Alcohol, cocaine, and cannabis are among the most abused substances in Ireland.

Drug abuse is a global health concern. Many people continue to struggle with the problem as governments and other entities are finding ways to fight the issue. In Ireland, cocaine and cannabis, along with alcohol, are some of the most highly abused substances by individuals who seek treatment for substance abuse.

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Similar trends are occurring in the United States state of Colorado. Of course, people abuse other substances in addition to cocaine and cannabis. The number of people seeking fentanyl addiction treatment illustrates that prescription drugs such as fentanyl and other opioid drugs are also problems.

In Ireland, there were 7,350 incidents of treatment for alcohol dependency in 2017. The figures are a decrease from 2016 figures that stated that 7,643 people sought treatment for alcohol that year, according to the Health Research Board (HRB). HRB’s chief executive Dr. Darrin Morrissey said, "Alcohol remains the main problem drug that people enter treatment for in Ireland."

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Substance Abuse

Using drugs may cause serious repercussions to users. This drug use may also affect many other people, including the family members and friends of substance users.

Drugs affect an individual’s body and brain in different ways. Some effects present as long-lasting or permanent health consequences that continue taking their toll on the individuals even after they stop using the substance. People take drugs in different ways, including ingesting, inhaling, and injecting them.

How the drug is delivered to the body determines the effects it produces. For example, injecting a drug introduces the drug directly into the bloodstream, thus causing a more immediate impact. Meanwhile, ingesting a drug in the form of a pill brings a more delayed effect.

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Regardless of the method of using a drug, all drug misuse may affect the brain. Drugs may prompt the body to release larger amounts of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating people’s emotions, feelings of pleasure, and motivation. When dopamine floods the brain, it creates an effect of feeling high. With time, drugs alter the way a person’s brain works. Drugs interfere with the ability of an individual to make choices. A person may develop intense cravings for the substances and compulsively want to use drugs, leading to substance dependence and addiction.

Although the number of individuals seeking treatment for alcohol dependence in Ireland has decreased, the severity of consuming alcohol has increased. According to the Health Research Board, there were 55,675 cases of problem alcohol use treated in Ireland between 2011 and 2017.

The proportion of new problem alcohol use cases dropped from 52 percent in 2011 to about 48 percent in 2017. Many individuals who abuse alcohol also abuse other drugs, and this is known as polydrug use. About one in every five cases of substance abuse involved polydrug use.  

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In addition to alcohol, cannabis was the most common additional substance abused by individuals. Cocaine was the second most additional addictive substance abused. Although cannabis was the number one additional drug being abused, the number of cases of individuals treated for abusing the drug in Ireland went down to 58 percent in 2016 from 68 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, in 2017, there was a slight increase of cannabis and alcohol users, to 61 percent.

Cocaine remained the second most common additional drug of abuse. The numbers of people who use it with alcohol have increased. While 29 percent used cocaine and alcohol in 2011, 42 percent of people in the survey used both substances in 2017.

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A senior researcher serving at the Health Research Board, Dr. Suzi Lyons said that the number of new cases of alcohol-dependent people presenting themselves for treatment increased to 68 percent in 2017 from 50 percent in 2011. This may mean that more people are seeking help when their problems have become severe.

Besides illicit drugs, prescription drugs are also posing problems of substance abuse in people in Ireland and elsewhere. The highly potent prescription opioid fentanyl is considered thirty to fifty times stronger than heroin. The drug was intended to help patients people from cancer to cope with extreme pain after surgery. Nowadays, doctors prescribe it in the form of a patch or lollipop, meaning it is slowly released to the body. Sometimes manufacturers produce fentanyl illegally. Since it is illicit and unregulated, such illegal fentanyl is even more dangerous than already dangerous legal forms of fentanyl.

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People need to realize that it is not only illicit drugs that may cause addiction and drug dependence. Even prescribed drugs may produce such problems, especially when people misuse them. Misuse of prescription drugs takes different forms.

When doctors prescribe painkillers and people use them in different ways other than their doctors or pharmacists have recommended, such use may create serious side effects, including substance dependence. When you take a painkiller at higher doses than doctors have recommended, you may be harming yourself.

Some people try to use larger doses of drugs or alcohol to obtain effects much faster, but larger doses may only aggravate the problem. They may lead to an overdose. It means that with time, you may continue increasing the dosage, which may be lethal.

Similarly, when you use substances for longer periods than they have been prescribed, you may also create more problems. Some prescription painkillers may contribute to addictions.

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Individuals should always follow the instructions and directions their doctors and pharmacists have provided with their prescriptions. If you begin to experience side effects or suspect that the drugs you are taking are making you feel high, you need to seek help immediately. Talk to a doctor for solutions.

Whether people are using prescription or illicit drugs, drug abusers need help immediately and should not wait until things become worse. When you seek help for addiction early, you are more likely to recover more quickly than you would if you delay treatment.

Continued use of substances may produce permanent damage to your brain, lungs, or other organs, and may even lead to death. You have a choice to make and there are many ways you may solve your addiction problems.

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Sometimes, it is difficult to break free addiction on your own and that is why it is recommended that you seek professional assistance. Unless you understand why you are abusing alcohol, cocaine, or cannabis, you may not discover ways to free yourself of your problem.

This article was submitted to the IrishCentral contributors network by a member of the global Irish community. To become an IrishCentral contributor click here.