In the UK, drug problems and addiction have, for some time, been a major focus of government resources, particularly in Scotland. Drug addiction can be devastating in many ways and, in this article, we’re examining the relationship between mental health and drug addiction.
Taking illegal drugs can be extremely harmful to a person’s health; particularly as, often, there is no way of knowing just what’s in the drug that you are taking. Unfortunately, many drug users will also go on to deal and supply Class B drugs such as Cannabis, speed and Ketamine. If caught, this criminal offence can carry a penalty of up to five years in prison.
In this article, we’re looking at the relationship between mental health and drug use and the ways in which prosecution and imprisonment can cause mental health conditions to deteriorate rapidly. This was reinforced in January 2023 when Sir Bob Neill, said, “Custodial remand is a necessary tool in the justice system for protecting the public from dangerous offenders or ensuring those at risk of absconding are brought to trial. But too often it is being used as an easy option in cases of low-level repeat offending or social problems, with little thought for the lasting consequences this can have on the individual”.
Do Drugs Affect Mental Health?
In the UK, the use of Class B drugs is illegal – and for good reason. Drugs such as ketamine can have profound effects on physical and mental health, including memory loss and depression which can be extremely long lasting.
Drug addiction can also have life changing consequences including debt, homelessness, and the breakdown of relationships, as well as legal action and a potential prison term. When incarcerated, a drug addict may not receive sufficient rehabilitation and treatment, and this can subsequently lead them to seek drugs from other prisoners.
When buying drugs in prison, an inmate has even less control over what may be in them – sometimes with fatal consequences. Every year, there are approximately 226 deaths within UK prisons, and while 145 are these are drug related, a further 677 are suicides. These figures alone are evidence of the link between drugs and mental health.
In 2021, Dame Carol Black conducted an independent review on drugs in the UK with over 30 recommendations. Afterwards, then Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, said, “When I first commissioned Dame Carol to do this review as Home Secretary, we knew the sale and use of drugs drives serious violence and homelessness but this review shows that the health implications are just as devastating. Tackling this issue requires strong collaboration across government and the new specialist Joint Combating Drugs Unit will help us to do just that”.
Taking Drugs and Mental Health
A large number of drugs, including cannabis, ketamine and heroin, interfere with the way that neurons send, receive and process signals to the brain. Some drugs mimic the brain’s neurotransmitters, leading to the sending and receiving of abnormal signals and messages. This can lead to addiction, psychosis and more, with some of these signals interfering with life-sustaining functions.
This explains why a large number of drug addicts may eventually develop a mental illness – but this is only half the story.
What came first: mental health problems or drugs?
It’s estimated that around four million people in the UK suffer from some form of mental illness such as anxiety or depression. The latter in particular can lead sufferers to seek relief in either alcohol or drugs.
One of the problems here is that people suffering from depression may take illegal drugs alongside their prescribed depression medication. This can have some serious side effects, including increased anxiety, mood swings and muscle spasms.
Unfortunately, it appears that drug addiction and mental health issues very much go hand in hand, creating a chicken and egg situation which has devastating consequences for a great many UK residents.
Looking to the Future
It’s clear that there is still a lot of work to do on tackling drug use and mental health issues in the UK. In recent years, with the help of a number of people of note, including the Prince and Princess of Wales, mental health awareness has become front and centre for many. As great as this is, the same needs to be applied to drug use – and all of this needs to be backed up with robust government policies to ensure that people get the incredibly important help that they need.
While positions within UK government have been akin to a game of musical chairs in the last year or so, most members of parliament are agreed on the fact that mental health awareness and drug rehabilitation and education need to remain a top priority in Great Britain. This is likely to be made even more difficult with the current economic crises in the country.
If you or a loved one are suffering from drug abuse issues or struggling with your mental health, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible, either from your GP or a specialist registered charity. For issues with dealing drugs, including problems with the police, you should contact a solicitor as soon as possible for help and advice.