Addiction is a global issue and here in the UK we see a record number of individuals with substance abuse issues. Recent surveys suggest that drug use in the year between 2020 and 2021 was at 12% in Scotland, 9.4% in England and Wales, and 5.9% in Northern Ireland.
This number is on the rise and the drug epidemic is worsening. This could be due to a number of factors including:
- More easily obtainable substances
- Higher rates of mental illness and self medication
- Increased rates of violence
A multi-faceted approach is necessary to tackle the problem of addiction in the UK. One important element of the battle against drug addiction and alcohol dependencies is raising awareness.
Why is Awareness Important?
Awareness of addiction problems is crucial in the prevention, as well as the treatment, of substance use disorders. Illicit substance use is a strain on our society in a number of ways. Claiming thousands of lives across the country, the number one victim of addiction is life. Additionally, our economy and workforce are negatively impacted by the severe consequences of addiction.
Recent research found that between April 2020 and March 2021, 275,896 adults were engaged with drug and alcohol services. On one hand it’s promising that such a high number of people are accessing support, however, this just scrapes the surface on the true scale of the problem. Private rehab centres are already registering a leap in admissions as of 2022.
Raising awareness works on a micro and a macro level. In our close communities when we understand addiction, we are better placed to support people through their challenges. On a wider scale, awareness creates change and we can see that a nation-wide understanding of substance use disorders puts pressure on governments to enact change for users.
Through awareness, individuals can be inspired to find viable solutions and create change in their own lives and the lives of others.
The Stigma of Addiction
There is a pervasive stigma around substance use which lingers on today. Stigma usually relates to shame or disgrace about a certain behaviour or situation. Stigma is associated with the strange or problematic behaviour displayed by individuals with an addiction. Somebody with a substance use disorder may do things they are embarrassed or ashamed of, but the strength of the addiction is difficult to match. This can result in stigmas being formed about the community of individuals with substance use problems, creating a harmful perception for the wider public. Research has found that although there is generally a wider public understanding of the existence of stigmas, they still prevail. Stigmas can be held by individuals, specific communities, institutions, the wider society, and by the person experiencing the disorder.
The combination of stigma and shame which individuals experience, often leads to hurdles in accessing support. It is thought that stigma is the number one inhibiting factor preventing people from quality addiction treatment and recovery. This is an extremely unfortunate truth, given that with comprehensive care, respect, and support, individuals often improve or transform their lifestyle.
Reducing stigma requires a concerted effort from our schools and communities to educate people on how the disease takes hold, and how it can most effectively be addressed.
How to Raise Awareness
Advocacy and awareness can come in many forms. In some scenarios, the most impactful solution is open and informed conversations. At other times we can use creative initiatives to help educate communities about substance use and invite diverse groups of people to take part in activities.
There are some charities and organisations who dedicate their work to raising public knowledge and understanding of the effects of substance misuse. This may see them holding talks in public spaces such as libraries or community centres, or in institutions such as schools or prisons. Many rehabilitation services, such as the Providence Projects, also host and actively participate in such initiatives. This work is multifaceted and can contribute by:
- Reducing the stigma of having a family member who lives with a substance use disorder
- Raises awareness and understanding of the prevalence of addiction
- Educates individuals on the possibility of anybody experiencing addiction, regardless of social class, religion, race, or background.
- Support individuals who engage in substance use to face the consequences of their drug use, on their own lives and the lives of those around them.
Who Can Raise Awareness?
Awareness of the issues around substance addiction can be raised by any members of society who are committed to changing the landscape. Education can start in schools and community groups and continue on through healthcare providers and the workplace.
There is a great responsibility for rehabilitation centres to enact change and increase awareness of addiction. As clinicians, we can contribute our knowledge and experience to create a more compassionate and understanding community. We try to highlight the true experiences of individuals living with substance use issues and communicate the complexity and severity of the disease.
Substance use can be an incredibly isolating existence, and when more people are engaged with the subject, we have greater chances of effecting change.
Prevention of Substance Use
In addition to awareness of the issue, effective prevention strategies can be implemented on community levels to decrease levels of drug and alcohol addiction. Prevention can take a number of forms depending on who the audience is. Some programmes may take a broad brush stroke and be directed at a general population of young people. On the other hand, some prevention strategies may focus on ‘at risk’ individuals or community groups. Many practitioners, including us, offer family support programmes to help those affected indirectly from the substance use in their family circle.
Depending on the intention, these sessions or campaigns may focus on environmental factors, societal structures, or skills and life skills sessions.
Changing Lives Affected by Addiction
If you, or someone you love, is living with an addiction disorder, help is available. Raising awareness is one crucial aspect of changing the conversation around substance use, but professional help such as a residential rehab programme is necessary too. We offer free phone consultations if you are ready to step out and ask for help.
We have a number of treatment options available and we can discuss this process with you over the phone. Every addiction is unique, and treatment should reflect that. We are confident you can get through this and into a healthier place on the other side.