Drugs of major concern for 2024: Ketamine, cocaine and alcohol top the list of Priory’s ‘most worrying’ addictions this year

Date: 27th December 2023

  • Priory experts have revealed the addictive substances that give them most cause for concern in 2024
  • There has been a 387% increase in people seeking ketamine addiction treatment at Priory since 2019, and a 28% increase in the last 12 months
  • Cocaine addiction treatment requests have grown 17% in the past year
  • Alcohol remains the UK’s most prevalent addictive substance, making up 61% of all Priory addiction treatment enquiries
  • Experts urge people to seek support early, before addictions escalate

Experts at Priory have revealed the addictive substances causing most cause for concern in 2024, with spiraling demand ketamine and cocaine addiction treatment.

New data reveals the number of people seeking cocaine addiction treatment has grown 17% in the past year, while enquiries for ketamine addiction treatment have grown 28% in the same period. Alcohol remains by far the UK’s most prevalent addiction, making up 61% of all Priory treatment enquiries.

Priory is the UK’s leading independent provider of mental health and addiction services.

Consultant psychiatrists and therapists at Priory have urged people to seek support and not to tackle addictions alone. Meanwhile, they are asking people who do not consider themselves addicts to reflect on any substance usage, and take positive steps now before addiction takes hold.


Dr Niall Campbell, consultant psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Roehampton, says: “We need to change attitudes to cocaine in 2024. It’s a harmful drug that’s become worryingly common at social events for many people.

“Cocaine is highly addictive. Once people start to take it socially, they tend to gradually increase their consumption over time, usually without acknowledging the risks and the harm caused until it is too late.

“Snorting cocaine causes damage to blood vessels, nasal structure, soft tissue and cartilage in the nose, and leads to a range of wider issues, from insomnia to impotence. It hardens your arteries and increases the risk of heart arrhythmias, which can lead to strokes, heart attacks and blood clots. Users are also at increased risk of serious mental health consequences, including anxiety and depression.

“Then there’s the social harm, from the impact of the illegal drug trade to the consequences of addiction on individuals’ lives and families.”


Dr Radu Iosub, consultant psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Bristol, says: “Ketamine is one of the drugs of major concern for 2024. The average ketamine user is ten years younger than for other illegal substances, and the drug’s popularity is growing at an alarming rate.

“Ketamine is cheaper than other drugs, which explains some of its popularity among students and younger people.

“Some people will use ketamine as a way of self-medicating underlying mental health problems such as depression, anxiety or past trauma. However, ketamine use can cause a number of harms as well a comedown that will includes feelings of low mood and anxiety.

“Some perceive ketamine to be a safe drug, because it doesn’t affect the respiratory function in the same way as other illicit substances. However, high doses of ketamine can lead to a state of severe intoxication, effectively a state of induced anaesthesia, known as a ‘K-hole’. Individuals then become more vulnerable to exploitation by others, accidents, severe injury and even death.

“Regular ketamine users can suffer severe bladder complications. They may pass blood in the urine and experience severe pain. This complication has the potential to progress to irreversible bladder damage.”


Debbie Longsdale, Priory’s therapy director, says: “The overwhelming majority of addiction patients at Priory in 2023 were alcohol users. Undoubtedly, this will be the same in 2024, with alcohol consumption deeply ingrained into UK social culture.

“A social drink is a relatively harmless experience, enjoyed by many, but it’s easy to forget that alcohol is an addictive substance. It’s important to be mindful of our drinking habits. Whether you think your drinking is a problem or not, I’d advise everyone to think about how much alcohol you drink each week, and whether that has increased over time. Addiction can affect anyone, and it creeps up on you.

“Men and women are advised not to drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week. Long-term alcohol mis-use leads to increased risk of an extremely long list of physical and mental health issues, and addiction causes significant social harm for individuals and for society as a whole.

“We all tend to look at the start of a new year as an opportunity for a fresh start, so if you're concerned about your drinking or someone else's, now is a great time to tackle it. It’s a good idea to seek expert support, particularly if someone is dependent on alcohol as it can be dangerous to go cold turkey. Talking to your GP can be a really good place to start.”

For people wanting to address harmful drug taking or drinking habits, GPs can offer advice on appropriate treatment, while Priory services across the UK offer free addiction assessment consultations.



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About Priory and MEDIAN

Priory is the UK’s leading independent provider of mental health services. We treat more than 70 conditions, including depression, anxiety, addictions and eating disorders, as well as children’s mental health, across our nationwide network of sites. We also support autistic adults and adults with a learning disability, Prader-Willi Syndrome and brain injuries, as well as older people, within our specialist residential care and supported living facilities – helping as many people as possible to live their lives.

Priory is part of the MEDIAN Group, one of Europe’s leading providers of high quality mental health and rehabilitation services. The MEDIAN Group comprises 290 facilities with 5,000 beds caring for 28,000 people in the UK, 120 facilities with 20,000 beds caring for around 250,000 patients in Germany, and 15 facilities with 2,000 beds caring for 13,000 people in Spain, with more than 29,000 employees overall.

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