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We Have a Small Window of Opportunity to Reduce Rates of Addiction warns Paul Spanjar

Addiction is one of the most widespread issues that the world is dealing with right now, and it almost feels like we’re sleep walking into another crisis (yes, another one!). We do, however, need to streamline the way the NHS deals with people struggling with substance use disorders and mental health problems, and we need to do it fast.

Reducing stigma related around addictions will help people to open up about their problems, but how are we going to cope in the event many more people decide to seek treatment?

The NHS is struggling with current demand as it is, and while the world is dealing with one crisis after another, it feels as though not enough is being done to tackle this one.

Are Rates of Addiction Increasing?

Claiming whether rates of addiction are increasing or decreasing begs the question, what qualifies as addiction? Rates of drug use disorder are different compared to rates of an alcohol use disorder, and so on. In the UK, it has been noted that drug use has increased amongst 15-year-olds over the last five years. However, it has also been noted that the number of people who are seeking help for their drug use has increased. Statistics from 2017 show that in the UK, a 23% rise was seen in the number of people who wanted to beat their cocaine habit.

In some aspects, the rates of addiction are the same as they were. This is not necessarily a good thing, because it directly means that we have not been able to bring the rates down. The goal must be to reverse it, not keep it suspended mid-air in the hope it might just magically disappear or return to earth. This means we must be recovery-oriented and prevention-oriented, rather than just the latter.

Who Is Most at Risk of Developing an Addiction?

Multiple risk factors for addiction have been identified, however, all of these factors intersect one-another. One of the two major factors that decides who’s at risk is genetics and the home environment, which means if your family or parents have a history, you are far more at risk too. Another very important factor is the environment one grows up in, trauma and neglect can also play a significant role in addictive behaviours.

Despite the legality and generally perceived helpfulness of cannabis, it can be addictive like any other substance. Individuals who consume cannabis tend to be more at risk of developing addiction. The jury is out on whether cannabis is a gateway drug or not, but that argument completely misses the point, it doesn’t matter whether it’s cannabis or heroin, addiction is addiction, and its signs are universal.

How Does Poor Mental Health Impact Rates of Addiction?

Poor mental health is statistically linked to higher chances of substance use disorders. This condition is known as a co-occurring disorder, wherein two disorders (mental health disorder and addictive disorder) coincide, and the individual is given a dual diagnosis. For example, someone battling depression and also cocaine addiction will be given a dual diagnosis.

According to the NHS, people with the antisocial disorder are 15.5% more likely at risk of misusing drugs, while those with manic episodes are 14.5% more likely. Similarly, schizophrenia has a 10.1% effect, panic disorder has a 4.3% effect, depression has a 4.1% effect, and OCD has a 3.4% effect. This is how poor mental health can impact rates of addiction.

Do We Need to Take Technology Addiction More Seriously?

Paul Spanjar, CEO of Providence Projects, a Dorset based treatment centre, concludes that addiction goes beyond that of substances and behaviours including gambling.

“We often think of addiction in terms of substances or gambling, but there are many other behaviours that we need to be concerned about such as social media, food and gaming.”

Technology addiction indeed needs to be taken seriously, instead of being written off as “kids will be kids” or “at least it’s not worse.” Technology addiction can be detrimental to physical and mental health, both. The NHS planned on opening a clinic for internet addiction. In the age of social media, being obsessed with numbers (followers, likes, subscribers, viewers, etc) is akin to the obsessiveness shown in other addiction disorders where hyper control is common.

Spanjar goes on to add, “It’s becoming common for individuals to spend hours upon hours in the digital world, and social media apps are designed in many ways to entice people to engage for long periods. Fast food is becoming even easier to order with just a click of a button and with the rising costs of living, those on lower incomes will be forced to buy cheaper products that are typically high in sugar and salt. It is no good for the UK Government to increase spending on addiction treatment services if they fail to tackle the root causes of it in the first place.”