The number of adults in England being treated for an alcohol problem increased by more than 10% last year – the highest year-on-year rise of all substance misuse groups, according to official figures.
The number of people in contact with drug and alcohol services went up overall by 4.8%, from 275,896 in the 12 months to March 2021, to 289,215 to March 2022. The Office for Health Improvement and Disparities said the latest figure was the highest since 2014 to 2015.
The overall number of adults starting treatment for drug and/or alcohol issues in 2021 to 2022 was 133,704, which was 2.5% up on the previous years' figure of 130,490 and 1.2% higher than the 2019 to 2020 figure of 132,124, according to the findings.
Analysis of Four Substance Groups
The report analysed treatment numbers and trends under four substance groups:
- Opiates, mainly heroin
- Non-opiates only, including cannabis, crack, and ecstasy
- Non-opiates and alcohol
- Alcohol only
Almost half of all adults in treatment (49%) received treatment for problems with opiates, 22% for other drugs, and 29% for alcohol only. The alcohol only group saw the highest overall rise of all the substance groups, with a year-on-year increase from 76,740 to 84,697, or 10.4%. The increase followed a decline from a peak of 91,651 in 2013 to 2014, according to the analysis.
Of the people who said they had a problem with alcohol, 67% reported it was their only problem substance.
There were increases in the other two substance groups – 7% for non-opiates, and 12% in non-opiates plus alcohol.
Other notable trends were: A decline in the overall number of adults starting treatment for crack cocaine with opiates misuse; an 11% rise in people entering treatment for powder cocaine misuse; a 4% increase in people beginning treatment for cannabis problems; and an 11% decrease in individuals seeking help for benzodiazepine problems.
The report also identified an increase in adults beginning treatment for ketamine misuse, where numbers rose from 1444 in 2020 to 2021 to 1551 in the last year. Despite the relatively small numbers involved, the total was now 3.5 times higher than it was in 2014 to 2015, the report noted.
Age and Gender
More than two-thirds (67.5%) of people in treatment were men, compared with 32.5% women. However, the proportion varied significantly by substance group. For the opiate and non-opiate only groups, men comprised 72.4% and 67% respectively, whereas there was a more even split by gender in the alcohol only category of 58.3% men and 41.7% women.
The most common age group for starting treatment was 35 to 39, followed by the 30 to 34 age group, then the 40 to 44 age group. Half of people starting treatment (50%) were 40 years and over. Of those aged 55 years and over, 79% said they had problems with alcohol only, which was a 6% decrease on the previous year.
The report also identified that more than two-thirds (70%) of people starting treatment said they had a mental health need, of which 22% said had not been treated. Overall, 11% of individuals starting treatment reported a housing problem, but this rose to 17% for those who misused opiates.
COVID-19 exerted a "lingering effect" on drug and treatment services into 2022, despite almost all pandemic-related restrictions being lifted by July 2021, according to the report.