The Hidden Pandemic: Addiction

There is an ongoing disease that has taken hold of individuals, disrupted their lives, and cost the country billions in healthcare services.

Its effects have been felt by families and communities, but many continue to suffer in silence. It has been overshadowed and intensified by COVID-19 as more people experience fear, isolation, and socioeconomic difficulties. It is the hidden pandemic of addiction, and it is causing a rise in feelings of despair, mental health concerns, and higher risks of suicide (Research Gate).

Whether you are affected by addiction or you know someone who is struggling with substance misuse and dependence, the exacerbation of mental health challenges along with addiction, has led to dire consequences on an individual, familial, and a national scale.

As efforts to curb COVID continue to intensify, it has taken away from funding and programmes needed to reduce the rapid spread of alcohol and drug addiction. What is a sad reality, is that substance dependence not only affects the immediate health and mental well-being of individuals, it also has a traumatic impact on the well-being of children. Addiction contributes to higher cases of neglect, abuse, and the risk of dysfunction into adulthood.

With no end in sight to the cycle of addiction, we look at its widespread impact and why it is important to intervene and act in this time of turmoil and uncertainty.

What is Addiction?

Addiction is defined as an inability to stop or control the use of a substance or to engage in a behaviour that is creating physical and/or mental harm. Addiction takes over the way we think, the way we feel, and the way we behave. But what is most prominent in substance use and dependence is that it becomes a crutch for many who cannot cope or wish to escape their current situation. During COVID, an inability to remove oneself physically from a traumatic or dysfunctional environment because of lockdowns and restrictions has heightened the use of alcohol and drugs among adolescents and adults.

Prior to the COVID pandemic, in 2018 and 2019, Drug Addiction Statistics revealed that an average 1 in 25 adults in the UK had taken a Class A drug. These stats have changed in 2020 and 2021 with higher incidences of dependence. The prevalence of drug use has risen in the age groups 16 to 59 years but what is also concerning is the sky rocketing rates of cocaine use. The UK has the highest rates of crack cocaine use. In Europe in 2017, around 11000 people were admitted for the treatment of crack cocaine and 65% of these cases were from the UK.

With such high rates of addiction, there are increases in hospitalisations, a strain on the criminal justice system, and more families suffering from resulting domestic violence and neglect.

Why is Substance Dependence the Hidden Pandemic?

The rate and spread of alcohol and drug addiction in the UK alone are increasing which means that it will continue to affect the lives of individuals, families, and households.

Addiction is at an all-time high and there is simply no end in sight. For alcohol addiction in England, around 40% of adults were reported to drink over 14 units per week. That is the equivalent of 6 pints of beer or 10 small sized glasses of wine. Unfortunately, the ongoing consumption of alcohol has a negative impact on both physical and psychological health. It changes the way you behave which has led to more people being incarcerated for alcohol related events. In England and Wales, more than 85 0000 people (mostly male) were convicted of alcohol related offences. This includes driving over the legal limit and causing harm or injuries while intoxicated.

It is estimated that alcohol and drug addictions cost the UK an annual £21 billion and £17 billion respectively.

Along with the pressure on the national system owing to drug and alcohol misuse, the lives of individuals and their families are severely disrupted by dependent behaviours.

If we look at alcohol and drug use during COVID and the subsequent lockdowns, research has shown that people are experiencing changes in their drug use and not for the better. Alcohol and drug use has increased in response to the pandemic but what is more concerning is that individuals who are using alcohol and/or drugs are moving onto stimulants or illicit drugs because access to previous drugs is limited.

There is also a rise in the number of men and women who have recovered from substance addiction relapsing during the past year. The impact of a struggling economy, job uncertainty, and the fears surrounding COVID have led to higher numbers of drug and alcohol use, relapses, and substance dependence. Individuals have also reported mental health difficulties as they suffer from insomnia, chronic anxiety, and overall distress.

Because many who are already addicts are having to self-isolate or remain at home during a lockdown, there is also great risk of overdose. Emergency services are also under strain because COVID patients are prioritised making it harder to provide dependent individuals the treatment or emergency care that they need.

As COVID affects the drug market, street drugs have also become limited in supply which means higher prices and reduced purity. The hidden pandemic is not only becoming a health and societal concern but also a financial one for many people.

The Implications of COVID and Addiction

As COVID has taken a toll on the economy and the physical and mental health of individuals, it has also overshadowed the underlying difficulties experienced by many individuals, families, and communities. Where addiction is rife, it has steadily worsened since the arrival of the pandemic.

Factors including the stigma of addiction and access to treatment have also complicated relief efforts. Programmes encouraging intervention and recovery are not only focused on getting people to reach out for the help they need but to also move past the stigma and to understand that their addiction is a disease.

For the healing from alcohol and drug addiction to take place, intervention needs to happen at the community level. Initiatives require greater funding and treatment should be made more accessible for those who are willing to move forward and make positive change.

Have you or someone you love been affected by addiction? Speak to an addiction specialist today to learn more about treatment options.