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The Covid pandemic has accelerated an addiction pandemic

Todd Crandell
October 3, 2021

The COVID pandemic has silently given birth to another pandemic of addiction, which Todd Crandell argues needs a far more nuanced approach going forward than has previously been attempted.

The COVID pandemic has silently given birth to another pandemic: a drug and alcohol addiction crisis. To fight it, we will need to look beyond the traditional interventions, including prescribing drugs which (as we have seen with opioids) often replace one addiction with another.

We need a holistic approach that embraces, and changes, every aspect of an addict's life. And we need it nationally, in every neighbourhood.

Addictions are symptoms, not diseases. And it is the disease, not the symptom, that we must treat. That means helping improve addicts' physical and mental health, and helping them become the best family member, citizen and employee they can possibly be.

We cannot afford to ignore this problem. The estimated cost of drug abuse in the United Kingdom is approximately £36 billion per year, according to the UK Addiction Treatment Centres. This is not the only cost to society; the same data from the UK Addiction Centres shows that drug abuse accounts for £17 million in reduced workdays, and the estimated costs for drug use is approximately £9.3 billion for the criminal justice system and £6.3 million for drug related deaths.

Those figures will only increase post-pandemic. As of September 2020, almost half (68 per cent) of British respondents to the Global Drug Survey said that they were drinking more as a result of the pandemic, and 44 per cent of cannabis users reported smoking more.

We should start by accepting that our current strategies are failing. Most individuals do not even seek help; the stigma attached to alcoholism and drug addiction means that only a small percentage of people seek help at all. For example, in England there are an estimated 586,780 dependent drinkers, and only 18 per cent are receiving treatment.

I believe this is because they know that the treatments on offer are often futile. If you are an alcoholic or addicted to drugs, you will likely be referred to traditional group therapies, which have been largely unchanged since the 1930s when they were first developed.

We would not rely today on any of the medical practices we used almost a century ago, so why rely on the same addiction treatment system? The 2006 Cochrane Review reported that there was no conclusive evidence that traditional group therapies worked.

If they did, we would not have almost 10 per cent of UK adults taking drugs on a regular basis.

I do not need scientific research to prove what works and what does not. For 13 years of my life, I endured an almost fatal battle with both drugs and alcohol. In that time, I tried various approaches. None of them worked.

They did not work because they were addressing the symptom, my substance abuse, and not the cause, which was the trauma that I developed after my mother's suicide at the age of 3.

I gained a healthy, addiction-free life through a holistic approach that got to the root of the problem; trauma and depression. I used a combination of exercise, talking therapy, family support and counselling services. That same mix can deliver a more holistic solution that can work for almost all addicts.

I know from experience that an exercise routine is a far cheaper and more effective way to beat addictions. Beyond my personal experience, a small study conducted in Denmark found that of 38 dependent individuals who agreed to take part in a regular exercise session three times a week for six months, over 50 per cent completed the course, and most had decreased or stopped their alcohol abuse.

Addiction is not a character defect, it is someone's way of expressing their pain. And we need to eliminate that pain. The rate of drug and alcohol relapse in the UK is between 40 per cent and 60 per cent. We can and must do better.

My dream is to see newer, holistic approaches scaled up across the country, with rehab programmes that improve all the features of health in an individual's life.

If Albert Einstein said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, our addiction treatment approaches are insane. It's time for us to get sane – and sober.

Todd Crandell is the founder of the charity Racing for Recovery, which promotes recovery from substance addiction through health and fitness.
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