The Devastating Effects of Addiction on Communities and the NHS

For decades now, the wave of addiction in the UK has been an ongoing concern. It has evolved into a national catastrophe with no end in sight, abolishing the dreams of current and future generations and straining health systems.

Perhaps what’s most troubling is that the nation’s addiction epidemic knows no boundaries — it’s cutting through families from almost all socioeconomic groups and communities of all sizes. Addressing this persistent crisis requires a wide range of more proactive interventions.

The Impacts and Cycle of Addiction in Families Within the UK

Addiction is driving more families apart as the consequences of a family member’s substance abuse or compulsive behaviours creep into the lives of other family members.  This illness has destroyed the stability of several family units from all angles — psychologically, emotionally, socially and financially.

Families experience emotional turmoil as they watch their loved one lose themselves to the addiction. When emotional pain sets in, it opens the door to mental health problems such as chronic depression, leaving some family members vulnerable to substance abuse as a way to cope with the negative emotions.

Although hereditary factors may largely contribute to a family’s pattern of substance abuse, this cycle is also influenced by risky family environments and a family’s history of addiction. It’s not unusual for people raised in environments where close family members struggled with dependence to face the same struggles in life. Millions of UK citizens are living proof, as evident through these findings by the UK Drug Policy Commission:

  • One in every 20 adults has a personal encounter with addiction in the family.
  • One in every five adults has gone through substance abuse triggered by another family member’s dependence problem.
  • Approximately 1.5 million adults in the UK are affected by a relative’s substance abuse.

Some families with individuals suffering from dependency experience stigma from outsiders, forcing them to lead isolated lives to avoid judgment. Financial distress is a reality for many households today, as loved ones are forced to take over the affected family member’s financial obligations. In addition, several families across the UK have lost their loved ones to overdose deaths and chronic conditions resulting from severe substance abuse problems.

The Effects of Addiction on Children

Children raised in households with a loved one suffering from substance abuse problems or compulsive behaviours are hardest hit. They experience multiple negative outcomes at a tender age, with some lasting a lifetime. Their lives are deeply affected in the following ways:

  • They may feel neglected by the people they often look up to, which destroys their overall well-being
  • Substance abuse can cause a loved one to lose their sense of morality, putting the children at risk of physical and sexual abuse.
  • Young children living in chaotic environments may witness traumatising scenarios. They live in constant fear of being aggressively handled by their loved one.
  • Children of mothers who abused substances during pregnancy are likely to grow up with physical impairments and intellectual disabilities. These issues might set them up for severe self-esteem problems and bullying as they interact with their peers.
  • They experience intense feelings of loneliness as the loved one focuses their attention on pursuing the addiction. As a result, they may develop serious mental health issues at a young age.
  • Children raised in toxic homes have trouble performing well in school because of the trauma and lack of constant support from the loved one dealing with the illness.
  • Being unable to bond with their loved one affects their ability to develop healthy relationships with their peers.
  • Children living with a loved one suffering from substance abuse problems are likely to make the same choices when transitioning into adolescence.

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How Addiction Costs the NHS Each Year

The treatment of dependence issues has become burdensome for the National Health Service (NHS), the number one provider of state-funded addiction treatment services in the UK.

Besides overstretching the treatment workforce in NHS treatment facilities, the growing demand for addiction treatment has forced the NHS to increase its spending to meet this demand. For instance, It’s estimated that the NHS now spends 3.5 billion annually treating alcohol-related complications alone.

These rising expenses come in form of:

  • More inpatient hospital stays for people with serious substance abuse problems
  • More emergency visits linked to substance abuse toxicities
  • Soaring ambulance costs due to increased demand for ambulance services
  • Purchase of more substance abuse treatment medications
  • More Investments in resources to strengthen the capacity of NHS clinics

Crime and Addiction in the UK

Every year, the UK loses£6 billion to drug-fueled theft. This amount represents the market value of goods and money stolen by people looking for means to fund their self-destructive behaviours. In addition, the government spends roughly £10.7 billion on policing and prevention of drug-related crimes.

Most crimes in the UK are carried out by people intoxicated with alcohol and other substances. For instance, two in every five cases of violent offences in Wales and England are alcohol misuse-related crimes. Substance abuse is also among the leading causes of domestic assault, sexual and child abuse, and homicides across the nation.

The widespread use and possession of illicit substances are increasing arrests and convictions for individuals breaking drug possession laws or drink-driving laws. These convictions are financially straining the nation’s criminal justice system.

What Is Causing the Rise in Addiction Rates?

There are several factors contributing to the spike in numbers, among them:

  • Rising Socioeconomic Inequality

According to Statista, the UK has among the highest levels of socioeconomic inequality in Europe. Since many communities face significant disadvantages in life, the risks of mental health problems are more, leaving many vulnerable to substance abuse.

  • The burden of Trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences

A recent UK-based study shows that 31% of young people are exposed to traumatic events. These same findings also reveal that one in every 13 adolescents struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder before attaining the age of 18.

Only a few undergo treatment, which means their symptoms persist even in their adult years. Most adults in the UK have unmanaged mental disorder symptoms, and for many, risky substance use is the best way to numb these symptoms.

  • Poor Parental Supervision and Support

As most parents face demanding professional obligations, the lack of close parental relationships is driving many teenagers to substance abuse.

  • Stigma Towards People Suffering From Addiction

Negative societal attitudes towards people with dependence problems in the UK still persist. As a result, most people with this illness hesitate to seek treatment out of fear of being harshly judged. Delayed professional treatment is escalating the problem.

  • Low Awareness of Treatment

With little awareness of the wide range of treatment opportunities, many people across the UK are missing out on early treatment.

  • Ineffective Marketing Regulations

The widespread, regular marketing of legal substances and activities such as alcohol and gambling influences more people to adopt risky drinking and gambling attitudes, leading many to potentially dangerous levels of alcohol use and gambling behaviours.

What Can Be Done to Reduce the Rates of Addiction in Communities?

Minimising the prevalence of this illness should be a joint effort involving the government, non-profit agencies, the media, community groups, healthcare organisations, and education institutions. Some effective measures that can make a big difference include:

  • Addressing the UK’s Socioeconomic Inequality

Putting in place more robust policies to narrow the existing socioeconomic gap will improve the quality of life across communities. Many people will be less susceptible to the mental health risk factors that trigger substance abuse.

  • Expansion of Community Mental Health Services

Scaling up community-based mental health treatment services will ensure that communities across the UK have access to early diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions. When more people at the community level are receiving professional help and support, their chances of masking mental illness symptoms with substance use will lower.

  • Intensifying Efforts to Destigmatise Addiction

Promoting more public conversations and community education initiatives on the nature of addiction will help minimise the stigma around this illness and generate more public empathy toward those who are suffering from it. Breaking the stigma will significantly narrow the gap between those in need of addiction treatment and those receiving it.

  • Strengthening Community Awareness of Treatment Opportunities

Increasing awareness of the availability of treatment amongst communities will encourage more people to enter treatment and overcome their struggles.

  • Tougher Marketing Regulations

Implementing stricter regulations regarding the volume and content of marketing messages for alcoholic beverages and gambling will limit the exposure of young people and other at-risk populations to sophisticated marketing messages.

  • Widely Implementing More Effective Substance Abuse Prevention Programmes

Developing and implementing well-tailored community-based and school-based programs that aim to constantly spread the word on the harms of substance use will gradually encourage more people in communities and school-going children to embrace abstinence.

The Destructive Capacity of Addiction: Final Thoughts

Addiction is still a deeply entrenched problem in the UK. Its impacts are far-reaching, affecting the users, their families, the wider community, and health systems. Despite multiple strategies being implemented over the years, the results haven’t been encouraging enough, affirming that more needs to be done to reduce the individual and societal risk factors influencing this major health issue.


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