It was no surprise to us at Action on Addiction to hear that over 8 million people in the UK are drinking more – sometimes even to dangerous levels. It is also no surprise to us that more individuals and families are getting in touch with us asking for help.
As the recent report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists highlighted, successive years of funding cuts have really taken their toll. With fewer UK-based treatment places available and restrictions on travel limiting access to treatment abroad, it is difficult to see how all the individuals and families who require specialist help for addiction will be able to receive it.
This could be considered a major public health concern. Addiction rarely exists as an isolated issue. It is often combined with the growing list of other long term social, economic and public health problems associated with COVID-19 – unemployment, debt, homelessness, and a plethora of physical and mental health issues.
In fact, it’s not a surprise that the Royal College of Psychiatrists’information resource for COVID-19 and alcohol is the most widely accessed material in this area internationally. Dr Tony Rao, who chaired the working group that produced these resources commented to us that, of the 8 million more people drinking over low risk levels after the COVID-19 pandemic, half a million are drinking at levels suggesting alcohol addiction. Although this has increased most in those in their 30s and 40s, it is people in their 50s and 60s who have started to show progressively greater increases in dependent drinking.
At Action on Addiction we are doing what we can to address what is becoming a tidal wave of need. Thanks to the ingenuity and commitment of our staff the doors to Clouds House – our specialist addiction treatment centre in Wiltshire – remain open. And thanks to the unwavering support of our donors we continue to offer life-saving treatment to people from all walks of life including those who cannot obtain funding for their treatment. Meanwhile, down to wonders of modern technology, we continue to reach out to individuals and families who need our help like never before.
But addiction is everybody’s business in what is an extremely fast-moving and complex agenda. By rights, addiction should feature in all the conversations about the negative impact of lockdown on vulnerable children and families. It should also be included in the discussions about children’s health and well-being, especially regarding those who are struggling to make a successful transition back to school after such a long period of absence. It should also be talked about in relation to the increased loneliness and isolation experienced by young people during lockdown, the impact on them of strained family relationships brought about by or exacerbated by addiction, together with the headline-grabbing issues of gaming, county lines, sexual exploitation and grooming.
All too often in all these conversations addiction hardly receives a mention. The subject of addiction is at best an afterthought – it is the elephant in the room at a time when it should be everybody’s business. Now is not the time to stand back or look away. Addiction may touch anyone during their lifetime either directly or indirectly. It can hit us in unimaginable ways – indiscriminately and without permission.
The “new normal” we want to see in a post-pandemic world is a society that doesn’t cast people aside when the going gets tough. We want to see a society that picks people up and helps them to see that a long and happy life in recovery free from addiction is a possibility and that help is readily available for those who need it. None of this is an unreasonable ask. People deserve better access to treatment as well as community-focused recovery services and dedicated interventions for both children and families. And in the current climate, the lack of focus on and chronic underinvestment in specialist treatment is no longer acceptable or viable.
Now is the time to talk about addiction, the elephant which is outgrowing the room and growing out of control.
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