Addiction Misery Waiting at the Door As The Brexit Date Draws Closer

An infographic from the team at Addiction Helper

UK The Hidden cost of substance abuseUK The Hidden cost of substance abuse
In many professional circles, the general perception is the closer the UK gets to Brexit, the worse it looks.

It’s been two years since the Brexit vote was passed and it seems the nation as a result of it is going down in all the wrong places and up in all the worst places. For instance:

  • Hate crime and society unrest is on the rise
  • Drug abuse related deaths are on the rise
  • The strength of the pound is falling
  • The economy is falling

And that’s just to name a few.

While all the above looks bad, it actually gets scarier when you consider the ripple effect of the above on an already fragile society. Even though a final Brexit deal doesn’t appear to be on the horizon, there is a looming certainty that the final deal will bring with it an unprecedented recession.

March 2019 may be the official deadline for Brexit negotiations to be finalised but the UK economy is already experiencing stagnation. If things get worse after Brexit is fully actualised and the UK economy falls into a recession, what effect will it have on number of those in the UK abusing drugs? This question will be answered before the end of this article, but let’s first take a look at the current rate of drug abuse and addiction in the UK.

Substance Addiction in the UK vs the USA

Eastern Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States have some of the highest levels of drug abuse and addiction cases in the world. To provide you a better understanding of the UK’s drug situation, below is a comparison of UK drug abuse and related statistics against that of the USA.

  • In a 2016 report, it was revealed that 5.47% of the total US population suffered from an alcohol or drug use disorder. In the UK, the figure was 2.9% of the total population
  • That same year, drug abuse related deaths in the US stood at 9.74 in the US per 100,000 individuals. The UK stood at 3.78 per 100,000 individuals.

For every country, the most commonly abused drug typically varies. The data below illustrates total number of individuals with drug use disorders in the UK and US, and separates them by drug type.


  • Amphetamine


UK – 84,714.38 (0.2%)

US – 774,455.49 (0.42%)


  • Cocaine


UK – 159,631.92 (0.39%)

US – 1.77 Mill (0.96%)


  • Cannabis


UK – 273,508.81 (0.66%)

US – 2.67 m (1.45%)


  • Opioids


UK – 266,193.63 (0.64%)

US – 3.97 m (2.15%)


  • Others


UK – 73,278.55 (0.18%)

US – 448,574.75 (0.24%)

This equals a total of 9.63 Million people in the US (5.21% of the total population) and 857,327.3 people in the UK (2.07% of the total population) with drug issues as of 2016.

From 1996 to 2016, total of drug abuse cases increased in the UK by 1.58% against a population growth of 12.87% in the same number of years. In the US, a 24.84% increase against a 19.94% population growth was recorded for the same period which clearly indicates the US takes the lead when it comes to the prevalence of drug abuse.

Sadly, due to the current economic clime in the country, the UK may soon rise far above its current ranking concerning drug abuse and addiction prevalence.

Why the stark difference between the UK and US

In every society, drug abuse and addiction exists to some degree. Anyone from any social class or race or gender can become a victim. But statistics have over the years shown that individuals from lower income areas or communities with less employment seem to be more prone to becoming drug abusers. This key fact is essential to properly comprehending the stark difference between the UK and the US regarding the prevalence of drug abuse and addiction.

A pivotal era in the history of the United States was 1994 when the NAFTA bill was passed by President Bill Clinton. The passing of this legislation resulted in several multinationals and manufacturers moving their operations to Mexico to minimise the costs of production. This move by several job-providing companies had a profound effect on employment in the US.

Several of the communities that were established around the relocated factories were unable to cope and became destitute as their main source of employment and prosperity was gone. As many people struggled to make ends meet, circumstances were worsened by pharmaceutical opiates suddenly becoming easily accessible on the streets and via prescription.

People going through psychological distress due to their inability to make ends meet began taking solace in widely available drugs and the country faced a fresh epidemic of drug abuse and addiction.

In the UK, Brexit is coming and many expect it to bring about another round of recession. In such an economic crisis, the UK might find itself facing a drug problem similar to what the US had to face in the mid and late 90s. Compounding the problem is the fact that illicit and prescription drugs are already widely available on UK streets.

A 2013 report already indicated that illicit drug use in the UK is more prevalent among unemployed persons when compared to those that are gainfully employed. A recession brought on by Brexit is likely to result in massive job losses, reduced incomes, and generally reduced spending power among all. This makes for ideal circumstances for the UK’s already critical drug problem to potentially worsen.

If there are less jobs and more people struggling financially (both of which are commonplace during recessions), depression, anxiety, and self-esteem issues will become more widespread. Such psychological and emotional issues commonly influence people (especially unemployed and financially unstable ones) to self-medicate with substance abuse in an attempt emotionally cope.

Those who had drug abuse related issues prior to a recession will likely find their condition exacerbated. This is because the rigid schedule and routine that comes with having a job leaves little room for idleness or negative thinking that allows for drug habits to flourish.

Shortly after the passing of the Brexit referendum, the UK economy experienced a brief boost which was followed by a gradual decline that hasn’t stopped. More businesses are leaving the country, the real estate market is falling, and other negative consequences are becoming evident. Many predict that by the time Brexit negotiations are completed and the exit finalised, the UK economy will be tipped into a recession with people facing harsh financial realities. Some of the hardest hit members of society in such a situation are likely to fall prey to the temptation of alcohol or drug abuse.

The Brexit Prediction

Q1 of 2018 presented a UK GDP growth that was at 0.1%. Even though the deadline for Brexit is still some months away, the UK economy is already to a degree experiencing stagnation. Chris Williamson who is an economist at IHS Markit pointed out that the performance of the UK economy is at its weakest ever in the last six years.

Currently, a significant number of Brits already get the impression that they are poorer than they were a year ago. This perception is worsened by falling growth in the price of houses, bringing the house market closer to entering a contraction. UK residents can for the time being no longer rely on their real estate as wealth.

Shoppers in the UK are responding to the present economic clime by spending less and generally acting like bad days are already here. Consumer confidence is rapidly falling and more earners are aiming to put aside as much savings as possible.

Should we draw a Connection between Recession & Drug Misuse/Addiction?

Recession and drug abuse/addiction are definitely. And if Brexiteers continue to have their way and the negative economic outcomes of Brexit continue unabated, UK’s already serious drug abuse and addiction situation is bound to only get exacerbated by a worsening economy.

Evidence already shows that there is a higher prevalence of drug abuse and addiction among unemployed and low income earners. If there is a recession, unemployment will rise which will in turn result in a higher prevalence of psychological distress. A number of people undergoing psychological distress may pursue unhealthy drug habits to ease their pain.

A recession could also lead to the following which may promote drug misuse:

  • Decrease in income and spending power.
  • Decrease in job opportunities and increase in non-working time which leads to idleness and anxiety.
  • Social exclusion which results in self-worth and self-esteem issues

The UK witnessing a rise in the number of drug related deaths

There were 3,674 drug abuse related deaths in the UK in 2015 – and that’s without a recession. More than half of those deaths (67%) involved illegal drugs.

An Office for National Statistics (ONS) report revealed that in 2016 alone, cocaine abuse related deaths were up by 16%.

Opioid fentanyl was another culprit, with number of deaths from its use up 15 times higher than a decade ago.

England and Wales together had a total of 3,756 illegal and legal drug poisoning deaths in 2017.

Vanessa Fearn, a researcher at ONS also stated that number of fatalities from heroin and morphine abuse increased by twice the number after 2012. This trend was partially as a result of heroin’s increased availability and accessibility on the streets. Factors such as age also contributed to the increased mortality with number of older heroin users increasing. This group already dealing with health issues such as hepatitis and lung disease were already at significant risk of fatal consequences.

If Brexit negotiations end in a “No-Deal”, the upward trend of drug use will likely speed up exponentially. This is probable especially if you factor in the economic hardships a no-deal Brexit will cause Brits and how those affected may become more vulnerable to drug seeking behaviour.

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