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What's the situation in Northern Ireland?

The most commonly used drugs are still caffeine, tobacco and alcohol. Cannabis remains the most popular illegal drug and is the one with the most myths and misinformation about it, not helped by muddled government policy. Ecstasy is still widely used and available, although it is being replaced by Cocaine in some circles, which had decreased significantly in price over the past few years. Despite media panics to the contrary Methamphetamine (aka Crystal Meth) has not made any major inroads yet, although it does give slight cause of concern. Heroin use still seems largely restricted to certain pockets of the country, which while causing concern in those areas, has not yet developed into a widespread concern. Solvents abuse is still common among younger teenagers and represents one of the most underestimated dangers as far as drugs are concerned. With at least 1/4 of those who die from VSA (Volatile Substance Abuse) dying as a result of their first sniff, it has a very high first time user fatality rate, and coupled with ease of access, means that solvents are a major issue that needs to be addressed.

Most recently the big media scares have surrounded synthetic stimulants/ amphetamine type substances referred to more commonly, but often incorrectly, as "legal highs". This includes substances like mephederone, methadrone, methylone, MDPV, naphyrone (aka NRG-1) and a wide range of other products. Legislation is catching up on these products but the manufacturers will continue to tweak and develop to stay outside the law.

There has been a lot of misinformation about these products, but users should be aware that due to the new nature of these substances no one, either medical practitioner or manufacturer, knows what the medium or long term effects are. It should be noted- just because a substance is "legal" does not make it safe.

Alcohol Facts

A couple of drinks can make a party or celebration more enjoyable. It can even be good for us. But alcohol is a powerful drug and we need to be careful how we use it. Many of us in Northern Ireland do most of our drinking in a few sessions, often on a Friday or Saturday night. However, this pattern of drinking can put our health at risk.

Long-term Effects

Over a number of years, regular heavy drinking can:

  • damage the liver, heart, brain and, especially with spirits, the stomach;
  • cause some cancers, eg. in the mouth, throat;
  • increase the risk of some cancers, eg. in the liver, stomach;
  • lead to higher blood pressure;
  • lower the libido (sex drive);
  • make it harder for the body to fight off infections.
  • Regular heavy drinking can also have social costs including:
    damaged relationships;
    family break-ups;
    money problems;
    difficulties at work;
    trouble with the law.

Short-term Effects

Of course, most of us who do drink aren't going to die from liver disease, or lose our job, home or family because of alcoholism. But drinking too much has some important short-term effects as well and these often have a much more immediate impact on our lives.

Getting drunk can lead to:

  • vomiting;
  • fights;
  • accidents;
  • hangovers.

Alcohol can also affect our judgment, leading us to do things we wouldn't otherwise do and that we might regret later. Too much alcohol in one go can even cause heart attacks or strokes.

Drinking and Driving

Although there is a legal limit for the amount of alcohol a person can have in their bloodstream and still drive, there is no safe limit for drinking and driving.

Even one drink affects your judgment and reaction times

At the legal limit, your chances of having an accident are more than doubled

Someone who drinks a lot in the evening will still have alcohol in their bloodstream the next morning

The only safe advice to follow is NEVER drink and drive

Alcohol and Pregnancy

Alcohol can damage an unborn baby, so women who are pregnant should avoid alcohol, or at least cut down to a couple of drinks a week. Couples who are trying to get pregnant should also cut down, as alcohol can affect both the egg and the cells which produce sperm.

Gortalowry House Ltd., 94 Church St., Cookstown, Co. Tyrone BT80 8HX.
Tel: 028 8676 3388

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Some of the information on this page is reproduced with the kind permission of
The Health Promotion Agency for Northern Ireland
18 Ormeau Avenue, Belfast BT2 8HS
Tel: 028 9031 1611 - Fax: 028 9031 1711