We must tackle the rise in addictions caused by the pandemic
We can’t simply draw the curtains and pretend it doesn’t exist
For too long addiction has sat in the shadows of health policy
Mike Trace, CEO of The Forward Trust, comments on our new research showing the rise in addictive behaviour during the pandemic, and the steps that can be taken to address it.
In June 2020 Action on Addiction published its first poll results which explored the impact the pandemic was having on addictive behaviours. It was the first of many polls that exposed the creeping consumption of alcohol during lockdowns.
Following the merger of Action on Addiction with The Forward Trust in May 2021, we want to understand whether the effects of the second and third lockdowns continued to have a worrying impact on rates of alcohol/drug use and related problems.
A year on, we have repeated the survey of over 2000 people with You Gov. Taken from a broad and representative sample of the adult population, the results have highlighted compelling and concerning patterns that require urgent investigation and response from across the sector, and wider healthcare professions, in policy and spending decisions.
The results are not a surprise to many working in the addiction field. We know addiction feeds off isolation, a sense of hopelessness and disconnection. The pandemic in many ways is a perfect breeding ground for it. What starts with increasing consumption – reaching out for something familiar – is, for an increasing number of people moving into a habit that they cannot control. And for many people this creep into an addiction will take them by surprise.
This path to addiction doesn’t happen overnight. Dependency and its consequences emerge gradually until the substance or behaviour become the most important part of someone’s life.
Before work, sleep, health, friendships, relationships and children. The perception of an addiction is in many minds of the park bench, the crack den, the needles in an alley – isolated and away from normal life. It’s true those lives do exist -however, the vast majority of people living with addictions are living their lives among us; some noticeably, others hidden and unnoticed. Whatever a person’s reality, a slide into addiction can be gradual and unexpected rather than a deliberate choice. From the twenty-something saying ‘it won’t happen to me, to the retired couple drinking heavily every night – or, as Bryony Gordon told us in the recent In Conversation with Clouds House – ‘I run marathons – I do Pilates – I can’t be an alcoholic’. What’s more, our survey highlights that this unexpected nature of addiction will be playing out now, at scale, in homes, families, workplaces, zoom calls, school gates across all our lives at an increasing level.
Yet, when people do finally reach out for help – too often they are unable to access the kind of treatment and support they need. It doesn’t have to be that way because recovery from addiction is possible. If we were to say to someone suffering from other diseases that they can’t have access to treatment that enables a full recovery, wouldn’t there be uproar? Yet day in day out people with addiction are denied treatment and recovery opportunities based on whether funding is available, or if they have the personal means to pay for the specialist care and treatment they need.
Why do we accept this for an illness that is entirely treatable?
For too long addiction has sat in the shadows of health policy. What this poll and other research like it is telling us is, the scale and ferocity of addiction in the UK can no longer be ignored. We can’t simply draw the curtains and pretend it doesn’t exist – we have to take action.
Forward Trust isn’t going to sit back and wait for this to happen. Our merger with AonA is a statement of our intent to be ambitious and unwavering in our belief that everyone has a right to the opportunity of recovery should they wish to take it. With that in mind we have launched a challenging and hugely ambitious £9million Recovery Fund, supported with incredible generosity by the Julia and Hans Rausing Trust through an initial £2million commitment. We want to build a path so that anyone who wants to reach out for recovery is supported and given the opportunity to change course and live a positive life, free from addiction.