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New Psychoactive and Illicit Substance ('Legal High') Addiction Treatment

New psychoactive substances, formerly known as ‘legal highs’, are synthetic, psychoactive substances that are made up of a whole host of unknown chemicals that haven’t undergone the necessary testing to understand the effects that they can have on the human body and brain. Illicit substances are substances that are relatively easy to obtain and can cause psychoactive effects when they are abused e.g. sniffing glue and solvents.

What are Psychoactive and Illicit Substances?

New psychoactive substances are sometimes incorrectly referred to as ‘legal highs’ because it has been legal to possess them in the past. However, since the introduction of the Psychoactive Substances Act in 2016, it is illegal for individuals to produce, supply or import these drugs for human consumption, even if this is for personal use.

New psychoactive and illicit substances, which are also sometimes referred to as ‘designer drugs’, are usually designed to mimic the effects of illegal drugs such as cocaine, cannabis and ecstasy/MDMA, and can cause addiction, serious impairment and even death. One of the most commonly abused new psychoactive and illicit substances is a drug known as ‘Spice’.

Regardless of the type of ’legal high’ that is being consumed, continued abuse of these drugs can soon become a serious problem and can lead to you developing a physical and psychological dependence on the substance in question. These synthetic drugs can be particularly dangerous because people often mistakenly believe that these substances are legal, which means they can’t be harmed by them. Also, because these drugs are relatively ‘new’, there is no way of knowing the full extent of their long term effects, and because the exact make-up of these substances is unknown, it often means that doctors and emergency medical professionals are unable to offer effective treatment in the case of an overdose.

At Priory, we understand that without professional addiction treatment for your new psychoactive and illicit substance (‘legal high’) addiction, this is likely to become progressively worse over time and can have a hugely detrimental impact on all areas of your life including your work, relationships with others, and your general health and wellbeing. Additionally, if your addiction to new psychoactive and illicit substances remains untreated, this may lead to the development of alcohol addiction, other drug addictions and behavioural addictions, causing a whole host of additional problems.

New psychoactive and illicit substance (‘legal high’) addiction rehab at Priory

It’s important to understand that you don’t have to struggle on your own; addiction to ‘legal highs’ is treatable, and the most crucial first step towards rehabilitation and recovery is to seek expert support. Our highly qualified addiction specialists at Priory are committed to delivering bespoke and high quality addiction treatment within our extensive national network of hospitals and wellbeing centres.

We are also able to offer a free addiction assessment with one of our addictions experts, in order to make the process of entering treatment as straightforward as possible. During your free addiction assessment, you will be able to discuss your new psychoactive and illicit substance addiction in confidence, and develop an understanding of the journey that you will be taking towards recovery and wellbeing.

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We are also able to offer an intensive medically assisted withdrawal detox for your new psychoactive and illicit substance addiction, if required. This involves:

  • 24-hour clinical support from experienced medical professionals who will ensure that your safety is a top priority
  • A substance-free environment to prevent the possibility of relapse
  • Controlled medication can be prescribed if required, to help to alleviate any discomfort that you may experience as part of the drug withdrawal process

Our addiction treatment experts at Priory have extensive experience in the treatment of new psychoactive and illicit substance (‘legal high’) addiction, and we are able to deliver a wide range of therapeutic techniques, enabling you to address your drug dependency and any underlying triggers for your addictive behaviours, tackle your new psychoactive and illicit substance addiction symptoms, and take steps towards the healthy, fulfilling and drug-free life that you deserve.

In addition, each individual who seeks addiction support with us will benefit from an individually tailored addiction treatment journey, personalised to your unique requirements. This means that you are placed at the centre of the treatment process and are involved in all decisions that are made about your care, in order to produce the most positive outcomes for you personally.

It is never too late to seek help for your new psychoactive and illicit substance addiction; contact Priory today to start your journey towards regaining control and improving your quality of life.

Priory’s Addiction Treatment Programme

New psychoactive and illicit substance (‘legal high’) addiction treatment and rehab usually takes place as part of Priory’s 28-day, residential Addiction Treatment Programme. During this comprehensive process, you will stay at one of our specialist hospitals and undergo a medically assisted withdrawal detoxification if required, before commencing with an intensive programme of group and individual therapy. The purpose of addiction therapy is to help you to identify the source of your addiction, and learn strategies to resist future temptations. Whilst 28 days is the recommended treatment length for addictions, the length of the treatment that you receive at Priory can be flexible according to your unique addiction, requirements and commitments.

Addiction treatment at Priory is based on the renowned 12-Step addiction treatment model. This is an abstinence-based approach which was first pioneered by the organisation Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and focuses upon your motivation to change your unhealthy addictive behaviours.

Our leading new psychoactive and illicit substance Addiction Treatment Programmes consist of:

  • Free, no obligation addiction assessment, allowing you to discuss your addiction in a confidential and non-judgemental environment, receive information on our treatment options, and start your journey towards rehabilitation and recovery - book your appointment today
  • 7 - 10 day medically assisted withdrawal detoxification for your new psychoactive and illicit substance addiction, if this is required
  • Individual 1:1 therapy and structured group therapy programmes
  • Family and couples therapy programmes
  • Access to both on and off-site 12-Step support groups, specifically tailored to your unique addiction
  • Free group aftercare for 12 months following treatment (aftercare is provided for life following treatment at Priory Hospital Roehampton)
  • Free family support for 12 months following treatment (family support is provided for life following treatment at Priory Hospital Roehampton)

As well as offering inpatient addiction treatment at Priory, we are also able to deliver both outpatient and day care treatment for your new psychoactive and illicit substance (‘legal high’) addiction, depending on the intensity of the support that you need. These treatment options can be used as an entry-point to addiction treatment and therapy, or can be used as a step-down in treatment intensity for individuals who have undertaken an intensive residential programme for their addiction. For more detailed information on Priory’s new psychoactive and illicit substance addiction treatment, as well as the type and format of the addiction therapy that we can offer, please visit our approach to addiction treatment page.

What types of ‘legal high’ addictions are treated at Priory?

The vast majority of new psychoactive and illicit substances fall under one of four categories, each of which results in a range of different effects and symptoms. These include:

  • Stimulants such as mephedrone, naphyrone, ‘Miaow Miaow’ and ‘M-Cat’ have been designed to mimic the effects of other stimulant drugs such as amphetamines, ecstasy/MDMA and cocaine, including feelings of euphoria, alertness and high energy. These so-called ‘legal highs’ can also cause: 
    • Disinhibition, leading to risky behaviour
    • Anxiety
    • Depression
    • Panic
    • Confusion
    • Paranoia
    • Psychosis (including hallucinations and delusions)
    • Increased talkativeness
    • Problems with the heart and nervous system
    • Weakening of the immune system
  • Sedatives or ‘downers’ such as gamma hydroxybutrate (GHB) and gamma butyrolactone (GBL) act in a similar way to prescription benzodiazepines such as Valium, causing you to feel euphoric, drowsy or relaxed. Other effects include:
    • Reduced concentration
    • Slowed reactions
    • Lethargy
    • Problems with motor co-ordination
    • Memory problems
    • Anxiety
    • Unconsciousness, coma and death, especially when these drugs are mixed with alcohol or other ‘downer’ drugs
  • Hallucinogens or psychedelics such as NBOMe (‘N-Bomb’) and methoxetamine have been designed to create similar effects to those caused by the hallucinogenic and psychedelic drugs, LSD and ketamine. These substances can cause individuals to experience hallucinations, as well as a distorted sense of reality and perception. They are also known to result in:
    • Euphoria
    • Feeling detached from the world and having ‘out of body’ experiences
    • Confusion
    • Panic
    • Erratic behaviour
    • Self-harm
    • Poor judgement leading to risky behaviour
  • Synthetic cannabinoids such as ‘Spice’, ‘Black Mamba’ and ‘Clockwork Orange’ act in a similar way to cannabis, resulting in feelings of relaxation, euphoria, high energy, disinhibition and altered consciousness. They can also lead to:
    • Trance-like states causing individuals to look and behave like ‘zombies’ (this is especially the case with Spice)
    • Problems with the central nervous system
    • Seizures
    • Increased heart rate and body temperature
    • High blood pressure
    • Sweating
    • Agitation
    • Violence

These drugs may be marked and sold as innocent-sounding substances such as bath salts, incense or plant food, or packaged to look like colourful packets of sweets, to make it seem as though they are legal.

Other symptoms of new psychoactive and illicit substance addiction may include:

  • Finding that you have built a tolerance to the drug, meaning that you need to consume this more frequently and in higher doses, in order to experience the desired ‘high’
  • Intense cravings for the new psychoactive and illicit substance
  • Continuing to take the new psychoactive and illicit substance despite the negative effects that this has had on your personal, home, work, or social life
  • The appearance of withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking or are unable to obtain the new psychoactive and illicit substance
  • Mood swings, depression, anxiety and irritability, related to the availability or absence of the substance
  • Social isolation
  • Reduced responsibility and ability to function in day-to-day life
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia and vivid nightmares
  • Only associating with other people who are addicted to so-called ‘legal highs’
  • Changes in personality
  • Changes in appetite causing weight loss or gain

What causes an addiction to ‘legal highs’?

A psychological process known as ‘positive reinforcement’ is what underpins the development of addictions and addictive behaviours. Positive reinforcement encourages a pattern of behaviour to form by offering a reward for that behaviour. In the context of new psychoactive and illicit substances, these drugs typically cause people to experience ‘positive’ outcomes such as relaxation, euphoria, alertness and high energy, which therefore increases the likelihood that they will seek out these feelings again by consuming the substance in a repeated manner. This continuous cycle of exposure can result in the development of a harmful addiction to so-called ‘legal highs’ as opposed to a ‘one-off’ behaviour.

As well as positive reinforcement, research suggests that drug addictions may also develop as a result of genetic and environmental influences.

  • Genetics – if you have a first-degree relative who struggles with substance misuse, research indicates that you’ll be at greater risk for developing a similar problem
  • Environment – environmental factors such as being surrounded by peers who engage in addictive behaviours may increase the chances of you becoming addicted to drugs. Also, experiencing stressful life events such as bereavement, or a traumatic event, have also been linked to the development of addictions

In addition to the above, some research suggests that you may have an increased susceptibility to developing an addiction to new psychoactive and illicit substances (‘legal highs’) if you are already struggling with an untreated mental health issue such as depression, anxiety or stress. This is because individuals may try to self-medicate with new psychoactive and illicit substances as an attempt to alleviate their symptoms, which can ultimately have an increasingly negative effect on their wellbeing over time.

Self-help tips for dealing with new psychoactive and illicit substance (‘legal high’) addiction

If you think that you have developed a new psychoactive and illicit substance (‘legal high’) addiction, it is essential that you seek specialist support as soon as possible. Below are some additional tips that you can use to help you to cope with the initial stages of new psychoactive and illicit substance addiction:

  • Admit that you have a problem with new psychoactive and illicit substance misuse
  • Be honest with your friends and family about your problem - support from family and friends is very important in the drug rehabilitation and recovery process
  • Try to avoid temptations and negative influences
  • Accept that the process of achieving abstinence from new psychoactive and illicit substances will be challenging, and prepare yourself to make some significant changes in your life

Crisis care at Priory

Priory’s customer service team is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to ensure that those in crisis gain access to the best possible support, as quickly as possible. The specialist teams at our residential facilities can help to stabilise those in need of immediate assistance, including providing access to medically assisted withdrawal detoxification for alcohol and drug addictions, where required.

Contact Priory today

To find out how Priory can help you to overcome your new psychoactive and illicit substance (‘legal high’) addiction and return to a positive way of life, call our dedicated team today on 0330 056 6023, or arrange your free addictions assessment at one of our hospital sites.

This page was clinically reviewed in July 2021 by Sam Hickey.

What causes an addiction to ‘legal highs’?
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Self-help tips for dealing with new psychoactive and illicit substance (‘legal high’) addiction
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