The theme of Addiction Awareness Week 2023 is Everybody Knows Somebody. In order to explore the theme in more depth Forward Trust commissioned new research examining the extent to which addiction touches people’s lives in the UK.
Everybody Knows Somebody who has been impacted by addiction. We all know stories of friends, friends of friends, neighbours, old school friends, work colleagues, distant (or not so distant) family members who suffered. Yet, despite this, when addiction touches people in a directly personal way, people find it difficult, almost impossible at times to find ways to talk about their experiences.
This inability to talk about addiction, however impacted is serious. It’s often said that the shame of addiction can be as serious as the condition itself. Why? Because, addiction is an isolating condition, the shame that surrounds it, exacerbates its impact and keeps people hidden, preventing them from being able to seek help and share experiences. Perhaps even more importantly, the lack of conversation means that despite addiction being one of the most serious health conditions impacting the UK today, it remains an outsider. Any other serious health condition, impacting at this scale and complexity in the UK, would have a national focus and long-term prevention strategy.
Our poll, conducted by IPSOS Mori interviewed a representative sample of 2,250 adults aged 16-75 in the UK. Data was weighted to the known population proportions for age, social grade and working status, gender as well as region.
2,179 of the total of 2,250 sampled agreed to answer questions related to addiction.
When referring to addiction in the survey we asked all respondents to consider addiction or dependency to any of the following substances and/or behaviours: alcohol, drugs or medication, gambling or sex.
The research found that 45% of responded have either experienced addiction or dependency to alcohol, drugs, medication, gambling or sex, themselves, or know someone close to them that has. If this were replicated nationally it would be equivalent to 22 million UK adults aged 18-75. Yet despite the scale of this experience, over half of respondents (53%) of those experiencing addiction or dependency, either directly or through someone close they know, feel unable to talk freely about it.
When asked why people found it difficult to talk freely about their experience results found that stigma is stopping people from speaking out, with negative judgment (46%) and shame (39%) ruled as top concerns. This points to a deep-rooted sense of shame when in the throes of addiction, at a time when talking is the first important step in the road to recovery.
The research went on to explore the direct impact of addiction and dependency. The poll found that about half of adults suffering from addiction personally were negatively affected by it - experiencing emotional or psychological distress (51%), health issues (49%) and financial problems (46%).
The data also highlights the stark impact on individuals who are close to those suffering with an addiction. About 2 in 5 of those who know someone close to them with an addiction report a negative impact on their relationship with that individual (45%), emotional or psychological distress (40%) and even financial impact (38%) as a result of someone else's addiction.
The devastating impact of addiction is clear. It is a condition that has serious health implications not simply for those personally experiencing it, but for all those closely connected to them. Yet the impact of recovery was even more compelling, with over half of respondents with personal experience of addiction themselves reporting being in recovery or working towards recovery.
For those who reported being in recovery 66% reported it improved mental health, 52% saw improved personal wellbeing and 52% physical well-being. In addition 41% of people in recovery saw an improvement to their personal relationships.
The research demonstrates that addiction permeates people’s lives in a profound way. It is not a niche or peripheral public health issue. Taking Action on Addiction aims to bring addiction into the light in an attempt to break down the stigma and provide stories of hope to encourage those suffering from addiction and to bring addiction into the wider public consciousness.
This year by exploring, Everybody Knows Somebody we want to help start conversations about addiction, change attitudes in order to remove the shame that is keeping too many people in its grip.
To find out more about the research contact us.
 515 UK adults aged 16-75 who experienced addiction or know someone close who has experienced addiction said they find it fairly difficult or cannot talk at all about any of the six listed experiences: their addiction; their recovery from addiction; the addiction their family member(s) are currently experiencing or have done in the past; the addiction their friend(s) are currently experiencing or have
Sally Benton is the Executive Director for Fundraising and Communications at The Forward Trust/Taking Action on Addiction