Long Term Effects of Drug Misuse


Drug addiction, or substance use disorder, is a disease affecting an individual’s behaviour leading to difficulty in controlling the use of illicit substances 1. Such drugs include cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin 2. Addicts may continue to use the drug despite the potentially fatal harm it is doing to their body.

According to official statistics in England and Wales for the year ending June 2022, 1 in 11 adults aged 16 – 59 years (about 3 million adults) reported drug use, increasing to 1 in 5 adults for ages between 16 – 24 years (about 1.1 million adults). Within these groups, 2.7% of adults aged 16 – 59 years and 4.7% adults aged 16 – 24 years reported taking Class A drugs 3.


What are Class A Drugs?

Under the UK’s Misuse of Drugs Act (1971), drug listed under Class A are in the highest category and include cocaine, ecstasy (MDMA), methamphetamine, heroin and LSD. Possession of Class A drugs in the UK can result in up to 7 years in prison, an unlimited fine or both with supplying Class A drugs resulting in a potential life sentence 4.


Long Term Impact on Physical Health

There are a variety of long-term effects on an individual’s physical health. Commonly used substances like alcohol, for example, can lead to long term health problems such as heart disease, liver disease and cancer. Class A drugs can be even more dangerous. Use of Cocaine, for example, can cause the blood vessels to thicken, reducing the flow of oxygen to the heart. At the same time, cocaine causes the heart muscle to work harder, which can lead to a heart attack or a stroke 5.

Another potential effect of drug use on an individual’s long-term health & well-being is increased vulnerability to infection. This could therefore make the individual more prone to developing disease and becoming sick 6.

Older people may possibly be even more vulnerable to substance misuse as there is evidence for increased effects on an aging brain. Evidence suggests that people who become addicted to cocaine when they are younger may have an accelerated age-related decline in their temporal lobe compared to individuals who do not use cocaine. This could therefore make them more likely to be vulnerable to the consequences of cocaine usage as they age 7.


Long Term Impact on Mental Health

In addition to physical health, there is also the impact on mental health that needs to be considered when talking about drug use. There are different ways in which drug use can affect an individual’s mental wellbeing. For example, regular use of cannabis can increase a user’s risk of anxiety and depression. There are also known links between stimulant drugs, like cocaine, and the development of mental health conditions such as psychosis and schizophrenia.

Hallucinogenic drugs such as magic mushrooms can worsen mental health problems. They can make the user feel disconnected from reality and can memory flashbacks which can be very distressing for the individual experiencing them. When an individual is taking illicit substances such as drugs and feel they are no longer in control of it or need to take more of the drug then the user is possibly becoming addicted 8.


About Us

Randox Testing Services are a specialist drug and alcohol testing company working in both the workplace and medico-legal sectors. We operate across the UK and Ireland, with a global network of trained collection officers. We have a wide variety of drugs we test for to meet your needs. These include common illicit substances such as Cocaine, Opiates and Ecstasy as well as alcohol.

If you’re interested in getting assistance or learn more about implementing an effective testing policy, contact us:

E-mail: testingservices@randox.com
Phone: +44 (0) 28 9445 1011



Camh (2023) Cocaine and Crack (5). Available at: https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/cocaine

Mayo Clinic (2023) Drug addiction (substance use disorder) (1). Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/drug-addiction/symptoms-causes/syc-20365112

Mental Health Foundation (2021) Drugs and mental health (8). Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/a-z-topics/drugs-and-mental-health

Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) (4) Available at: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1971/38/contents

National Health Service Inform (2023) Drugs and drug use (2). Available at: https://www.nhsinform.scot/healthy-living/drugs-and-drug-use/

National Health Service Midlands Partnership (2023) Substance Misuse (6). Available at: https://www.mpft.nhs.uk/services/military-mental-health-service/mental-health-problems/substance-misuse

National Institute on Drug Abuse (2020) Substance Use in Older Adults DrugFacts (5). Available at: https://nida.nih.gov/publications/drugfacts/substance-use-in-older-adults-drugfacts

Office for National Statistics (2022) Drug misuse in England and Wales: year ending June 2022 (3). Available at: Drug misuse in England and Wales – Office for National Statistics (ons.gov.uk)

Sentencing Council (2023) Drug offences (4). Available at: https://www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/outlines/drug-offences