Substance Abuse in Ireland


Substance abuse became a common problem in the 1970s, and is still a complex issue in the 21st century. It is a major threat to public economy and health across Ireland. The effects of substance cost the Irish government millions of Euros yearly, and have devastating social and health effects on individuals, communities, and families. Ireland has reported the highest deaths due to substance abuse in entire Europe. Research shows that 51% of Irish population aged between 18 and 30 years have used illicit substances in the past (Keeley, Mongwa & Corcoran, 2015). This prioritizes the study on substance abuse is Ireland. This paper focuses on the types of substances, effects, supply and prevention. Conclusions will be drawn, and recommendations cited.

Substance Categories

Some of the commonly abused substance in Ireland includes sedatives, opiates such as cocaine and heroin, hallucinogens, stimulants and head shop drugs among others. The substances are classified into five categories, each having its health risks.

Tranquilizers and Sedatives

The most common drug in this category is benzodiazepine, which is also referred to as Valium and Xanax. Doctors can prescribe the mentioned drugs as they are beneficial to the patients if taken as per the prescriptions and within a short time. Unregulated or long-term use of the drugs is harmful (Keeley, Mongwa & Corcoran, 2015). The drugs can poison users or induce them if they overdose. Additionally, the long-term use of this drug has been associated with neurological illness such as Alzheimer’s diseases. When a person takes benzodiazepines and combines with painkillers, anti-histamines or alcohol can cause respiratory failure or coma (Darker, Sweeney, Keenan, Whiston, Anderson & Barry, 2016).



Opiates are strong painkillers such as morphine. Morphine is usually used in hospitals under doctors’ care. Other opiates such as heroin have dangerous additives that are harmful to the body. Consequently, heroin is addictive and long term use result to different health problems such as blood clots, abscesses, psychiatric disorders, and gangrene.  Additionally, individuals who use heroin have a high chance of contracting blood-borne viruses. Users can contract Hepatitis C and B, and HIV when they share contaminated sharp objects such as needles (Darker, et al. 2016).


Stimulants are substances that cause chemical reactions in the user’s brain and make him/her feel awake, alert or energetic. Some of the stimulants are cocaine and amphetamines. According to Connolly and Donovan (2014), stimulants uses can cause health risks such as cardiac problems and psychiatric illness, including anxiety and depression.  Some of the stimulants can be injected into the blood, so they also carry the risk of spreading blood-borne viruses.


One of the illegally used drug substance in Ireland is cannabis. It is either eaten or smoked, and its excessive use has similar health problems as other forms of smoking. Consumption of cannabis is linked to lack of motivation and concentration and memory loss.  Among young people, excessive use impacts on behavior and brain function. It is also linked to schizophrenia (Carew, Murphy, Long, Hunter, Lyons, Walsh & Thornton, 2017).

The use of the mentioned substances to lesser or greater extent has the possibility of the user developing dependency or substance use disorders. The dependency or substance abuse can cause psychological and social impacts.  The locations and patterns of use, physiological effects and dosage differ between the substances. Therefore, to successfully prevent and combat substance abuse, adopted public policies must reflect the variances.

Effects of Substance Abuse in Ireland

Psychological and Physical Effects of Substance Dependency

According to the report from the Health Research Board, unlike alcohol abuse, whereby ethanol is responsible for physiological and psychiatric effects, most substances are categorized as illicit drugs that cause different body and brain reactions (Darker, et al. 2016). Regardless of the chemical effects associated with a variety of drugs during persistent use and intoxication, substance abuse can cause disorders in an individual. Most illegal substances are used in Ireland, and they pose serious risks to the users.

Substance Use and Homelessness

Drawing from the 2011 Census, about 3,800 individuals were homeless in Ireland. The homeless people report a greater prevalence of substance dependency and abuse compared to the general population.  Additionally, 35% of the homeless people in Ireland are substance abusers (Keeley, Mongwa & Corcoran, 2015). 22% of the Irish homeless population use heroine (Keeley, Mongwa & Corcoran, 2015). Substance abuse is a causal factor resulting in homelessness and poverty. Homelessness is also one of the impediment factors towards recovery with a high percentage of the homeless patients relapsing into substance addiction after treatment. Therefore, treating drug addiction would assist in addressing the problem of homeless in Ireland.

Substance Abuse and Crime

Researchers have studied the relationship that exists between crime and substance abuse. Reports indicate that the association between the two issues is beyond illegality of possession and dealers in Ireland. According to Davoren, Shiely, Byrne and Perry (2015), drug users perpetuate about 28% of the crimes committed in Ireland. For the government of Ireland to eliminate crime, they should first address contributing factors to criminal operations. Moreover, the government can control the impact of crimes and substance abuse such as addiction and dependency by effectively preventing and rehabilitating drug abusers (Carew, et al. 2017).

Substance Abuse and Hidden Harm

Substance abuse also has effects on other people other than the addict, and this is known as hidden harm. Drug abuse can affect people who are close to the addict such as dependents, family members, and close friends. Indeed, substance abuse in the presence of teenagers and children is so prevalent in Ireland. According to Davoren, Shiely, Byrne and Perry (2015), about 9% of children aged between 10 and 17 years, reported that substance abuse of their guardians or parents had impacted on them negatively. Children’s exposure to parents’ drug abuse affects their social and psychological health, for example, they develop aggressive behavior and shyness. Consequently, in households where parents have substance abuse problem, children are more at risk of sexual and physical abuse.

Hospitalization and Death Rates among Substance Abusers in Ireland

According to Health Research Board statistics, between 2004 and 2011, approximately 4, 606 deaths occurred due to drug poisoning (Keeley, Mongwa & Corcoran, 2015). However, there was a rise in the number of deaths associated with substance abuse. For example, in 2004 and 2014, there were 267 and 365 mortality rates respectively. Most of the reported deaths entailed different kinds of substance including alcohol. Alcohol accounted for only 17% of the death rates (Keeley, Mongwa & Corcoran, 2015). Opioid use was responsible for 57% of the deaths. Statistics show that Ireland reported high rates of adult substance-induced fatalities in the EEA, with about 70.5 cases per million. On the other hand, reports in Norway and Estonia indicated 75.9 and 190.8 cases per million respectively (Keeley, Mongwa & Corcoran, 2015).

Citing Keeley, Mongwa, and Corcoran (2015), there were approximately 580 cases of substance abuse patients admitted to Irish hospitals with related cases of hallucinogens or use of narcotics including cocaine, cannabis, and opioids. Besides, 960 cases were suffering from benzodiazepine ingestion.

Dual Diagnosis

Estimates from different research across Europe indicated that between half and a third of substance abuse patients exhibit psychiatric illness. The findings have also been reported in studies in Irish patients’ cohorts.  Psychiatric illnesses that tend to occur with substance abuse problems include depressive or anxiety disorders, personality disorders, paranoia, ADHD and schizophrenia (Davoren, Shiely, Byrne & Perry, 2015). Therefore, there is a possibility that different issues cause comorbidity. Substance abuse can also make users experience psychiatric illness symptoms. Consequently, substance abuse can trigger some underlying psychiatric diseases.  Studies have also reported that individuals who are victims of the comorbid psychiatric and drug abuse respond poorer to treatment compared to those who have one mental health problem.   Those suffering from drug abuse in most cases suffer relapse after the treatment (Davoren, Shiely, Byrne & Perry, 2015).

Substance Supply and Prevention in Ireland

National Drugs Strategy 2009-2016 has a clear strategy for handling substance abuse. The body makes different recommendations under the pillars of prevention, supply, research, rehabilitation and treatment. The strategy’s first objective is to minimize the supply of illicit substances in Ireland. Additionally, between 2004 and 2007, Ireland reported an increase in illicit substances seized.  However, in 2007, the board reported a reduction in the volume of seizures (Klimas, Egan, Tobin, Coleman, & Bury, 2015). The mentioned is not an indication that there is a fall in demand. The best strategy for tackling the consumption rate is applying the restriction of availability. To achieve this, the IMO has been urging the Irish government to provide all state agencies charged with intercepting and seizing illicit drugs necessary resources. This would assist in reducing the volume of illicit substances along Irish corridors and streets. The supply rates will decrease, and prices hiked, an aspect that will further reduce the consumption rates.


It is evident that there are health risks associated with substance abuse. As a result, there have been sociological and psychological studies to understand the reasons behind persistent substance abuse in Ireland.  There are common theories and themes across academics in the field that can be broken into socio-economic status, peer use, guardian or parental supervision category and forces of drug markets. NACDA study also states that the mentioned themes are played significant causal roles in substance abuse in Ireland. The study also mentioned other factors such as boredom, drug availability, high unemployment rates and poor guardian or parental supervision.


The Irish government has put in a lot of efforts in tackling substance abuse among youths and adults. In 2013, through the Department of Youths, the government of Ireland released £51,423 million with the objective of providing major youth services. Even though the additional funding is a noble idea, further funding and resources are necessary to support evidence-based education and training. It is also important to adopt effective and established organizations that enjoy community involvement and respect. Some of the organizations that the Irish government can partner with include: artistic groups, theaters, sporting bodies and social societies or clubs with interest on youths. The organizations and youths should encourage and promote drug prevention and education campaigns.

The government should also restore resources and funding to all state agencies. This would assist in halting and reversing reduction of illicit substance seizures witnessed in the recent years. There is also need for stiff penalties to prevent sale and importation of illicit substance into Ireland. Individuals found guilty of drug crimes should face harsh sentences.


Carew, A. M., Murphy, N., Long, J., Hunter, K., Lyons, S., Walsh, C., & Thornton, L. (2017). Incidence of hepatitis C among people who inject drugs in Ireland. Hepatology, Medicine and Policy, 2(1), 7. doi: 10.1186/s41124-017-0024-1

Connolly, J. & Donovan, M. (2014). Illicit Drugs Markets in Ireland. National Advisory   Committee on Drugs and Alcohol, Dublin, pp. 1-10.

Darker, C., Sweeney, B., Keenan, E., Whiston, L., Anderson, R., & Barry, J. (2016). Tailoring a brief intervention for illicit drug use and alcohol use in Irish methadone maintained opiate dependent patients: a qualitative process. BMC psychiatry, 16(1), 373. doi: 10.1186/s12888-016-1082-4

Davoren, M. P., Shiely, F., Byrne, M., & Perry, I. J. (2015). Hazardous alcohol consumption among university students in Ireland: a cross-sectional study. BMJ open, 5(1), e006045.

Keeley, H. S., Mongwa, T., & Corcoran, P. (2015). The association between parental and adolescent substance misuse: findings from the Irish CASE study. Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, 32(01), 107-116.

Klimas, J., Egan, M., Tobin, H., Coleman, N., & Bury, G. (2015). Development and process evaluation of an educational intervention for overdose prevention and naloxone distribution by general practice trainees. BMC medical education, 15(1), 206. doi: 10.1186/s12909-015-0487-y

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