The state of addiction: Substance abuse in the UK

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It’s estimated that we spend over thirty-six billion Pounds every single year on treating and addressing drug and alcohol abuse in the UK – and that was before COVID-19 hit. We have a serious and entrenched cultural and systemic issue, with our country having some of the highest rates of addiction to hard substances like cocaine, ecstasy and opioids. 

This is a problem that affects more than just those caught in the grip of addiction. Substance abuse tells a silent story in the families, friends and social circles impacted by the consequences of an addicted individual’s actions. And while it’s important for us to have a compassionate and sympathetic view of those fighting substance misuse, it’s also helpful for us to be informed about the wider picture of how that misuse affects others. 

Fatalities and the healthcare burden

Particularly relevant in 2020 is the burden placed upon our healthcare system by drug and alcohol misuse and addiction. With medical professionals already taxed to and beyond their limits by COVID-19, the spiking rates of addiction are threatening our healthcare system and its ability to treat and triage patients effectively. 

In 2017 alone we saw over fourteen thousand admissions to hospitals relating to illicit drug use. In the year prior, over 2500 adults died in England and Wales from drug use. And every year we see thousands of road fatalities, with between 220 and 270 of those in 2019 being drink-drive accidents. 

Alcoholism in the UK

While alcohol is legal and available commercially, it nevertheless places a significant strain on our healthcare system and other private services relating to addiction. It’s estimated that as many as six hundred thousand adults in the UK are fighting alcoholism. Of those people, it’s further estimated that as little as one fifth receive any form of help from medical and addiction professionals. While this is partly related to the stigma associated with addiction and alcoholism, it’s also true that many simply can’t afford treatment that is otherwise unavailable via the NHS to all but a very select few. 

Supporting those who struggle

With so many adults fighting the mental health issues associated with COVID-19, now more than ever is the time to push for more education and support to fight addiction and substance misuse. Education on important subjects like drug overdose risks, symptoms of heroin addiction and the nature of isolation and its role in the development of addiction are all worthy subjects to promote discussion of. 

Friends and families of those struggling with addiction can also help encourage treatment and healing by promoting the increasingly diverse range of addiction treatment options available privately. While it is true that the National Health Service only provides a very limited range of treatment options for seriously addicted individuals, it’s also true that rehabilitation centers are increasingly offering treatment programmes and resources that are affordable and often available online.

This touches on an important point in the fight against addiction in the UK: awareness. Many adults have antiquated views of addiction treatment, imagining their only support options to involve exorbitantly expensive residential programmes. In actual truth, a person fighting addiction, or one who is worried about the trend of their present substance misuse, can now access more reasonably priced programmes and digital offerings. 

In this way, the country can react better to the blooming addiction crisis still plaguing it to this day. As we endure the storm of COVID-19 in the hopes of better news and vaccines to come, the fact remains that there are many adults who need and deserve all the help we can provide them in their personal struggle against drugs and alcohol. 

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