Drug and alcohol misuse

Drug misuse involves being dependent on, or regularly excessively consuming, psychoactive substances.

Alcohol misuse involves being dependent on, or consuming, harmful levels of alcohol.

Drug and alcohol dependency can be physiological (effects of the substance on the brain and body) or psychological (if the substance is consumed as a means of managing experiences, thoughts and feelings).

Vulnerability to exploitation

Drug and alcohol misuse can lead to, and increase, a wide range of physical, psychological and social problems. It can emerge alongside other vulnerabilities, such as mental health difficulties, familial, social or financial difficulties, and experiences of trauma and abuse.

Substance misuse and dependence can also have more immediate links to exploitation.

For example, if someone’s drug or alcohol use leads them into financial difficulty they may enter an exploitative financial arrangement to fund their dependency. This may involve becoming indebted to dealers, criminal gangs and others who provide access to these substances as a means of gaining power and control over people. People experiencing substance misuse and dependency may then find themselves drawn into exploitative situations, such as drug trafficking or sexual exploitation, as a means to ‘repay’ the debts they have accumulated.

Locations where people buy and consume drugs and alcohol may be unsafe, particularly when illegal substances are involved. Visiting these locations increases the risk that people will come across individuals who wish to abuse or exploit them.

The physiological effects of drugs and alcohol upon the body can impact on people’s decision-making abilities and memory. This can reduce their ability to recognise that they are in an abusive or exploitative situation, defend and protect themselves, or remember that they have been abused or exploited.