Substance misuse

Substance misuse

What is substance misuse?

Substance misuse refers to the use of psychoactive substances in a way that is harmful or hazardous to health. This includes alcohol and illicit drugs. The use of such substances can lead to dependency where cognitive, behavioural, and physiological problems develop which results in a strong desire to take the drug, difficulties in controlling use, persisting in its use despite harmful consequences, a higher priority given to drug use than to other activities and obligations, increased tolerance, and sometimes a physical withdrawal state. (WHO, 2017)

Regular use of alcohol or drugs may be causing issues in their life that may affect their job, personal life, or even their safety. People who misuse drugs and alcohol do it regardless of the consequences. Alcohol dependence is the most common form of substance misuse, but any drug, including heroin, cocaine, crack, and cannabis, comes into this category, as does the misuse of glue and aerosols.

What is substance use?

Use of alcohol or drugs occasionally without being addicted however comes with the risk that it can lead to addiction.

What is Substance dependency?

Also known as addiction. Symptoms of substance dependency include developing a tolerance for the drug, going through withdrawal symptoms without it, and struggling to cut back on it. There are many factors that can influence whether someone is dependent or addicted to drugs or alcohol, including sociocultural, psychological, cognitive-behavioural, and biological factors.

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Switch Bucks is a specialist drug and alcohol support Service that provides support to children and young people who are using substances as well as those children and young people who are affected by a parent or another family member’s substance misuse. To discuss specialist substance misuse support and referrals please contact Switch Bucks.

Telephone: 01494 527 000

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Teaching Resources


Drinkaware For Education has Curriculum-linked education resources aimed at teaching 9 to 14-year-olds about the harms and risks associated with alcohol.

PSHE Alcohol Lesson Pack Helps students identify the reasons why some young people choose to drink alcohol and the impact it can have on them.


Visit where you can find guidance for school leaders and staff on managing drugs, drug-related incidents within schools, pastoral support for pupils.

Please see Promoting evidence-based information on drugs via

Evidence Review

Read the latest research into what works and how schools should be delivering drug and alcohol education: Evidence Review and approaches to teaching drug and alcohol education (Download)

Lesson plans and resources for KS 1 – 4 Drug and Alcohol Education can be found via Teaching resources

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