A new survey has revealed the extent of addiction stigma in 2019 – the year that saw record numbers of drugs deaths across the UK.
The research, carried out by profit-for-purpose insight and marketing agency , in partnership with , found that public opinion varied greatly depending on the type of mental health problem, with almost four times as many people (38%) believing addiction was the fault of the person experiencing it, compared to other illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
Interestingly, whilst people clearly understand that schizophrenia is an illness (with only 5% believing the person experiencing it had brought it on themselves), results showed that stigma around schizophrenia was also significant, with almost half of respondents stating that they were either unwilling or unsure if they would remain friends with somebody with the diagnosis.
Similarly, over a third of respondents stated they were unwilling or unsure if they would remain friends with somebody experiencing addiction.
Furthermore, almost 1 in 3 respondents (32%) believed that addiction was most likely the result of a lack of willpower or poor lifestyle choices, compared to just 4% when asked the same question about depression.
Actress, Denise Welch, who has spoken openly about her struggles with addiction, said: “Addiction is a frightening place to be, and these figures show that people struggling with the illness are more likely to become isolated and feel ashamed.
“Addiction often goes hand-in-hand with other mental health problems or experiences of trauma. It’s not the fault of the person experiencing it and we need to show more compassion. Addiction kills plain and simple. It’s not a lifestyle choice.”
Speaking to an alcohol conference at Lancaster Hospital, Alcohol Concern Ambassador, Writer and Strategist, Alastair Campbell said: “It is true that every time we raise a glass to our lips, that is a choice we make. But nobody chooses to be afflicted with the disease of alcoholism. Nobody imagines on taking their first drink that they will be the one who ends up on the streets, in jail or in hospital because of their drinking. We will never properly tackle addiction in this country until we accept that it is an illness more than a lifestyle choice. Just as nobody would set out to choose to be cancerous, asthmatic or diabetic, nobody would set out to be addicted to alcohol or drugs and it is in that spirit that we should approach this issue, as individuals and as a country.”
Kathie Wilcox, Director, NGI Solutions, said: “Having carried out work on behalf of clients and partners in the health space, including Newcastle United Foundation and The Road to Recovery Trust, we were keen to use our research expertise and partnerships to discover whether there was a particular issue around addiction stigma across the UK. These results demonstrate the need for increased conversation about the reality of addiction as there is clearly a lack of understanding.”
Peter Mitchell, chief executive of addiction recovery charity, The Road to Recovery Trust, said: “These results are sadly not surprising. Alcoholism and drug addiction are both isolating diseases that in many cases are linked to the shocking number of young people ending their own lives in this country.
“It has to be remembered that stigma is probably the biggest barrier to recovery from addiction. If we can’t name the disease, how can we promote a solution?
“Through 12-step recovery there is a solution freely available to anyone prepared to live a life without using mind-altering substances – people need to know about it and be supported through it.”
Lucy Nichol, Account Director with NGI Solutions and an active mental health campaigner added: “I’ve been speaking on mental health stigma for a few years now, and I’ve always felt that addiction as a topic hasn’t been sufficiently explored as part of the wider conversation.
“Isolation perpetuates addiction, so stigma will directly impact the recovery rates of the many people struggling with addiction. It’s time to change this before more lives are lost.”