Results of YouGov survey into addiction in lockdown
Getting in early, supporting families, and stopping the stigma of addiction
Director of Strategy and Communication
A survey commissioned by Action on Addiction, indicates that the COVID-19 lockdown may have unwittingly facilitated a significant increase in alcohol consumption and other problems associated with addiction in the UK.
Whatever the reason, whether it is to relieve boredom, combat fear or anxiety, or to socialise, people are drinking more, and experiencing more negative consequences than they were before lockdown. Action on Addiction is also hearing worrying stories from people who are feeling the negative effects of increased drug use, online gaming and/or gambling. The emerging picture is one of concern and, inevitably, charities and other frontline services will soon feel the pressure of the many faces of addiction, as people from all walks of life come forward in search of information, advice and treatment.
To help us get to the bottom of this worrying situation, Action on Addiction commissioned YouGov to conduct an omnibus survey to provide a snapshot of how addiction is affecting individuals during lockdown. Importantly, respondents were not asked any qualifying questions about addiction beforehand. Views were being elicited from members of the general public, not a subset of the population who had already reported having addiction.
Opinions were sought from individuals about both themselves and a family member(s) and, when someone identified as being ‘in recovery,’ that statement was taken at face-value – participants were not asked to qualify that statement. The results, therefore, spotlight personal truths and experiences of addiction and addictive behaviour.
A quarter of UK adults are drinking more than they were before lockdown;
Of these, 15 per cent said they were experiencing physical alcohol withdrawal symptoms as well as problems relating to relationships, work, money or sleep; and
Almost a quarter of those experiencing problems said they would need help to resolve them.
Four per cent of those surveyed reported an increase in online gambling; and
Of these, 15 per cent (equivalent to 314,000 people) said they had been experiencing problems.
Impact on those in recovery from addiction
Over a third (39 per cent) of those who described themselves as being in recovery from an addiction (four per cent of all respondents) reported either a recurrence in addictive behaviour or a relapse in their recovery.
Findings: Children and young people
Four per cent of those surveyed (on a national scale this would mean over 2 million people), said they had a close relative, aged between 12 and 25, who was showing increasing signs of developing addictive behaviour during lockdown;
Of these, 35 per cent said they believed the young person would need support as a result of this behaviour: e.g. advice, treatment or therapy; and
Thirty per cent said the young person’s family would also need support.
Responding to these findings, Graham Beech, Action on Addiction’s Chief Executive, said:
“The survey provides an important insight into the looming pressure on services during and following lockdown. The poll shows that individuals, young people and families need help now as well as when the lockdown eases”.
Other commentators, including Karen Biggs, Chief Executive of Phoenix Futures, agree that charities are facing a surge in demand following a “tsunami of need” created by COVID-19.
Graham Beech also said of the findings:
“We know that addiction feeds on isolation, and the precautionary measures that are in place because of COVID-19 create the circumstances upon which addiction thrives. Yet, despite this, a significant number of people do not know how to access treatment, support or advice, and addiction remains hidden from view in public health terms.
The damaging consequences for individuals and families can often be traumatic, and it is vital that we get the message across that help is available to people who need it now and that they can kickstart a person’s recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Whilst, of course, not everyone – whatever their behaviour during lockdown – is developing an addiction the picture from a public health and social perspective is one of concern. Crucially, the findings signal that problems of addiction are growing in both volume and complexity, and are not confined to one substance, one activity, or one small section of our society. Our survey also highlights a much-neglected area of public policy, that of the paucity of provision for children and young people who are showing signs of addictive behaviour –or experiencing a full-blown addiction – at an early age. Action is urgently needed to ensure that young people and families are better supported and that they have access to information, advice and guidance, and specialist interventions where needed.
What can we learn, and what needs to happen?
As with many of the many far-reaching messages from COVID-19, we need a radical review of how we address the problems of addiction in our country.
This must include an evidence-based focus on:
1. Children and young people, so that:
· Problems of addiction are prevented or minimised at early onset before it is too late;
· Early support is made available within families, in schools and across communities before addiction takes hold; and
· Specialist treatment is made available to children and young people who need it before long-term problems develop.
2. Families, so that:
· Problems of addiction are safely surfaced and not hidden;
· Clear information, advice and guidance is available; and
· Families and children are protected from the ravages of addiction – a life-stopping, recurring condition, through proper investment in evidenced-based family-focused interventions, family support programmes, and services for families with multiple and complex needs.
3. Self-help and community-led mutual support, so that:
· Young people, adults and families can find help and freedom from addiction; and
· People have the opportunity to establish long-term, stable, abstinence-based recovery can thrive in communities in recovery (both physical and virtual)
4. ‘Addiction’ as opposed to ‘substance misuse’, so that:
· Strategies reach beyond the substance and deal with both the causes and the consequences of the addiction;
· Policy programmes and professions recognise the overlapping nature of addiction with a plethora of other social, physical, emotional and mental health issues;
· We stop the stigma borne out of the perception that addiction is an individual’s problem of their own making which can be addressed without the need for intensive and extensive specialist treatment, combined with long-term mutual support.
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2088 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 15th - 17th May 2020. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).