Alcoholism FAQ

Posted on by Melany Heger

Do Alcoholics Die Early?

Alcoholics can die earlier than individuals who never had an addiction to alcohol.

According to recent research in Manchester, alcohol-addicted individuals die 7.6 years earlier on average than patients without an experience of the disease [1].

Meanwhile, a study done in Denmark, Finland, and Sweden found out that patients with alcohol addiction live 24–28 years shorter than the rest of the population [2].

Women who have been hospitalized for alcohol use disorder are expected to live up to the age of 50–58 years  [2].

Men who have been hospitalized for alcohol use disorder are expected to live up to the age of 47–53 years [2].


There is a general consensus among researchers that world-wide that women tend to live longer than men [3].

Experts cite various biological, behavioural, and environmental factors not specifically connected to alcoholism as a condition.


Alcohol addiction is a preventable disease.

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is the formal term for alcohol addiction.


AUD is a characterised by the inability to stop or control alcohol use despite negative social, occupational (work), or health consequences [4].

The cure for alcohol addiction is life-long abstinence from alcohol.

However, to make it easier for AUD sufferers, addiction experts approach the problem step-by-step.


Individuals who have AUD are given the suggestion not to suddenly stop using alcohol without professional support, as sudden withdrawal could be life-threatening. [5]


According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism or NIAAA (US), the most common diseases that AUD sufferers die from are: [4]

  • >> liver cirrhosis (last stage of liver disease)
  • >> cancer of the mouth
  • >> cancer of the oesophagus
  • >> cancer of the pharynx
  • >> cancer of the larynx
  • >> cancer of the liver
  • >> cancer of the breast


Other life-threatening diseases include alcohol-related pancreatitis and complications of heart disease.

Additionally, deadly vehicular accidents can be caused by drunk driving.

Liver disease, the most-occurring medical condition that an alcoholic suffers from has four distinct stages [5].


Stage One: Alcoholic fatty liver disease

In this stage, there are usually no obvious symptoms apart from pain in the upper right side of the abdomen. Liver cells could be damaged and the liver could be inflamed [5].


Stage Two: Alcoholic Hepatitis

  • >> The most obvious symptom is yellowing of the skin (jaundice) [5].
  • >> Alcoholic hepatitis can be classified as mild or severe. In the most severe cases, kidney and liver failure can occur.
  • >> Serious symptoms can show up without warning
  • >> Can be triggered in alcoholics by consuming a heavy amount of alcohol



Stage Three: Fibrosis

  • Experts have identified two specific brain areas that alcohol affects [6].
  • >> When the liver is continuously and repeatedly damaged by alcoholic hepatitis, it forms scar tissues.
    • >> Scar tissue formation is the main feature of fibrosis.
    • >> Scar tissues block blood flow to and in the liver.
    • >> Blood pressure in the portal vein, which carried blood to the intestine to the liver, also increases with fibrosis patients


Stage Four: Cirrhosis [6]

  • >> At this stage, liver damage is permanent.
  • >> Scarring that began with fibrosis is wide-spread in liver cirrhosis.
  • >> However, a person can still survive this disease if it is professionally intervened.
  • >> Symptoms come from liver failure and portal hypertension
  • >> The patient is also at risk of liver cancer
  • >> Liver failure can manifest in difficulty digesting and absorbing food, bleeding, and problems thinking clearly.
  • >> While a sign of portal hypertension is passing blood through the rectum.


Is Alcoholism A Disease Or Addiction?

Alcoholism is considered a disease. Formally it is called Addiction Use Disorder. AUD is an addictive disorder characterised by the need to use alcohol even if faced with negative consequences [7].

Individuals who suffer from AUD are successfully treated with professional help from addiction experts in a rehab clinic.

Because it is a lifestyle disease like hypertension and diabetes, a person with AUD needs to make lifestyle changes.


Lifestyle changes are implemented best if psychotherapy and psycho-social interventions are utilised.

Currently, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and 12 Step Facilitation are the most popular forms of psychosocial intervention. [4]


As an addiction, AUD manifests itself in physical and behavioural symptoms.

The physical symptoms of AUD are largely brought about when the person tries to quit drinking.


Meanwhile, psychological symptoms include craving alcohol, being preoccupied with alcohol, and having difficulty performing expected responsibilities because of alcohol use.

Addiction experts determine the diagnosis of AUD by taking a person’s history and conducting specific assessments.

AUD is rated as mild, moderate, or severe depending on the individuals’ symptoms, physical as well as psychological.


The NIAAA defines AUD as a “chronic relapsing brain disease”, meaning:

  • >> Scientific studies have shown alcoholism is a problem at the level of the brain
  • >> Alcoholism is not a matter of will, self-discipline or morals
  • >> If left without treatment, it will progress, causing the individual more harm
  • >> Relapse will likely occur if the person is not adequately supported in treatment


As signs of problem drinking become obvious, it is wise to immediately seek treatment.

Many individuals can be functioning alcoholics or grey area drinkers.

Functional alcoholics or high functioning alcoholics are likely to  [9]:

  • >> Keep their jobs
  • >> Perform parental duties
  • >> Keep problematic drinking behaviour a secret
  • >> Experience emotional problems such as anxiety or depression
  • >> Can have emotional problems at a level that is not yet a mental health condition
  • >> Fall into the category of Mild AUD


Meanwhile, grey area drinkers also exhibit problematic behaviours associated with AUD, but their number of symptoms do not qualify them to the full diagnosis of AUD.

Grey area drinkers may not have the correct number of symptoms to have AUD, but their drinking is already causing them problems in day-to-day life.


Most grey area drinkers shy away from alcohol rehab or therapy because they do not outright believe they are sick.

Some grey area drinkers are also not ready for treatment because they have not “hit rock bottom”.[10]

Sadly, this way of thinking can be detrimental to a person’s physical, psychological, and emotional health.


Individuals who are in AUD treatment are given the procedure to gradually reduce alcohol intake.

Professionally managed detox also involves use of medication to ease the withdrawal symptoms.

Individuals who suffer from AUD are encouraged to approach this disease as a health issue to take away the stigma of seeking cure.


Is It Safe To Stop Drinking Cold Turkey?

It is not safe to stop drinking alcohol cold turkey [11]

According to addiction experts, persons who quit cold turkey, meaning, suddenly stopping alcoholic consumption, without help or professional intervention, are at risk of:

  • >> Delirium Tremens (DT) – a severe reaction after stopping alcohol, occurring 2-3 days after their last drink.
    • >> DT could be fatal.
    • >> DT is caused by changes in the brain due to heavy drinking
    • >> Symptoms of DT are:
    • >> Trembling of the hands and feet
    • >> Feeling agitated or very irritated
    • >> The person is confused about where s/he is or what s/he is doing
    • >> Seeing and hearing things that are not there (hallucinating)
    • >> Convulsions (in the form of grand mal or tonic-clonic seizures)


  • >> Kindling – Worsening of alcohol withdrawal symptoms every time an attempt to quit is performed. Symptoms include [12]:
    • >> Depression
    • >> Anxiety
    • >> Irritability
    • >> Panic attacks
    • >> Difficulty sleeping, staying asleep, and early morning awakenings (EMA)
    • >> Emotionally unable to cope with the daily demands of life


  • >> High rate of relapse – Due to the desire to stop the withdrawal symptoms of alcohol, AUD sufferers tend to use alcohol to self-medicate. Scientific data has shown: [13]
    • >> 79% of untreated individuals do not achieve abstinence from alcohol
    • >> 20 to 50% of individuals who did not seek treatment relapse (percentage depends on the severity of alcohol addiction)
    • >> 40% of treated individuals were able to be problem-free from alcohol up to one year after treatment
    • >> 43% of treated individuals stayed sober three years after joining a treatment program


How Can I Stop Drinking So Much?

The safest way to stop drinking so much is to do alcohol detox with professional intervention.

Quitting alcohol with proper help tends to:

  • >> Be safer
  • >> Guarantee a better success rate
  • >> Prevent the chance or a relapse


Professional intervention can be in the form of inpatient or outpatient alcohol rehab.

Home detox for mild cases of Alcohol Use Disorder can also be arranged.

To keep motivated in drinking too much, a person needs to go dive deep into the motivations that keep him or her drinking.

Careful examination of these motives is best done with counseling or psychosocial interventions.

12 Step Facilitation, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Dialectical Based Therapy, and Holistic Therapy are found to be successful in combating alcoholism [14].

In the US, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines Drinking at Low Risk for Developing Alcohol Addiction as

  • >> Women: No more than 3 drinks on any single day and no more than 7 drinks per week.
  • >> Men: No more than 4 drinks on any single day and no more than 14 drinks per week.


One drink = 14 grams of pure alcohol (US measures)


In the UK, The Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines for both men and women [15] is:

  • >> Do not drink regularly more than 14 units per week
  • >> If a person does drink as much as 14 units per week, it is recommended to spread this amount evenly over 3 days or more.
  • >> Heavy drinking sessions are not recommended


According to the NHS [16], 14 units Alcohol in the UK means:

  • >> 14 single measures of spirits (ABV 37.5%)
  • >> 7 pints of average-strength (4%) lager
  • >> About 9 and one-third 125ml glasses of average-strength (12%) wine
  • >> 7 glasses of 175ml average-strength (12%) wine
  • >> About 4 four 250ml glasses of average-strength (12%) wine



  1.   Universitat Bonn. 2016. Alcohol study yields surprising results. [Press Release]. Available at:
  2.   Westman, et. al. (2015). Mortality and life expectancy of people with alcohol use disorder in Denmark, Finland and Sweden. Available at:
  3.   Ortiz-Ospina, E. & Beltekian D. (2018). Why do women live longer than men? Our World in Data. Available at:
  4.   National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2019). Alcohol Facts and Statistics. Available at:
  5.   Felman, A. (2018). What’s to know about alcoholic liver disease? Medical News Today. Available at:
  6.   Orfanidis, N. (2015). Overview of Vascular Disorders of the Liver. In Merck Manuals. Available at:
  7.   Thompson, W. (2011). Alcoholism Clinical Presentation. In Medscape. Available at:
  8.   Science Daily. (2019, April 2). Study reveals genes associated with heavy drinking and alcoholism. Science Daily. Available at:
  9.   National Institutes of Health. (2015). Researchers Identify Alcoholism Subtypes. Available at:
  10.   Gonzales, G. At 30, My Gray Area Drinking Problem Spiraled Into Alcoholism—and I Lost My Dream Job. Prevention. Available at:
  11.   Tidy, C. (2018). Alcohol Withdrawal and Alcohol Detoxification. Patient Info. Available at:
  12.   Modesto-Lowe, V., Huard, J. & Conrad, C. (2005). Alcohol Withdrawal Kindling: Is There a Role for Anticonvulsants? Psychiatry, 2(5), 25–31. Available at:
  13.   Moos, R. & Moos, B. (2006). Rates and predictors of relapse after natural and treated remission from alcohol use disorders. Addiction, 101(2), 212-222. Available at:
  14.   Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. (2018). Available at:
  15.   UK Department of Health. (2016). Chief Medical Officers’ Alcohol Guidelines Review. Available at:
  16.   NHS. (2018). Alcohol units. Available at:

Alcohol And Other Drugs In The Workplace

Posted on by 6yVttvVHll2J


An Overview

■ 6.6% of Americans employed in full-time jobs report heavy drinking, defined as drinking five or more drinks per occasion on five or more days in the past 30 days; 4.9% of part-timers and 10.4% of unemployed workers also report heavy drinking; the highest percentage of heavy drinkers (12.2%) is found among unemployed adults ages 26 to 34.1

■ Up to 40% of industrial fatalities and 47% of industrial injuries can be linked to alcohol consumption
and alcoholism.2

■ 60% of alcohol-related work performance problems can be attributed to employees who are not alcohol
dependent, but who occasionally drink too much on a work night or drink during a weekday lunch.3

■ 21% of workers reported being injured or put in danger, having to re-do work or to cover for a co-
worker, or needing to work harder or longer due to others’ drinking!’

■ Shortfalls in productivity and employment among individuals with alcohol or other drug-related
problems cost the American economy $80.9 billion in 1992, of which $66.7 billion is attributed to alcohol
and $14.2 billion to other drugs.5

■ Although 70% of all current adult illegal drug users ages 18 to 49 are employed full-time, use of most illicit drugs is substantially higher among the unemployed.’

■ Employees who were in serious trouble with alcohol showed significant improvement in drinking behavior and job adjustment during the months immediately following an intervention to confront problem drinking that was intruding on their work.

■ Drug testing as part of the hiring process is the most frequently used testing program reported by workers, followed by testing upon suspicion (30%) and post-accident (29%); about one quarter of workers report random drug testing on the job.


The Risks

■ Work roles with little or no supervision, and those characterized by high mobility, are associated with increased rates of problem drinking.

■ Numerous studies suggest a significant relationship between work stress and the development of drinking problems.

■ In general, unmarried workers (divorced, separated, or never married) have about twice the rate of illicit drug and heavy alcohol use as married workers.

■ Workers who report having three or more jobs in the previous five years are about twice as likely to be current or past year illicit drug users as those who have had two or fewer jobs.


Prevalence By Occupation

■ The highest rates of current and past year illicit drug use are reported by workers in the following occupations: construction, food preparation, and waiters and waitresses. Heavy alcohol use followed a similar pattern, although auto mechanics, vehicle repairers, light truck drivers and laborers also have high rates of alcohol use.

■ The lowest rates of illicit drug use are found among workers in the following occupations: police and
detectives, administrative support, teachers and child care workers. The lowest rates of heavy alcohol
use are among data clerks, personnel specialists and secretaries.


The Cost

■ Individuals with drinking problems or alcoholism at any time in their lives suffered income reductions ranging from 1.5% to 18.7% depending on age and sex compared with those with no such diagnosis.

■ Absenteeism among alcoholics or problem drinkers is 3.8 to 8.3 times greater than normal and up to 16 times greater among all employees with alcohol and other drug-related problems.18 Drug-using employees take three times as many sick benefits as other workers. They are five times more likely to file a worker’s compensation claim.

■ Non-alcoholic members of alcoholics’ families use ten times as much sick leave as members of families in which alcoholism is not present.


Employee Assistance Programs

■ For every dollar invested in an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), employers generally save anywhere from $5-$16. The average annual cost for an EAP ranges from $12-$20 per employee.

■ 45% of full-time employees who are not self-employed have access to an EAP provided by their employer but within a single year only 1.5% use an EAP because of alcohol or other drug-related problems.


Treatment Issues

■ Studies suggest that employees who are pressured into treatment by their employers are slightly more likely to recover from their alcoholism and improve their performance than those who are not so pressured.

■ Research indicates that alcoholism treatment can yield significant reductions in total health care costs and utilization for an alcoholic and his or her family.



‘National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (NHSDA): Main Findings 1997, 4199, p. 111. 2M Bernstein & JJ Mahoney, “Management Perspectives on Alcoholism: The Employer’s Stake in Alcoholism Treatment,” Occupational Medicine, Vol. 4, No. 2, 1989, pp. 223-232. 3TVV Magione, et. al., New Perspectives for Worksite Alcohol Strategies: Results from a Corporate Drinking Study, JSI Research & Training Institute, Inc., Boston, MA, 12/98, p. 1. ‘Ibid., p.2. 5NIDA and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “The Economic Cost of Alcohol and Drug Abuse, 1992 (preprint copy), 5/98, p. 5-1. 6US Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) news release, 9/8/99. ‘NIDA, National Household Survey on Drug Abuse: Race/Ethnicity, Socioeconomic Status, and Drug Abuse 1991, 12/93, p. 19. 8NIAAA, Alcohol Health & Research

World (AHRW): Alcohol and the Workplace, Vol. 16, No. 2, 1992, p. 147. 9SAMHSA, Worker Drug Use and Workplace Policies and
Programs: Results from the 1994 and 1997 NHSDA, 9/99, p. 3. “NIAAA, AHRW, op,cit., p. 107. “Ibid. ‘2SAMHSA, Drug Use Among US
Workers: Prevalence and Trends by Occupation and Industry Categories, 5/96, p. 1. “Ibid. “Ibid. “Ibid. “NIAAA, Eighth Special Report
to US Congress on Alcohol and Health, 9/93, p. 256. “Bernstein & Mahoney, op,cit. “US Department of Labor (USDL), What Works:
Workplaces Without Drugs, 8/90, p. 3. 19TE Backer, Strategic Planning for Workplace Drug Abuse Programs, NIDA, 1987, p, 4.
20Bernstein & Mahoney, op.cit. 2IUSDL, op.cit., p. 17. 22NIAAA, AHRW, op.cit., p. 121. 23Ibid., p.132. 24HD Holder & JO Blose, “Alcoholism
Treatment and Total Health Care Utilization and Costs: A Four-Year Longitudinal Analysis of Federal Employees,” Journal of the American Medical Association, No. 256, 1986, pp. 1456-1460.

Alcohol FAQ

Posted on by Melany Heger

What Is Alcohol And Why Is It Bad For You?

“Alcohol” usually means “alcoholic drinks”.

Alcoholic drinks have popular appeal, but many individuals are affected by it because alcohol contains ethanol.

Ethanol is the active ingredient in alcoholic drinks.


But ethanol is toxic because it affects the nervous system negatively if the amount used is excessive [1].

When alcohol poisoning happens due to too much ethanol in the body, serious health problems occur.

Some cases of alcohol poisoning can cause coma and death.


In addition, alcohol is also considered an addictive drug [2].

When alcohol is initially consumed, it acts as a stimulant, meaning, it energises a person.

As the person consumes more alcohol, a depressant or slowing-down effect happens [2].

Ethanol in alcohol can stimulate (excite) or depress (slow down) a person’s reactions depending on the person’s Blood Alcohol Content (BAC).

BAC can be measured by breathalyser, which is a hand-held device that can measure BAC rapidly [3].


The major reasons why individuals use alcohol are:

  • >> To socialize
  • >> To relax
  • >> To celebrate special occasions


Drinking alcohol is important in many cultures, where “social drinking” or drinking with other people is part of bonding [4].

After consuming an alcoholic beverage, the body does not digest it. Instead, alcohol enters the bloodstream quickly through the gastrointestinal tract (stomach and intestines).


Because alcohol enters the bloodstream quickly, the effects of alcohol are immediately obvious.

In moderate amounts, the good effects of alcohol are: [5]

  • >> Giving the person a “beer buzz”, a feel-good effect brought about by endorphin release in the brain
  • >> Can relax a person so that worries and bothersome thoughts are tuned out
  • >> Can initially help a person fall asleep
  • >> Possibly contributing to heart health, especially if alcohol consumed is red wine


However, some individuals become addicted to alcohol. To recover, they opt to join a rehab centre.


Experts have identified two specific brain areas that alcohol affects [6].

These are:

  • >> Nucleus accumbens – controlling the reward and pleasure experience
  • >> Orbitofrontal cortex – involved in planning and decision making


Because these two areas are specifically affected, individuals who are addicted to alcohol tend to have long-term problems which include:

  • Controlling the amounts of alcohol they consume
  • Drinking even if the consequences will be dire (being in trouble with the law, family conflicts, etc.)
  • Difficulty coming up with and following a plan, especially about quitting alcohol
  • Having problems with following specific instructions unless guided by supportive persons
  • A tendency to experience depression of alcohol is not consumed
  • The likelihood of being addicted to other substances other than alcohol, as the neuropathways for drug addiction are the same brain areas affected by alcohol addiction


To recover from alcohol addiction, individuals can use NHS services or join a rehab clinic, such as Abbeycare The Hygrove, Gloucester.


Usually, how alcohol affects an individual depends on the following factors:

  • >> Bodyweight
  • >> Male or female
  • >> Nutritional state (well-nourished, over-nourished or malnourished)
  • >> General health status
  • >> Usage and exposure to other drugs


How Is Alcohol Made?

Alcohol used as alcoholic beverages is made by the process of fermentation [7].

Fermentation occurs when yeasts are put into carbohydrates and left to mature.


The yeasts can be from a wild or a cultivated strain. Most alcoholic products use “Saccharomyces cerevisiae” or “Saccharomyces uvarum” as yeast agents [8].

The carbohydrates that the yeast comes into contact with can be from:

  • >> grapes
  • >> malted barley
  • >> malted wheat
  • >> rice
  • >> corn (maize)
  • >> potatoes
  • >> millet


The combination of yeast and carbohydrates are usually left to ferment in a vessel with a maintaining temperature (so as not to kill the yeast).


Manufacturers also add:

  • >> Diammonium phosphate – to improve yeast growth
  • >> Hops – as a preservative and to make beer taste bitter


The process by which alcoholic beverages are made is called anaerobic fermentation.

The end result of anaerobic fermentation is ethanol, which is the intoxicating ingredient of alcoholic drinks [7].

The carbohydrates eaten by the yeast also produce carbon dioxide.

The quantity of ethanol and carbon dioxide as an end result is because of the unique combination of the yeast agent and the fermenting ingredient.

This unique combination is why there are distinct flavours and types of alcoholic beverages.


There are specific ways of classifying alcohol products, depending on government regulations and traditional rules.

In the UK, the government regulates the production, sale, and consumption of alcoholic drinks.

For taxation purposes, UK alcoholic drinks are classified according to:  [9]

  • >> Spirits – whisky (wholly malt or wholly grain), blended whisky
  • >> Cider and Perry – sparkling or still
  • >> Beer
  • >> Wine and made-wine
  • >> Low alcohol beverages – these are wines that have an alcoholic strength no higher than 5.5% or made-wine with no more than 5.5% alcohol content.


There is a predominant belief that the type of alcohol a person consumes contributes to the aftereffects he or she feels.

Some people perceive that:

  • >> Beer makes a person more friendly or sociable
  • >> Tequila makes a person “crazy”
  • >> Gin makes a person feel tearful


But alcoholic drinks only affects individuals in two concrete ways, namely alcoholic concentration and alcohol-related beliefs [10]:

Spirits have a high concentration of alcohol compared to beer or wine. Usually, spirits are also consumed quickly. Because spirits are drinks with a high amount of sugar, bloodstream absorption is quick. This is why spirits have a stronger kick.


Meanwhile, beer is generally lower in alcohol content than spirits. The usual consumption of beers involves a social set-up. This is one of the main reasons why we perceive the consumption of beer as relaxing.

Applied psychology has been used to increase the appeal of alcoholic drinks to the general public by enhancing its good qualities and downplaying its potential for abuse.

In recent years, efforts have been made to sell beverages that are low in alcohol or alcohol-free, so that individuals who want to socialise with friends who drink will not feel left out.


Among the three types of alcohol, only food-grade ethanol is safe for human consumption [7].

The three types of alcohol, when classified according to chemical make-up, are isopropyl, methyl, and ethyl.

Isopropyl alcohol is used as rubbing alcohol, nail polish solvent, aftershave lotions, hand lotions, and other cosmetic products.


Methyl alcohol is used as an ingredient in antifreeze, rocket fuels, and as a clean-burning fuel alternative.

There is also an industrial grade of ethanol, and this is a solvent added to gasoline used in cars.


How Do You Know If Alcohol Is Affecting Your Health?

When individuals exhibit certain physical symptoms, it is an indication that alcohol is affecting their health. These physical symptoms are : [11]

  • >> Breathing difficulties
  • >> Coughing up blood
  • >> Irregular heart rate (too fast or too slow)
  • >> Frequent diarrhoea
  • >> Frequent Stomach upsets
  • >> Muscle weakness or shaking
  • >> Numbness in hands and feet


In addition, there are also behavioural symptoms that indicate alcohol is affecting a person’s health. These behavioural symptoms are:

  • >> It takes more alcohol than before to achieve the desired effects of alcohol (a sign of alcohol dependence)
  • >> Drinking alcohol even if there are negative consequences
  • >> Mood swings
  • >> Seems to keep on forgetting things (memory loss)
  • >> Blackouts, which are periods of time when a person loses consciousness and forgets what has happened for quite some time
  • >> Slurred speech or mumbling and poor pronunciation of words
  • >> Feeling tired all the time
  • >> Difficulty going to sleep without consuming alcohol


With adolescents or teenagers, drinking can: [12]

  • >> Impair the development of memory skills, long-term thinking skills and learning skills
  • >> Harm the liver by disrupting the levels of liver enzymes
  • >> Disrupt hormonal balance critical for the development of organs, muscles and bones
  • >> Affect the reproductive system which is still in development during adolescence


Immediate intervention in a rehab facility can successfully stop teenage drinking so that alcohol addiction does not progress as a life-long disease.

To differentiate what moderate consumption of alcohol is versus alcohol addiction, we must refer to the presence of physical and psychological symptoms.


Casual drinking is when a person consumes alcohol in moderation. There are minimal physical symptoms and there is an absence of psychological symptoms.

Alcohol addiction is an illness characterised by the presence of physical and psychological symptoms. There is a great chance that a person who has alcohol addiction may be in denial.

Some individuals only seek help when they are affected socially by their behaviours. Ideally, persons who notice that a loved one is having problems with drinking behaviour should approach the situation as a health concern.


We must also bear in mind that not all persons who are addicted to alcohol hit rock bottom. There are so-called “grey area drinkers.”

“Grey area drinkers” are functional alcoholics. Most of these individuals are able to appear responsible enough, fulfilling daily obligations. But they experience alcohol dependence symptoms.

The main factors that influence drinking behaviour are:  [4]

  • >> To help cope with stress
  • >> Because of social influences


As a result, persons who have successfully transitioned from alcohol addiction to addiction recovery find non-addictive ways to cope with stress.

Help by other people through Mutual Support Groups serve as positive social influences that steer a person away from alcohol addiction.


Joining an alcohol rehab program, especially one that is structured has been proven as an effective way to kick-start recovery.

Recently, there is a trend called “sober living”, another term for abstinence from alcohol. Apparently, there is an underlying desire to change the image of alcoholism as a disease.

Instead, the focus is on living the best life without alcohol. Hence, a person who is recovering from alcoholism can call himself or herself a “sober warrior” instead of a “recovering alcoholic”.

The practice of Dry January is slowly gaining momentum in the UK.



  1.   Encyclopaedia Briatnnica. (2019). Ethanol: Chemical Compound. Available at:
  2.   National Institute of Health. (2011). Curriculum Supplement Series: Alcohol. Available at:
  3.   British Medical Journal. (2002). Alcohol Breath Testing. Available at:
  4.   Abbey, A., Smith, M. J. & Scott, R. (1993). The relationship reasons for drinking alcohol and alcohol consumption: An interactional approach. Addiction Behavior, 18(6), 659–670. Available at:
  5. (2019). Alcohol. Available at:
  6.   Thayer et. al. (2012). Nucleus Accumbens Volume Is Associated with Frequency of Alcohol Use among Juvenile Justice-Involved Adolescents. Brain Science, 2(4), 605-618. Available at:
  7.   Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2019). Alcoholic Beverage. Available at:
  8.   Lumen. (2018). The Microbiology of Food. Available at:
  9.   United Kingdom Government. (2019). Guidance: UK Trade Tariff: Excise Duties, Reliefs, Drawbacks and Allowances. Available at:
  10.   National Health Service. (2017). Different alcoholic drinks may trigger different emotions; many of them negative. Available at:
  11.   Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Fact Sheets – Alcohol Use and Your Health. Available at:
  12.   National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2011). Alcohol Use Disorder. Available at:

Spice FAQ

Posted on by Melany Heger

What Is Spice Drug Used For?

Spice is a drug used to get high. It is a synthetic cannabinoid, which is a machine-made drug mimicking the chemical compounds found in marijuana [1].

In the UK, Spice is banned. Spice is one of the many drugs previously called “legal highs” [2].

Legal highs are machine-made drugs designed to work like cocaine, ecstasy and speed.


The way these drugs were made, manufacturers tweaked them in order to evade The Psychoactive Substances Act (PSA).

Up until 2016, legal highs were allowed for sale in the UK.

After amending the law in May 2016, Spice was made illegal.

The new law also meant “headshops” that sell drug paraphernalia are scrutinised.


“Not Safe for Human Consumption”

To get around the law, manufacturers of Spice and other Legal High products alter the chemical components of their merchandise.

Spice products are also presented in colourful packaging with the label “not fit for human consumption”, which seemingly warns the public of its adverse effects.

But the packaging and the warning appear to be very misleading.


The majority of Spice users are young people, who are led to think that the effects of Spice are similar to weed. After all, Spice could hide under the name, “Fake Weed”.

But Spice and other legal high products pose a health hazard to individuals who experiment with them.

The sad truth is there are many A&E incidents due to Spice usage. This is heart-breaking, especially for the parents and family members of young users.


How Addictive Is K2 Spice?

Spice tends to be as addictive as the “natural” drug it was designed to mimic, cannabis.

However, in a recent report, commissioners have been actively campaigning for Spice to be categorised as a “Class A” drug [3].

Class A drugs include heroin and cocaine, which are highly addictive and dangerous drugs.


Officials have also urged to government to make the use of Spice a public health issue.

The process of manufacturing Spice varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, because of this variance, how negative it affects individuals differs for each kind of product.

In the illegal market, Spice can be sold under the following labels:

  • >> Synthetic marijuana
  • >> Herbal incense
  • >> Herbal smoking blend
  • >> Mr. Happy
  • >> Mojo
  • >> Bliss
  • >> Genie
  • >> Scoobie Snax
  • >> Mamba
  • >> Fake Weed


Physical signs of addiction to Spice are [4].

  • >> Developing a tolerance for Spice – need more and more of the drug in order to feel high
  • >> Withdrawal symptoms when cutting down or trying to stop the usage of Spice


Unlike physical signs of addiction, some individuals ignore psychological dependence symptoms, labeling these behaviours as “acting out”.

As a result, psychological signs of addiction to spice sometimes overlooked.


These psychological symptoms, which are originally for Cannabis Use Disorder are [4].

  • >> Using more Spice than initially planned
  • >> Trying but being unable to cut down the usage of Spice
  • >> Spending way too much time obtaining and using Spice
  • >> Not enjoying activities previously enjoyed, preferring usage of Spice instead
  • >> Continued usage of Spice even if problems at work or school are caused by it
  • >> Not fulfilling financial and/or family obligations
  • >> Financial problems due to buying Spice


Some individuals chose to have professionally assisted detox in a drug rehab clinic in order to deal with the physical and psychological issues associated with Spice addiction.

The chance of relapse is lower when professional help is sought, improving the outlook of a person trying to recover.


How Does Spice Drug Work?

Spice affects the same parts of the brain cannabis does [5].

Having the same effect on the brain’s receptors as THC but in a stronger more unpredictable manner, Spice specifically works by:

  • >> elevating mood – producing feelings associated with happiness
  • >> making individuals fee relaxed
  • >> altering how individuals perceive things, which can make persons more aware or vigilant
  • >> creating a sense of detachment
  • >> affecting the part of the brain that distinguishes reality from fantasy, which can lead to having hallucinations.


In addition, Spice works in parts of the brain controlling a person’s:

  • >> Memory
  • >> Sexual activity
  • >> Pain management
  • >> Moods
  • >> Appetite
  • >> Attention


How Long Does It Take For Spice to Kick In?

By smoking Spice, the effects usually start to kick in between 5 to 30 minutes.

By swallowing spice, the effects are noticed 4−6 hours afterward [6].


How Long Does K2 High Last?

The high felt after taking Spice lasts several hours; with some individuals, the effects can be felt up to seven hours after using the drug [4].

Spice can stay in the body longer than a month, as it has been documented that storage is primarily through a person’s fatty tissues.

After 41 days in the body, half of the amount used is excreted (drug half-life). About half of the remaining Spice in the body would need some more time to be completely eliminated [7].

The effects of Spice can be felt for up to 24 hours after use. But most research efforts show that Spice is felt most intensely 1 to 8 hours after being smoked [7].

What Are The Side Effects Of K2 Spice?

The side effects of using spice are: [4]

  • >> vomiting (with or without blood)
  • >> nausea
  • >> hallucinations
  • >> heart palpitations
  • >> seizures
  • >> extreme anxiety
  • >> high level of irritability
  • >> violent behaviours such as destruction of property, harming other persons
  • >> suicidal thoughts


To understand addiction to Spice better, we need to know that individuals who use Spice are motivated by:  [7]

  • >> wanting to get “high”
  • >> avoid detection from drug testing
  • >> [previous] legality of Spice
  • >> curiosity
  • >> liking the effects
  • >> readily available in “headshops” or internet sources
  • >> for relaxation
  • >> lower cost than other mind-altering substances

In addition, some individuals are more at risk of using Spice than others [4].


Usually, these at-risk individuals are described as:

  • >> Previous or current users of cigarettes, marijuana, alcohol, and other addictive substances
  • >> With less than 10 years of formal education
  • >> Has a family member who has a substance abuse problem
  • >> Has a family member with depression, anxiety or bipolar mood disorder
  • >> Has a family member with mental health disorder associated with personality difficulties.
  • >> (Examples of personality problems are: borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder)

Can You Die From Spice?

Individuals have been reported to die from using spice.

In 2018, Spice was on 60 deaths certificates in England and Wales [8].

There have been 27 cases of deaths due to Spice overdose between 2015 to 2016 [9].

Recently, nine minor age individuals collapsed after inhaling Spice through vaping [8].

Can K2 Cause Permanent Psychosis?

Using spice could trigger acute psychosis, not permanent psychosis [10]:

Acute psychosis lasts for a short time, progresses quickly and is obviously noticed.

Signs of acute psychosis are: [11]

  • >> Being awake, but in a “zombie-like” condition
  • >> Hallucinations -seeing, hearing, and noticing objects that are not really present; sometimes talking to persons who do not actually exist or are already deceased
  • >> Dissociation – feeling separated from one’s own body, “floating above my body”
  • >> Disorganised thinking or thoughts
  • >> Changes in mood and behaviour, especially hyperactive thoughts
  • >> Persecutory delusions “someone is out to get me”
  • >> Delusions of reference “the person in TV is talking to me”; “they are always gossiping about me”
  • >> Delusion of grandeur – feeling exceptionally wealthy, strong, powerful etc. without factual evidence
  • >> Sexual delusions – including beliefs that s/he is being sexually pursued even by persons they do know personally
  • >> Fantastic delusions –  common themes are science fiction, religion, and supernatural phenomena


In the US, “spiceophrenia”  was a term created by Addiction Specialists to describe how Spice-induced psychosis is similar to schizophrenia, a psychiatric disorder.

The populations most affected by Spice misuse are teenagers and young adults [11].

Research has shown that using “regular cannabis” in adolescence is likely to increase the risk of risk of psychosis in individuals [4].

It could be argued that this risk of psychosis in adult life is magnified by the usage of synthetic cannabinoids like Spice.

Aside from psychosis, individuals under the age of 21 who use cannabis and Spice are a high risk for long term cognitive impairments (brain function damage).

The damage is potentially irreversible and could mean:  [12]

  • >> problematic decision-making skills
  • >> tendency to take inappropriate risks
  • >> impulsivity
  • >> difficulty remembering information presented (working memory damage)

Does K2 Have Withdrawal Symptoms?

K2 or Spice has withdrawal symptoms. These behaviours are most severe when individuals try to quit Spice on their own (or “quitting cold turkey”) [4].

These withdrawal symptoms mean that a person trying to stop Spice use will express how awful s/he is without using Spice.

Sometimes, the person will continue using Spice “just to feel normal”.

Spice withdrawal symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • >> diarrhoea
  • >> loss of appetite
  • >> nausea
  • >> vomiting
  • >> anxiety and restlessness
  • >> depression
  • >> chest pain
  • >> problems breathing
  • >> fast heart beat
  • >> hypertension
  • >> excessive sweating
  • >> aches and pains all over the body
  • >> having difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep
  • >> hypertension
  • >> headaches or migraines

The most intense period for Spice withdrawal is the first week [4].

After one week, symptoms usually taper off.

However, if a person has been using Spice for a prolonged period of time, the effects can last for up to a month.

There is a risk of complications when withdrawing from Spice, especially when it is done without professional help.

The safest recourse would be to use a supervised detox facility for Spice withdrawal.


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Synthetic Cannabinoids (K2/Spice) Available at:
  2.  BBC. (2016, 26 May ). Legal highs ban comes into force across the UK. Available at:
  3. Barnes, T. (2018, 29 August). Spice should be upgraded to Class A drug, say police and crime commissioners. The Independent. Available at:
  4. Spaderna, M., Addy, P. H. & D’Souza, D C. (2014). Spicing things up: Synthetic cannabinoids. Psychopharmacology (Berl), 228(4), 525–540.  Available at:
  5.  National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Synthetic Cannabinoids (K2/Spice). Available at:
  6. Huestis, M. (2007). Human Cannabinoid Pharmacokinetics. Chemistry & Biodiversity, 4(8), 1770–1804.  Available at:
  7.  Lovett, C. Wood, D. M. & Dargan, P. I. (2015). Pharmacology and Toxicology of the Synthetic Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists. Available at:
  8.  Byrne, P. (2019, August 18). Spice crisis deepens as 9 kids collapse after taking zombie drug and deaths surge. Available at:
  9. Financial Times. (2019, January 10). UK to reconsider classification of synthetic drug spice. Available at:
  10. Papanti et al. (2013). “Spiceophrenia”: a systematic overview of “spice”-related psychopathological issues and a case report. Human Psychophramacology, 28(4), 379-89. Available at:
  11. Kulhalli, V. Isaac, M. & Murthy, P. (2007). Cannabis-related psychosis: Presentation and effect of abstinence. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 49(4), 256–261. Available at:
  12. Patel, J. & Marwaha, R. (2019).Cannabis Use Disorder. Available at:

Prescription Medicines FAQ

Posted on by Melany Heger

What Is The Difference Between A Prescription Drug And An OTC Drug?

Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs can be bought at a pharmacy or supermarket without a prescription. Prescription drugs are for conditions that are more serious, or need precise dosage and intake instructions given by a health care professional.

In the UK, the NHS has a list of conditions that do not need prescriptions. To obtain these medications, one can simply approach the prescribing professional at a local pharmacy [1].

The NHS is limiting the unnecessary amount of prescriptions given due to budget concerns.


Common conditions that do not need prescriptions are:

  • >> Sore throat
  • >> Fever and flu
  • >> Burns (minor)
  • >> Indigestion or heartburn
  • >> Hay fever
  • >> Diarrhoea
  • >> Constipation
  • >> Dry eyes
  • >> Travel sickness


Some individuals get addicted to OTC drugs. The most abused OTC drugs are those containing codeine [2] and Dextromethorphan (DXM) [3].

If taken continuously for three days, drugs containing codeine can be addictive [2].

If there are concerns regarding OTC addiction, a source of help would be an addiction clinic such as Abbeycare Scotland.


Is it Illegal To Misuse Prescription Drugs?

Possessing prescribed drugs without a prescription is illegal in the UK.

Using prescription medicines in a non-medical manner is also illegal in the UK.

If a person is given prescriptions for medicines, he or she can only use these medicines as advised by a health care professional.

Penalty for possession of these drugs for non-medical use is up to 5 years in prison with no limit on the amount of fine imposed [4].


The most misused prescription drugs are:

  • >> Opioids/narcotics/painkillers such as Dilaudid, Vicodin, Percodan, and OxyContin
  • >> Benzodiazepines such as Valium and Xanax
  • >> Stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall
  • >> Prescription grade Codeine


Prescription misuse can lead to addiction to prescription drugs. Some cases can also lead to overdose with lethal consequences [5].


How Long Does It Take To Flush Medication Out Of Your System?

The time taken depends on what kind of drug is taken, how much of it is taken and how long an individual has been taking it.

For psychoactive drugs (drugs that can change moods and consciousness), the following are to be considered:

  • >> For benzodiazepines such as diazepam (Valium or Xanax), the effects of the medicine wane within 2 to 4 days [6].
  • >> For Rohypnol® (Flunitrazepam) – half of the effect is gone within 18-26 hours, but it is not totally eliminated in the system a few more hours [7]
  • >> For Adderall® Concerta®, Ritalin®, which are prescribed stimulants, the effects are gone approximately 10 hours after swallowing (for adult individuals) [8].


With regards to medication prescribed to treat other diseases like high-blood pressure, high-cholesterol, diabetes, and acid reflux, consult other authoritative sources.

To know the specific time needed to flush these medicines out, it could be helpful to be familiar with the concept of “half-life” in medicine.

When a medication hits its “half-life”, it means that from this time on, it has half the power it has from the point it was most effective. After half-life, the effect of the drug gradually decreases [9].

Knowing the half-life of a particular medicine can help predict the approximate amount of time the total effect of the medicine will wear off.


Factors that affect how long a drug stays in the system are [10]:

  • >> The type of drug used – some medications have a longer half-life than others, while some stay in the system for a long time because they are metabolised slowly by the body
  • >> The amount used – consider the dosage taken
  • >> How long an individual has been taking the drug
  • >> Body weight – generally speaking, if a person has a lot of body fat, s/he could be less affected by the drug taken
  • >> Age – younger people and the elderly generally are generally more affected by strong medication
  • >> Being hydrated or dehydrated – being well hydrated makes drug elimination somewhat faster
  • >> Body’s metabolism – an important factor as it determines how long the liver and kidneys filter the chemicals out of the bloodstream


Because withdrawal from prescription drugs could be risky, many individuals prefer to consult an addiction clinic whilst undergoing the process.


Tips on flushing out medicine from the system:

  • >> Drink up to 64 oz. of water or clear liquids a day to help your liver and kidney filter the drugs
  • >> Engage in aerobic exercise to promote sweating
  • >> Eat foods rich in fibre such as porridge oats, brown rice, and wheat bread
  • >> Try green juices, green tea, and lemon water, all of which have natural detoxifying effects on the body


How Long Do Detox Symptoms Last?

The usual amount of time for detox symptoms to disappear is within three to ten days. This amount of time generally applies to opiate drugs [11].

Drug detox from prescription medicines depends on several factors, but in general, the timeline would be:

Day 1 to Day 3

Initial symptoms include flu-like symptoms, insomnia, and anxiety

Day 4 to 7

This is the time when detox symptoms peak. Expect:

  • >> Cravings for prescription drugs
  • >> Irritable mood
  • >> Persistent insomnia
  • >> Fever and chills
  • >> Abdominal cramps
  • >> Vomiting/nausea

Day 7 to 10

A management team should be able to assist an individual to transition from drug withdrawal to the therapeutic stage on intervention at this point.

Some facilities offer medication such as buprenorphine, methadone or naloxone to help relieve withdrawal symptoms.


Some individuals ask why buprenorphine, methadone or naloxone is used to treat opioid addiction, since these medications are in the same family as the prescription medicines they are addicted to.

These medications used in medical detox work because like the addictive substance, they bind with opioid receptors in the brain. The brain’s receptors are occupied with the substitute drug, preventing further ties with the unwanted drug.


When an individual takes buprenorphine, methadone or naloxone under supervised detox, he or s/he does not feel euphoria, only relief from prescription medication withdrawal.


Giving the substitute drug is a form of gradual weaning off prescription medication. The end goal is abstinence.

Usually, a rehab clinic will work with the patient to make a personalised treatment plan to treat prescription drug addiction [11].


Can You Detox While On Medication?

Individuals can safely take medication while on drug detox provided that they are cared for in a facility with good standards. In the UK, certification from CQC is considered the industry standard [12].


Professionals well-versed in professionally assisted detox will routinely screen individuals for the usage of other medications.


Drug interactions happen, and without proper guidance, the results could pose serious health risks.


There are many conditions that require the usage of medication even whilst in detox. These conditions include:

  • >> HIV
  • >> Liver disease
  • >> Alcohol dependence
  • >> Hepatitis
  • >> Staph infections
  • >> Tuberculosis

How Is Prescription Drug Misuse Prevented?

To prevent prescription drug misuse, open communication with a health care professional is important. The following information should be relayed:

  • >> Medical history – past diseases, current complaints
  • >> Current diseases
  • >> Other medications taken, even vitamin supplements
  • >> Eating and sleeping habits
  • >> Psychological concerns about taking medicines such as need for treatment, fears of drug dependency, concerns about side effects, etc.
  • >> Scheduling problems about taking medication


Note that some people are more at risk of prescription drug misuse. If the following are present, it could help to be extra aware:

  • >> Past or present addictions to other substances such as alcohol and cigarettes
  • >> Family history of alcoholism or drug use
  • >> Psychological problems such as anxiety and depression
  • >> Being in environments where drug use is an accepted norm
  • >> Easy access to prescription drugs


If one is parent, preventing the misuse of prescription drugs can be done by:

  • >> Being vigilant with the amount and type of prescription medicine available at home (know how many there are exactly).
  • >> Some teenagers get access to prescription medications because the medicines were prescribed to their parents. Safeguard these types of medication properly.
  • >> Dispose of unused medications in the right place. Most pharmacies are obliged to take back unwanted medicines from patients for disposal.
  • >> Frame talks about drugs as a health issue to remove the shame and stigma.
  • >> Talk about real-life examples of drug problems in a neutral tone. Instead of stigmatising an individual with a drug use problem, adopt a problem-solving approach or a humane approach.



  1.  National Health Service. (2018). Why can’t I get a prescription for an over-the-counter medicine? Available at:
  2.  Gil, N. (2018). Young, Female & Addicted To Legal Pills. Available at:
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Commonly Abused Drugs Chart. Available at:
  4. United Kingdom Government. (2013). Drugs Penalties. Available at:
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2019). Misuse of Prescription Drugs. Available at:
  6. Federal Drug Administration. (2011). Valium. Available at:
  7. (2007). Rohypnol. Available at:
  8. Medical News Today. (2018). Adderal (amphetamine/dextroamphetamine). Available at:
  9. Smith, Y. (2016). What is the Half-Life of a Drug? Available at:
  10. (2019). How long do drugs stay in your system? Available at:
  11. Gupta, M. & Attia, F. (2019). Withdrawal Syndromes. National Center for Biotechnology Information. Available at:
  12. Care Quality Commission. (2019). Treatment and Rehabilitation. Available at:

Methadone FAQ

Posted on by Melany Heger

What Are The Effects Of Methadone?

Taking methadone could delay and/or eliminate heroin withdrawal symptoms [1].

Methadone is a synthetic opioid like heroin, tramadol and fentanyl. Primarily, it causes:

  • >> Pain relief
  • >> Sleepiness or drowsiness
  • >> Sedation


When an opioid dependent individual takes methadone, it does not cause feelings of euphoria. Rather, withdrawal symptoms and opioid cravings are relieved.

Withdrawal symptoms curbed or eliminated by taking methadone include insomnia, carvings for heroin, fever and moodiness.

Taking methadone can also lead to some side effects. These are [2]:

  • >> Some difficulty breathing or shallow breathing
  • >> Lightheadedness or feeling faint
  • >> Allergic skin reactions
  • >> Chest pains
  • >> Fast heartbeat
  • >> Some may feel confused or disoriented


Side effects should be reported immediately in case they are signs of serious trouble.

Total abstinence from heroin is challenging. As this is the case, some individuals rely on methadone to stabilise before undergoing a rehab programme like that at Abbeycare Scotland.


How Often Can You Take Methadone?

Methadone is usually taken only once a day.

The typical dosage for methadone is 20 to 30 mg.

This dose is often enough to make withdrawal symptoms tolerable. An additional 5 to 10 milligrams is given if the first dose is not working.

A total daily dose usually does not exceed 40 mg [3].


Methadone works by stopping cravings for heroin and other opioids such as oxycodone and fentanyl.

In the UK, methadone is used in Methadone Maintenance Therapy (MMT) by the NHS.


Some addiction clinics also use methadone as part of its in-patient programme.

Methadone helps with opioid cravings by reducing the withdrawal symptoms of heroin, morphine and other prescription drugs.


Examples of these withdrawal symptoms are:

  • >> Irritability and moodiness
  • >> Anxious feelings
  • >> Feeling tired or fatigued
  • >> Depression
  • >> An increased heart rate
  • >> Muscle pains or cramps
  • >> Stomach pains
  • >> Nausea
  • >> Fever and chills
  • >> Vomiting
  • >> Diarrhea
  • >> Tremors
  • >> Muscle spasms


Methadone is dispensed by the NHS and other private facilities because there is a risk of diverting the drug for illegal use.

A single dose usually lasts for 24 to 36 hours. NHS clinic services are free, and will often provide other helpful services for people who seek to limit or stop drug use.


How Long Does It Take For Liquid Methadone To Absorb?

After swallowing liquid methadone, it can usually be absorbed by the body in as little as one hour.

But due to differing metabolism and other factors, some individuals could respond differently to the drug, taking up to 7 hours for full absorption [4].

Because methadone is not immediately absorbed by the body, some individuals may not feel complete relief from withdrawal symptoms a short time after they take it.


If methadone is being taken as part of a drug rehab programme, there is a need to be in touch with addiction experts during the process.

Drug detox using methadone has caused deaths because of complications with existing heart problems [5].


The WHO lists methadone as one of its essential medications because of its proven efficacy. Specifically, methadone is used two ways:

  1. Methadone Management Therapy (MMT)
  2. Methadone-assisted detoxification


For MMT, authorities view opioid addiction as a lifetime disease.

Using this way of thinking, methadone is used as a maintenance drug very much like how individuals with diabetes use insulin—as a drug that they have to take to keep functioning properly [6].


In the UK, MMT is used by the NHS. It is believed that long-term opioid abuse causes a form of damage in the central nervous system that makes individuals who want to stop using it feel sick.


By using methadone, individuals who quit opiates such as heroin and fentanyl tend to be able to cope better.

The second way of using methadone typically treating it as part of medically assisted detox, where methadone is the only the first part of a structured rehab programme.


After detox, individuals in a rehab programme usually attend therapy sessions, then rehab aftercare.

Some individuals misunderstand the use of methadone in MMT as “substituting one drug for another”.


There can be shame and stigma if an individual seeks methadone treatment because of this way of thinking.

Current research [6] proves that methadone could be effective in helping individuals stop using heroin and other illegal drugs.


In fact, MMT may prevent the spread of HIV through lessening the need for needle sharing.

MMT tend to curb criminal behaviour associated with drug use. The WHO has listed methadone as one of its essential medicines [6].


Is Methadone Free To Addicts?

In the UK, the NHS provide a daily dose of methadone to individuals who utilise either of the two approaches utilised to stop heroin misuse [7].

These approaches are Methadone Maintenance Therapy (MMT) and detox with the assistance of methadone.


Because heroin dependence is a condition where individuals tend to relapse, abstinence could be hard to achieve for many.

The NHS decided to prescribe methadone and buprenorphine as a form of substitution treatment.

It is not about substituting one drug for another because although methadone can be addictive, substitution treatment can help stabilise individuals to be able to undergo rehab and talk therapies [8].


Substitution treatment also aims to offer a legal and safe heroin or opiate substitute so that addicted individuals can reduce risky behaviours.


How Long Does It Take To Stabilise On Methadone?

It takes about two weeks to stabilise an individual using methadone in Methadone Management Therapy [9].

There are no set rules on the duration of Methadone Management Therapy (MMT). But the longer an individual stays on the programme, the better the chances are for behavioural change.


In the UK, the NHS strongly believes that MMT is the solution to resolving the problem of heroin/morphine/fentanyl abuse. Aside from MMT, the other approach is to use methadone as part of drug detox [7].

Although long-term abstinence from illegal opioids is the end goal of methadone treatment approaches, some individuals are not able to achieve this goal.

This is because methadone is addictive, just like other opioids. Some individuals on MMT have gotten addicted to methadone and require a detox from methadone in order continue living a sober life [2].


The NHS methadone approaches work on the premise that there are support services after methadone administration—it appears that methadone alone cannot solve the problem.

The quality of the NHS treatment programme, including the capacities of the staff, the services of the local drug services, and the treatment methods used are important in determining the success of methadone treatment [1].

However, because waiting for approval by NHS for methadone detox service takes time, some individuals chose private rehab instead. In addition, methadone addiction could be a tricky issue to talk about with a professional who works for the NHS.


Detoxing from methadone addiction is a serious concern, and in a private in-patient rehab setting, there could be a greater chance of recovery than in public programmes because private rehab centre services are more comprehensive and timely [10].

Most of all, the admission process in most private rehabs take only a matter of days.


Likewise, unlike NHS services, private clinics offer:

  • >> A lower staff-to-patient ratio
  • >> Better amenities
  • >> Personalised treatment
  • >> Continuation in care
  • >> Rehab aftercare


There is another drawback to the methadone treatment offered to the public: some individuals who use illegal opioids do not want methadone treatment.

Some may have tried methadone treatment, disliked it, or found it ineffective.


Some individuals are unable to manage on the prescribed dose and some continue to use illegal opioids to ‘top-up’ their prescription.

And lastly, some individuals do not like to give up injecting drugs. Apparently, the ritual of injecting is an experience that sometimes becomes a focus for addiction [1].



  1. Stimson, G. V. and Metrebian, N. (2003). Prescribing heroin: What is the evidence? Joseph Rowntree Foundation.  Available at:
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Methadone. Available at:
  3. National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2016). Methadone® Available at:
  4. US Food and Drug Administration. (2015). Methadone Hydrochloride (marketed as Dolophine) Information. Available at:
  5. Harvard Medical School. (2019). Treating opiate addiction, part I: Detoxification and maintenance. Available at:
  6. Australian Government Department of Health. (2013). Four principles of methadone maintenance therapy. Available at:
  7. National Health Service. (2017). Heroin addiction: get help. Available at:
  8. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. (2007). Methadone and buprenorphine for the management of opioid dependence. Technology appraisal guidance. Available at:
  9. Australian Government Department of Health. (2015). Induction to methadone treatment. Available at:
  10. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2013). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition). Available at: