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Negative peer pressure, wrong perceptions of ways to cope with pressure, boredom, and curiosity are some of the factors that may lead a person to misuse or abuse substances such as drugs, inhalants, alcohol and tobacco. However, substance abuse is accompanied by many other dangers and risks. Even the misuse and possession of certain substances like heroin and cocaine are serious offences in Singapore. This article gives a general overview of substance abuse and addiction.


Substances such as tobacco, alcohol, inhalants, and psychoactive drugs (e.g. heroin, cocaine, ecstasy) share one thing in common - their ability to alter one s perception, mood, consciousness and/or behaviour when used or consumed. While one may derive pleasure from the use of these substances, repeated usage will alter the brain s chemistry, so much so that the user feels he cannot function without them and experiences painful and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

Did you know?

Singapore has strict laws against drug and inhalant abuse, and this includes trafficking, possession and consumption of drugs. Trafficking drugs such as heroin and marijuana are punishable by death, while trafficking other drugs such as ecstasy, ice and ketamine are punishable by strokes of the cane, or life imprisonment.

The process of one getting addicted to a substance differs among individuals. For some, a single intake of the substance is enough to cause an addiction. When a person is abusing a substance, many aspects of his or her life, such as work, study, relationships and health, may be adversely affected.

Generally, some common signs of substance abuse and addiction are:

  • Cycles of increased energy, restlessness, and inability to sleep (often seen in stimulants)
  • Abnormally slow movements, speech or reaction time, confusion and disorientation (often seen in opiates, benzodiazepines and barbiturates)
  • Sudden weight loss or weight gain
  • Cycles of excessive sleep
  • Unexpected changes in clothing, such as constantly wearing long sleeved shirts, to hide scarring at injection sites
  • Suspected drug paraphernalia such as unexplained pipes, roach clips or syringes
  • For snorted drugs, chronic troubles with sinusitis or nosebleeds
  • For smoked drugs, a persistent cough or bronchitis, leading to coughing up excessive mucus or blood.
  • Progressive severe dental problems (especially with methamphetamine)

What are the other dangers or risks involved?

Apart from the high chances of addiction, those who abuse substances may also suffer from short-term and long-term social and health effects. For example, harmful effects related to drug and inhalant abuse include the permanent damage to internal organs, disruption of regular body functions, and even death. Legal substances, such as alcohol and tobacco, are no less harmful. In fact, tobacco kills approximately seven Singaporeans a day and irresponsible alcohol consumption may lead to serious alcohol-related accidents and other health issues such as cancer.

Getting support

The first step to overcoming substance abuse and addiction is to recognise your problem. Next is to be determined to stay clean of the substance. One of the ways to do this is to seek help and support from professional counsellors who will help you with an effective plan to address both the physical and psychological aspects of the addiction.

Generally, you can expect to experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. But do remember that all these are only temporary and at the end of the day, it is YOUR responsibility to maintain a healthy mind and body.