On October 19th, during Addiction Awareness Week, Forward Trust joined charity partners to launch a campaign to raise public awareness about addiction. The ‘Taking Action on Addiction’ campaign will work to broaden understanding of the root causes of addiction, encourage people and institutions to show compassion and care to people struggling with it and their families, and promote and celebrate recovery in all its forms so that more people feel able to ask for help.
The launch event was something special – hosted by Ant and Dec, and with a keynote speech by Forward Trust Patron HRH the Duchess of Cambridge, the event gathered 200 supporters from across charities, beneficiaries of addiction, the recovery community and Parliamentarians to the new BAFTA building in Piccadilly – who witnessed the Premiere of our campaign film, and a special performance by Tom Walker of a new and haunting version of his award-winning single ‘Leave a Light On’. It was an extremely moving and uplifting event, that received an unparalleled level of media coverage on addiction and recovery – certainly from the perspective of the people and stories that sit behind the usual damaging headlines.
Following the profile of the launch, we now have to get on with the hard work of changing minds. It remains a fact that most people still buy into the stereotype of addicted people as morally deficient, who have freely chosen a life of self-indulgence, lying and stealing. This is despite the fact that most people (64% in our recent YouGov survey) personally know someone struggling with addiction. The reality is that addiction has its roots in adverse childhood experiences – neglect, abuse, trauma – or in feelings of disconnection, loneliness or anxiety.
But the attitude of ‘they brought it on themselves’ has deep impacts. It allows people to turn away from or condemn people who are reaching out for help, it stops employers or landlords from supporting people in recovery, and it justifies harsh or punitive policies in central and local government, even when it is clear that they only add to the problem. Worst of all, it stops people from asking for help.
Over 6,000 people die from drug-related causes each year in the UK, and over 7,000 from direct alcohol-related causes. Together these represent 8 times as many deaths as occur in traffic accidents. But this death toll is tolerated – with no significant policy or public campaign to save these lives – because the victims are seen as less deserving, not like the rest of us, something other.
People do get that care, treatment and recovery from addiction are a good thing. But they don’t get to see enough visible recovery – evidence that people can confront and overcome addiction and related behaviours. This makes people doubt that investment in treatment and recovery makes a difference. Whilst we see the impact investment in treatment and early intervention has across all our work, it does not resonate with the public. And it will continue this way, no matter how many statistics or reports that make this case without fundamental change. We need to ramp up our efforts to show the general public that recovery is possible, common and wonderful.
And the government also agree – the policy clearly supports good health care and treatment provision for people struggling with drug or alcohol addiction. It was therefore disappointing that they have allowed the funding and focus of the sector to be hollowed out in the last 9 years, leading to less treatment availability, lower quality, and less support for recovery across the country. And it is baffling that they have still yet to respond to the excellent recommendations from their own Carol Black review to re-energise, re-fund and re-focus the sector – particularly given the golden moment of the Spending Review of October. We clearly need to continue our work through our network of MP’s to push the government to follow through on its warm words about supporting recovery and we hope that investment follows to make it a reality for the growing numbers of people struggling with addiction.