or any enjoyable activities that surge levels of dopamine in the brain. However, this system can create a vicious cycle when the same signals are created upon drug use.


The brain may be receiving pleasure like signals but the impact of the drug will reduce with time and more will be required to achieve the “high”. Excess use will lead to a myriad of issues and complications till it turns into a full blown addiction. Consistent drug use makes the brain “resistant” or “tolerant” to the effects. The cells adapt and reduce the effect a certain amount of drug can create. The addict responds by increasing the dosage and this cycle persists. However, with time the addict can derive little to no pleasure from the substance and leads to withdrawal from other aspects of life like work, home, and family. Finding the next fix becomes the core purpose and reason for a social life.


A Global Epidemic

There has been a 60% increase in deaths caused as a direct consequence of a drug disorder from 2000-2015.

By the year 2016 about 0.85% of the global population had a drug problem. What is even more worrying is that this statistic does not include alcohol. The inclination towards hard substance abuse has not only increased but normalized. Currently, the USA is ranked worse in the Opioid crisis; in the year 2016 almost one in thirty people had a substance abuse problem.


In 2016 around 62 million people had an addiction problem.

Chart showing death rates from drug disease disordersDeath rates from drug use disorders: United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. Source: IHME/Global Burden of Disease




US (Death rate per 100k)




































5.22% is the disease burden of the U.S as calculated by the IHME. Clearly, the war on drugs is not effective. The drug problem seems to be worsening in America at unprecedented levels. According to the 2016 “World Drug Report” the drug trade and markets have evolved. The expansion of the market matches an ever increasing global demand. The executive director of the UNODC; Yury Fedotov warned against the challenges of the increasing global drug use,


“Cocaine and opium production have hit absolute record highs, presenting multiple challenges on multiple fronts."


Currently America is in the worst Opioid overdose epidemic in its history. In 2016 the government declared an opioid epidemic. According to a report published by CNN, around 63,600 deaths were caused by drug overdose in 2016. Out of this statistic, around 66.4% people (42,249) died as a direct consequence of  opioid over-use. We are looking at an average of 115 drug overdose deaths on a daily basis in America.

Number of deaths from alcohol and drug use disorders in United StatesNumber of deaths from alcohol and drug use disorders, United States. Source: IHME/Global Burden of Disease



Alcohol Use Disorders (US) Drug Use Disorders


6,460 6,200


7,087 9,188


7,600 14,768


8,870 24,152





11,586 33,710


Opioid addiction accounts for 42% of the global drug use, while Cannabis accounts for 1/3rd of it. By the end of 2016 Cannabis was the most abused substance. There has been a steady increase of 16% from 2006-2016 in the abuse disorders associated with it.


The drug problem is getting more complex with time. The ever increasing impact of cocaine and heroin are being supplemented by Prescription Drugs and new psychoactive substances (NPS). The drug quagmire is worsening due to poly drug trafficking and “combined usage”.


Chart showing share of population with drug use disorders in United states, United Kingdom, Australia and Canada.Share of population with drug use disorders in United states, Australia, Canada & United Kingdom. 




(% population with a drug disorder)



































Youth at Risk!


Sami Mcgary, 23, Active Addict, USA


Sami is one of swayr's 'faceless people'. Real life individuals who contribute to our community to be able to give you an in the moment perspective. Sami was contacted through the Online Addiction Recovery Support Group

“I'm 23 years old and my active addiction started at age 15. However, I really believe I was born an addict as I've exhibited addictive behavior my whole life. I don’t remember a time not being one.”


One glaring fact that has emerged from the World Drug Report is that the youth is the most vulnerable section of any population. The prevalence of drug use and dependency is highest in youth of 18-25 years; the riskiest period being pre-teen and teenage phases of development.


Research has suggested that early pre-teen use between 12 to 14 years drastically increases the chances of later addictions and drug dependencies. The peak of early drug usage is usually around the age of 15 to 17 years.


While the U.S still leads the global youth substance abuse numbers with nearly 8-9% addicted young adults in their twenties by 2016, the global numbers equally horrific. Nearly 2% of young adults have a drug dependency. We are looking at least one suffering young person in every fifty people between the ages of 20-29.  The following table looks at drug usage dependencies across various age groups in different countries.

































The U.S may have higher numbers, but the trend of substance abuse cases of people in their twenties is the same for most countries like Canada, Australia and United Kingdom.


Why is there a Prevalence of Drug Abuse in Young People?

While drug abuse can be looked at in a linear perspective, there are too many factors that make the matter complex. The drug habits of young people are different in different countries. There are economic, environmental, social and pharmacological factors that affect the drug use patterns in young adults.

However, based on usage there are two very clear extremes,

  • Recreational use; mostly prevalent in clubs, bars and affluent settings 
  • Usage for coping; this variety includes young users like street children and affected/abused young adults from poor environments that have a higher proclivity for drug abuse due to their circumstances.


There is a misconception in the masses that somehow these trends in the youth, is something new or rather a reflection of modern times. However, globally, millennials are actually better than the youth of the past. The numbers in the late nineties show spikes in drug use across the US, Canada, Australia and UK.

Why is this so?


The teenage Brain; A Work in Progress

According to research, teenage years are the stepping stone to the first periods of experimentation, exploration and self-discovery. The higher tendency towards risky behavior is a normal aspect of brain development in late teenage years.

However, these are precisely why these attributes form a dangerous combination when coupled with social and peer pressure. Whether an experiment or risky trial with drugs develops in to a dependency greatly relies on the fact how satisfied they are as person by other means of rewarding the dopamine pathways in their brain. The first thrill of using any hard addictive drug like opioids or heroin can never be truly replicated. Teenage patients desperately try to achieve the experience of that first magical high and often fall into an abusive cycle. The dopamine pathways can be greatly stimulated, for examples by strong connections and emotions like falling in love. It must be understood that there is no moral model that fits addiction, it is a medical problem and the patient is suffering a medical disorder. Criminalizing or stigmatizing an addictive disorder is only going to decrease the chances of recovery. Nearly 50% dependency disorder patients do recover. However, human connections, empathy and integration and the impact of common aspirations like parenthood, marriage or a great job, play a vital role in regenerating the normal stimulation patterns in a drug dependent patient.


  Doogz (as he is known on the street)

  21yrs old, South London, UK

  Dealer (mainly Crack, Cocaine, Cannabis)


Doogz is one of swayr's 'faceless people'. Real life individuals who contribute to our community to be able to give you an in the moment perspective.

swayr team: Doogz, so you sell drugs, who are the main buyers?

Doogz: Anyone! The guy down the pub, the 16 year old trying to impress his girl. I honestly don't care who buys it!

swayr team: So you don't have any guilt about selling cocaine or crack to kids?

Doogz: Nope! Do you? No one was there for me when I was younger and needed help. No one was, so why should I be there for other people. It's how the world works, B&H (a tabacco brand) sell you cancer sticks in a packet and it's legal. Their top guys don't care who dies. It's business, survial of the fittest! As Pusha T (a rapper) says "I'm looking after my kids, their kids, and their youngins after that"

swayr team: Don't you worry about getting caught and spening maybe 10 years in prison and runining your life. 

Doogz: A good hustler don't get caught. I use mules to move and store my gear.  I'll be honest, school kids are the best for this. They are keen, want to make a name for themselves and they don't have normal jobs, but they want to floss. We call them youngers. I have around 5 loyal youngers. 

swayr team: Would you like it if your kids (if you had any) were being taken advantage of like you do with other peoples kids?

Doogz: No way! I'd kill the person! But it is what is it. Aint no one taking advantage of my kids. 

swayr team: Thanks for your comments and time Doogz.

Doogz: You're welcome! Stay in school kids. 


Brain development of healthy children aged 5-15

While there is a higher prevalence of drug abuse in the youth, beyond the early twenties this trend declines. The change in patterns of thinking and the growth of the neural pathways overtime create a sense of “self-correction”.  A presence of important milestones like having children, marriage and getting a great job tend to drastically reduce proclivity towards substance abuse.


A cross-sectional study of young adults conducted in the 1990’s proved that people falling in the bracket of 28-31 with strong human bonds and connections had a lower usage of alcohol or drugs. Not only that, these individuals had a low perceptibility of substance use in their peers.


Do we just want freedom from our cages?

Man not happy with life, sitting sad at his deskSometimes, life can get us down. We don't always have the careers we want, or can't find love. Many people resort to drinking or drugs to numb the pain or boredom. 


Another researcher who presents a counter narrative to the addiction debate is Bruce K. Alexander. In his infamous Rat Park Study, he questioned the isolation of the rats in the addiction experiments. Many of these studies like the “Skinner box research”, for example, were the basis of the “war on drugs”.


According to the results achieved in the “Rat Park Study” one thing was clear, the rats were simply too busy to get addicted. They were having the time of their lives; plenty of social interaction, exercise in a large cage, access to sex and plenty of toys to play with (not the sex type, just the normal type). While the results of the study were not replicated in different trials it showed the “skinner box theory” was flawed, at least. The problem of addiction was simply too complex to be done away by mere exposure to drugs.


If an introduction to drugs was all it took then why would the recovery rates be around 50% in the larger population who do not become addicted at all after recreational use? There are multiple psychosocial strata involved.


Professor Alexander later refined his research by using the anthropological history of the human race to justify his perception of addiction. He eventually defined the problem more clearly in “The Globalization of Addiction: A study in poverty of the spirit, Oxford University Press, 2008”

In an entry in 2010 on his blog Professor Alexander ponders the impact of his study on his rat subjects:


“Our rats consumed much more morphine when they were isolated. This fact definitely undermined the supposed proof that certain drugs irresistibly cause addiction. But what does cause addiction? Why is there currently a flood of addiction to drugs and many other habits and pursuits? People do not have to be put into cages to become addicted – but is there a sense in which people who become addicted actually feel “caged?”


However, many psychiatrists and psychologists have criticized the narrative as an “oversimplification of the problem” because there are simply too many variables involved. According to Dr. Rana that human connection or “the bonds of humanity” do play an important role in creating AND curing addiction. However:

 “To consider that addiction, as a phenomenon, is free from genetic predisposition, environmental factors and overall mental and physical health is gross oversimplification.”


Sami Mcgary, 23, Active Addict, USA


Sami is one of swayr's 'faceless people'. Real life individuals who contribute to our community to be able to give you an in the moment perspective. Sami was contacted through the Online Addiction Recovery Support Group

"My first realization that I was actually an addict and not just a recreational drug user was the first time I was out of subutex and like 2 days into withdrawal, which at the time was the longest I’d ever went without subs and was really my first real taste of being dope sick. The only thing I could get was a suboxone strip, which prior to this I always swore I'd never take a strip because they have an overwhelmingly powerful orange taste, one of the most unpleasant tastes I've ever tasted. My mother who is also an addict always said if I was ever sick enough I would give in and take the strip but I never believed her until this particular day when I was pretty much begging for some of the strip just to feel some kind of relief from the restless legs and overall terrible feeling that is withdrawal."

The global statistics show a complex picture too and while Professor Alexander’s approach is appealing, it is too linear and simple for humanity or even rats for that matter. This was further proved by the simple fact that the rat part study results were never successfully replicated. While this is not unheard of in laboratory experiments and trials, it does indicate the presence of other factors.


Mental Illness and addiction

Research and statistical data from across the globe has proven that there is a definitive link between drug abuse disorder and mental health issues. Since our mental health and social well-being are intrinsically connected, some mental health disorders create a higher chance for someone to fall into a dependency disorder.


A prevalence of dependency disorders in a family increases the chances of a child falling in to a similar cycle indicates a genetic component. While this is a definitive trend with alcoholism it is yet to be proven with other drug dependencies. Even with a history of a mental illness there are other negative environmental factors that must be present to cause addiction.

Sami Mcgary, 23, Active Addict, USA


Sami is one of swayr's 'faceless people'. Real life individuals who contribute to our community to be able to give you an in the moment perspective. Sami was contacted through the Online Addiction Recovery Support Group

"Addiction runs in my family and both of my parents are also addicts. It had a massive impact on my life and is one of the main reasons I too fell into the cycle of addiction."


This table below shows the increased risk of dependency disorder in people with a pre-existing mental condition. A study was conducted by Swendsen et al (2010), 5000 people participated and the results clearly show a link between mental and health and addiction. During a period of ten years, the dependency ratio shows that a history of mental illness increases the chances of a drug dependency disorder.



Table: Mental Health as a Risk Factor for Illicit Drug Dependency

Mental Disorders

Risk Factor

Intermittent Explosive Disorder


Attention deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)


Bipolar Disorder


Any disruptive Behavior Disorder


Oppositional Defiant Disorder


Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)


Anti-social Personality Disorder


Conduct Disorder


Any Anxiety Disorder


Separation Anxiety


Social Phobia




Specific Phobia


Any Mood Disorder




Major Depression


Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)


Panic Disorder



The different types of drugs and their addiction levels

There are seven classes of drugs and each has its own brand of symptoms, risks and side effects. Whether a drug is legal or illegal, the issues that come from excessive use are very real and should not be taken lightly.


Anna Pogue-26, former addict


Sami is one of swayr's 'faceless people'. Real life individuals who contribute to our community to be able to give you an in the moment perspective. Anna was contacted through the Online Addiction Recovery Support Group

“Imagine you have a horrible panic disorder and the worst flu of all time, with chills, fever, vomiting and diarrhea and there is nothing and no one that can help you except time and determination that is constantly being undermined by voices in your head telling you to just take a little, a little of something that will make it all go away in seconds but each time you take the drug, of choice, you only get a little relief if any and the symptoms get ever worse afterwards every time you try to medicate the symptoms.”




Adderall, Ritalin,

Synthetic Marijuana,

Cocaine, Methamphetamine, 

Ecstasy (MDMA), Caffeine

Affects the body's central nervous system (CNS). Causes the user to feel as if they are speeding up. Increase the user's level of alertness. 

Elevated heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and blood glucose levels.

Anxiety, Paranoia, Psychosis, High body temperature, Depression, Heart failure, Stroke, Seizures


Rohypnol, Barbituates, Xanax, 

Valium, Benziodiazepines, 

(Alcohol and tobacco have features that are characterized in terms of depressants)

Impact is that of "slowing down"

Muscles and body relaxes De-stresses the nerves Sleep inducing

Higher risk of high blood sugar, diabetes, weight gain, Increased body, temperature, Delirium

Sluggish thinking

Low blood pressure impaired memory Hallucinations

Death from withdrawal 






Disrupted communication within the brain.

Intense, rapidly shifting emotions and perceptions of things


Drift from reality

Hallucinogen Persisting Perception Disorder (flashbacks Fear)

Distorted cognition




Increased blood pressure Nausea  
Dissociative Ketamine,

DXM (Dextromethorphan), PCP (phencyclidine)

Altered perception of reality Dissociation from body (user feels as if they are watching themselves from outside their own body)

False sense of invincibility, then engage in risky behavior such as driving under the influence or unsafe sex.



Suicidal thoughts

Speech difficulties

Social withdrawal Hallucinations

Detachment from reality Numbness

Memory loss











Euphoria causing

Addiction causing in less than three days sometimes Floating sensation


Sensation of pain reduced


liver damage

Brain impairment




Pupil dilation

Cardiac arrest (if dose is too high)  


Fumes of markers,


paint thinner,

gasoline and glue

Nitrous oxide

Aerosol sprays

Room deodorizers

Brief Thighs* of euphoria. The experience differs from inhalant to inhalant.

Loss of smell

Brain damage




Increased heart rate

Loss of consciousness Hallucinations

Slurred speech


Marijuana leaves, 

Hashish, Resin,

Cannabis based

medicines such as, Sativex

Relaxation Pain-suppressing, Depressant-like impact, Can cause hallucinations. Relaxation Pain-suppressing

Lowered immunity to illness Depression, Chronic anxiety Reduced sperm count in men Sedation Slowed reaction times Enhanced senses, such as seeing brighter colors impaired sense of time




Legal Highs that leave you an Addict

The world is embroiled in an opioid crisis, there are patients coming out post-surgery addicted to opioids. While this does not apply to every patient, their dependency is the worst among the legal drugs in the market.


In the U.S there is a tendency to “overprescribe” opioids, of the nearly 42,249 over dose deaths, 40% escalated from a prescribed opioid.


Sami Mcgrery, 23, USA, Active Addict


Sami is one of swayr's 'faceless people'. Real life individuals who contribute to our community to be able to give you an in the moment perspective. Sami was contacted through the Online Addiction Recovery Support Group

“As a kid I got high on pain pills constantly. Then i discovered subutex and because I wasn't physically addicted to opiates, they would rock my world. My mom had a script (prescription) for them and she was jealous of the bond drugs gave me and my dad so she started feeding me subs like candy. Eventually I got addicted to them. I was about 18 when I got hooked on them and I'm still on them today.”

The absence of universal healthcare is an important factor in propagating a “culture of medication”. There are healthier ways of dealing with pain. It is necessary and unavoidable in certain circumstances like surgery or in cancer patients for pain management. However, the numbers tell a different tale. While the UK has faced a 7% increase in opioid related deaths, it is still 2% less than the 2016 figures of the U.S. Heroin is responsible for more than half of the opioid epidemic, but, it is not the initiation point; it is the limit of use in most cases.


A 2016 study compared the opioid prescription culture in Japan and America. The results showed that while Japanese doctors prescribed opioids for chronic pain in 47% cases American doctors did so 97% of the time!


While one side of the coin shows a picture of addictive legal substances, the threat of illegal drugs like heroin, ecstasy, meth, crack etc. are equally glaring. Repeated use is one of the first steps on the road to addiction. The progression doesn’t happen overnight, but so many of us only realize when we have lost control and the dependency has taken over.

Some of the common factors that can land a person in the abyss of addiction are,

  • A preexisting mental disorder
  • Family history
  • Poor environmental stimulus (abuse, poverty, unsupervised behavior etc.)
  • Peer pressure and/or social refutation


The Most Addictive Substances across the Globe

Here’s a list of the 12 most addictive substances across the globe, in order of addictiveness and impact.

1) Opiates remain the most addictive substances on the planet. Some common examples are, Heroin, opium and morphine. While morphine is used as a legal pain medication in hospitals, it is highly addictive and can lead to illegal drug dependencies.

2) Opioids accounted for nearly 70% 0f the global negative health impact. Common variants are oxycodone, Fentanyl and hydrocodone.

3) Crack cocaine.

4) Nicotine. The most common source is tobacco; nearly 1 billion users have a nicotine dependency worldwide.

5) Alcohol accounts for three million deaths globally every year.

6) Meth. Also referred to as “Crystal Meth” or “Methamphatamines”

7) Methadone

8) Cocaine; nearly 20% of first time users get addicted immediately. The opioid crisis has drained the attention from cocaine, but it is still one of the most dangerous and addictive drugs in the world.

9) Amphetamines. Variants include drugs like Adderall, Dexedrine. These drugs are also prescribed for ADHD and narcolepsy.  

10) Benzos (benzodiazepines). This chemical is found in Valium, Xanax and Klonopin, prescribed by doctors as a relaxant and very addictive. Another illegal version of “benzos” is “Flunitrazepam”, usually known as “roofies” (Rohypnol) on the street. This drug is mostly abused in clubs or used as a “date rape drug”, since it alters memory and cognition.

11) GHB (Gamma-hydroxybutyrate). This is another drug commonly abused in combination with alcohol as a club drug or “date rape drug”. The notorious increase in sex drive and euphoria makes it a popular choice at clubs and affluent environments.

12) MDMA (methylenedioxymethamphetamine). This drug is famously known as Ecstasy or Molly; popular as a party drug. The feel good sensations of the synthetic substance are particularly famous with the youth looking to experiment or enhance their experience of “fun”.


A war with drug addicts

In the USA the stigmatization of drug use was done in a systemic way; there were campaigns, harsh punishments and public warnings issued against drugs. The strict and rigid way in which the legal system has dealt with drug addicts has prevented their integration in society.

In so many situations the addiction of a person is not caused directly by them. The rhetoric surrounding substance abuse is so socially crippling that it usually shames victims into hiding or remain within the cycle of abusive and addictive behavior, because they see no outlet.

These stigmas do nothing, but perpetuate the problem and reduce the chances of recovery for the addict. The longer the addiction lasts, the harder it becomes for a person to recover.


According to Johann Hari’s TED talk, there is more to addiction and the drug problem than “not enough laws”, but rather too many. He quotes the successful example of Portugal that was suffering from one the worst drug crisis in 2000; out of every million people there were at least 104.2 cases of drug dependency, addiction or overdose.

Portugal’s law on drugs underwent a radical change; they decriminalized all drugs and substance use. Harsher laws were replaced by a more integrative policy that focused on fining, educating or improving the caught rather than jailing or attacking them. After the policy change, today, Portugal has one of the lowest rates of drug use dependency in its history. In 2015 for a million people there were only 4.2 people with a drug dependency.

Clearly, harsher punishments for first time violators, is not the solution to the drug problem.


Drug Laws in the United Kingdom, USA and Canada


United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has also seen higher rates of drug use compared to earlier years. The “1971 Misuse of Drugs Act” has different degrees of punishments for manufacturing, possession and peddling of Class A, B and C class drugs.






PUNISHMENT (maximum)

Class A



Life sentence




Seven years

Class B

Amphetamines, Cannabis, Ritalin, Pholcodine.

Supplying/ Manufacturing

Fourteen years




Five years

Class C

Tranquilisers, (GHB), Ketamine.


Fourteen years




Two years


United States

The American laws around drug use are complex. While federal law supersedes state law, there are states that have legalized medicinal and even recreational weed in an attempt to tap a market and to try a different approach towards drugs. However, in federal law, marijuana remains illegal.

The law in the U.S has harsh punishments and the following pieces of legislation ensure that felons convicted of drug related crimes, cannot be reintegrated into normal society.

  • Denial of Federal Benefits (21 U.S.C. 862)

If someone has the misfortune of having a federal drug conviction, they stand to lose all and any benefits provided by the state. This includes but is not limited to grants, federal benefits, education loans etc. for possession the time period is a minimum of 1 year while a trafficking conviction can knock off 5 years-worth of federal benefits for the very first conviction.

  • Forfeiture of Personal Property and Real Estate (21 U.S.C. 853)

If you are convicted on a drug related charge for more than a year the state has the right to seize all personal property and real estate that the convict might have.

  • Federal Drug Trafficking Penalties (21 U.S.C. 841)

While penalties start from minimum fine of $1000 for possession to jail time depending on the quantity and nature of offense. Repeat offenses are punished twice as much.


Drug Related Penalties and their Punishments in the USA



Canada made history by legalizing cannabis for the pain management of terminally ill patients, for the first time in 2001. However, Canadian law is by no means “lenient” on violations of drug trafficking. “The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act” is the major legislation for drug violations in Canada.

The 1996 law never included the recommendations given by experts of the “Le Dain Commission”. The commission had proposed the eradication of harsh punishments for possession and also advised upon the legalization of cannabis on a personal level.

In an attempt to save people and protect those that were present at a scene of over dose, Canada passed “The Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act” in 2017. Due to the legal cover that the act provided people were encouraged to call emergency services, if they were witnesses to an overdose. 

The Cannabis Act led to the legalization of recreational use of cannabis in 2018. Under the current government in Canada there is hope for reforms in the harsh punishments for drug related offenses, especially for possession.


The Road to Recovery


Kristen Pritchett, 26, former Heroin Addict


Kristen is one of swayr's 'faceless people'. Real life individuals who contribute to our community to be able to give you an in the moment perspective. Kristen was contacted through the Online Addiction Recovery Support Group

“What must be understood about the recovery process is that the withdrawal and the physical symptoms are not the hard part, staying clean is. There were days when I thought today I would give in. I have seen some tough times, but my kids have kept me going, I almost lost them and they keep me clean even if I can’t”

We interviewed recovering addicts and a few active ones and one thing that almost all the narratives had in common was not the “if” but rather the “why”. The human connection and support is what keeps a lot of the recovering addicts sane and on track to recovery. If the society were to offer a similar level of acceptance and understanding more people could be easily reintegrated as functional individuals.

The psychological support system of a recovering addict could be compared to how antibiotics protect the body from infections post-surgery. She stressed that,

Almost 50% of addiction cases DO recover. But that immediately brings the question to mind, that if it is a curable problem, what is keeping the other 50% from recovery? Will for recovery, medical help, support of groups and family are all an integral part of the recovery process.


Some of the recovering addicts we interviewed told us a story of how they recovered after a near death experience. But that was not true across the board.

Kristen Pritchett, 26, former Heroin Addict


Kristen is one of swayr's 'faceless people'. Real life individuals who contribute to our community to be able to give you an in the moment perspective. Kristen was contacted through the Online Addiction Recovery Support Group

“If you don’t have a reason to quit, death doesn’t scare you. Being clean is so hard for us addicts sometimes near death experiences won’t save us. You gotta find someone to hold tight, or someone who’s willing to hold you or you gotta find God. Lord lifted me up from a dark hole.”


This does hold a certain merit to it. Many addicts find religion and through it, the strength to keep fighting. However, people that have been close to addicts share stories of suffering as well. We talked to the mother of an addict son.

Deans mum (Dean, 32, Heroin Addict)


Deans mum is one of swayr's 'faceless people'. Real life individuals who contribute to our community to be able to give you an in the moment perspective. 

“This type of suffering is not something that everyone can handle. He’s in rehab for the third time this year and every time I get too hopeful, he falls off the wagon.”


According to a recovery coaching model provided by David Collins; a psychologist who specializes in treatment of addiction and how to aid the recovery process, you have to be involved without getting too involved with the process itself.


Peer pressure can play a very important role in the road to recovery and/or prevention. It is an aggravating influence as well. Some addicts we met said they never had a chance since the people that first offered them drugs were their own parents:


Sami Mcgrery, 23, USA, Active Addict


Sami is one of swayr's 'faceless people'. Real life individuals who contribute to our community to be able to give you an in the moment perspective. Sami was contacted through the Online Addiction Recovery Support Group

“My dad gave me my first pill and continued using with me for years and my mother eventually joined him in using with me. I don't know that peer pressure is the word but when your parents are the ones offering you drugs it definitely makes you think it's more okay to do it. But where peer pressure really really made my situation worse was January 2018 when I tried heroin for the first time. Snorting it wasn't really working for me because I had a big tolerance to subutex after being on it for 5 years. A girl who I thought was a friend asked if I wanted to inject the heroin and I said no because I knew myself and I knew I would like the high too much and I’d never quit. She then proceeded to tell me how I had to shoot it if I wanted "the full heroin experience" and that it was just be a waste if I didn't and me being an addict heard "get the full heroin experience" and automatically it was like a switch went off flashing that I NEEDED that full experience and ultimately I said I'd do it and she shot me up for the first time shortly after.”

We asked some of the recovering addicts, if they would try to stop a friend about to use a hard substance for the first time?  All of them were in favor. However, they also added that stopping usually doesn’t work and a person has to want the recovery, to want the freedom. Because no one directly jumps to “class A” drug abuse, it is built slowly to that point. One drug leads to another. According to Sami Mcgrery; battling an active addiction takes all your strength and this was her opinion:

Sami Mcgrery, 23, USA, Active Addict


Sami is one of swayr's 'faceless people'. Real life individuals who contribute to our community to be able to give you an in the moment perspective. 

"To someone trying drugs the first time, heroin, cocaine, any drug at all, I would do all I could to talk them out of it. Tell them the things drugs have brought into my life. The misery they've brought to me. And if I could tell they were gonna use it anyways I would merely explain ways to be safe about it. In the addiction world we call it harm reduction. Things like trust your dealer (as much as you possibly can that is), don't do a huge amount of a new batch of a drug do a tester amount first because you can always do more but you can't ever do less, use clean needles etc. But I'd always try and talk them out of it first. To someone ready to give up I'd tell them there's more out there. That I've been there, I've been ready to give up. That I OD'D in January on heroin laced with carfentynyl and how I almost died on a dirty bathroom floor with a needle still in my arm and how that is no way to die and that I know regardless of where I’m at today there is more for me out there and if there's more for me there's more for them. It is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, even if the problem doesn't seem temporary. And that I love them.”


According to “Intuitive Strengths”; a recovery group for addicts, there are eight dimensions of wellness that create a healthy structure for recovery.


At the end what we learned about addiction is that there is definitely a whole dimension of solutions to combating addiction and drug abuse. The rising rates of addiction are not being deterred by harsher penalties. What statistics prove beyond a shadow of a doubt is that current policy is not working. There are more rates of abuse and drug related deaths than ever before.

It is an epidemic!

From everyone we interviewed to what we found in our research, nearly all addicts agreed that they would do things differently if they got rid of their problem. There was a universal desire for improvement. Addiction is a disease and one that goes on unchecked and over indulged with the larger part of society distancing itself from the problem.


The example of Portugal is very important here. They tried a different approach and it worked. Perhaps it is time we took a different stance on addicts and addiction.


What should our justice system do with drug addicts? Is putting them jails really helping them? By categorizing them as the paraphernalia of society, are we teaching them an important lesson or assuring that the cycle of addiction and abuse is reinforced? Comment below with your thoughts and opinions. 


Further resources and reading

NHS Guide (UK residents) (US residents)

Online Addiction Recovery Support Group - Facebook



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