People still talk about certain drugs as gateways to others. These are often Class C drugs such as steroids, benzos, or legal highs. But addiction rehabilitation service Rehabs UK says that it is wrong to suggest that these are the root cause of addiction issues, or of wider substance abuse.
Rehabs UK has recently published a report titled The Real Gateway Drugs in the UK, which highlights the major issues associated with substance misuse. The report identifies mental health problems and financial insecurity as the two leading issues that contribute to substance abuse. In addition, housing problems and domestic violence are identified as secondary ‘gateway drugs’ that often exacerbate addiction and disrupt lives.
The report also sheds light on the damaging effects of alcohol, which is identified as the most harmful substance. It is reported that 64% of adults who sought treatment for substance misuse in 2022 had issues with alcohol. These findings underline the urgent need to address the underlying causes of addiction and provide support to those affected by substance misuse.
Recent ONS data on drug misuse in England and Wales shows that those on the lowest incomes are more likely than others to take drugs, with 15% of people earning less than £10,400 saying they had taken drugs in 2022 compared to a national average of 9%. In Scotland, figures from The Poverty Alliance show that people in the most deprived communities are 18 times more likely to experience problem drug use than those in the least deprived communities.
Even before the cost of living crisis, roughly 20% of the UK’s population was living in poverty, the equivalent of 13.4 million people. With food bank use rising 40% in 2022 and estimates suggesting that a further 1.3million people have been plunged into poverty by the energy crisis this winter, ‘The real gateway drugs’ report calls for better government funding for drug and alcohol intervention services, along with greater investment in social housing and employability support.
According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, World Drug Report: “Among adults living in high-income countries, drug use disorders tend to be more prevalent among those who experience socioeconomic disadvantage, which is most frequently measured in terms of low educational level, low-income level or unstable employment status, or a combination of these factors.”
In England, four of the five cities with the highest rates of alcohol dependency are also severely deprived areas, according to government figures published in January 2023. Across the UK, the poorest areas are also often the worst off when it comes to healthcare inequality – due to a combination of poverty-driven pre-existing health conditions and difficulty accessing primary healthcare and other essential services.
According to Government and Office for National Statistics (ONS) data, the majority of adults who began addiction treatment in 2022 had underlying mental health issues, far exceeding the national average of 30%. Shockingly, 22% of those individuals were not receiving any form of treatment. The data also reveals a correlation between drug use and low levels of happiness and life satisfaction. In 2022, 21% of adults who reported low levels of day-to-day happiness had tried drugs, while only 8% of those with a “very high” level of happiness had done the same. Similarly, 16% of individuals who reported low life satisfaction had used drugs, compared to only 5% of those who reported a “very high” level of satisfaction.
These statistics highlight the need for comprehensive support and care for individuals struggling with addiction and underlying mental health issues.
The Rehabs UK report states that: “We see first-hand that some of the biggest underlying issues in people who misuse alcohol or other substances are a lack of mental health support and/or unresolved trauma.”
Founder and director of Rehabs UK Lester Morse said: “Substance use disorders are symptoms of a systemic, socioeconomic type of disease. We cannot hope to eradicate addiction until we treat the deeper issues affecting our society, and until we provide meaningful and comprehensive mental health care to everyone that needs it.”