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Spiralling addictions: How the pandemic and ‘working from home’ has helped fuel addictions

Priory expert says increasing numbers have turned to alcohol and drugs post Covid – with ‘remote working’ fuelling covert addiction at home

  • Priory consultant psychiatrist says number of people addicted to alcohol and cocaine is spiralling
  • Expert highlights post-pandemic stress – particularly heavy workloads, lack of social interaction, financial stress and strained family relationships often caused by working from home
  • Warns that cocaine use is now at “epidemic” levels, with ketamine use rising fast
  • Priory has seen a 58% increase in inquiries about cocaine addiction in 12 months, and an 88% increase in inquiries about ketamine

One of the UK’s leading addiction experts says addiction has gone ‘through the roof’ as a result of people ‘self-medicating’ with alcohol and drugs.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Niall Campbell, of Priory’s Roehampton Hospital, says working from home has given people the opportunity to try and hide their addictions – because there are fewer checks on their behaviours.

“They often think their partners or children don’t know, but of course they do,” he says.

Priory has seen a 40% increase in inquiries about private addiction treatment over the past year, with a 58% increase in inquiries specifically about cocaine addiction, and an 88% rise in enquiries about ketamine, a psychologically addictive hallucinogen which is relatively cheap and common at clubs, festivals and parties.

“Without the need to go into the office, or attend meetings in person, people prone to addiction find more opportunities to continue them,” Dr Campbell says. “And for younger adults in particular, being cut off from an office, and maybe still living with parents, there is an enormous emotional strain – and we are seeing more depression and anxiety in the 20+ age group, which in many cases leads to unhealthy and addictive behaviours.”

He says addicts develop many ways to try and hide their addiction – from keeping bottles of alcohol in the car boot, to taking cocaine outdoors.

“It has not been easy for people to suddenly spend a lot of time at home, and the effect on personal relationships has been acute. Zoom and Teams are no substitute for face to face contact. It has definitely been easier for those with young families to work more flexibly, but this too has brought an element of strain. Being in close vicinity with family many hours a day, especially in a small house with limited outdoor space, is a big adjustment and many people don’t have homes that easily convert into workspaces.”

Referring to a “cocaine epidemic” in the UK, he adds: “’Recreational drugs’ is a euphemism. Cocaine is extremely addictive and toxic and the effects are unpredictable, especially on the heart. You ask any A&E doctor in this country about the number of young people, particularly young men, who come in with cardiac arrhythmias – cocaine speeds up your heart and is like putting a supercharger on a Mini engine, and not all hearts can stand that. If it’s an arrhythmia like that – then you are looking at your lights going out, so to speak. It can be fatal. For others, if you keep doing it, it is going to kill you. It is a very bad instant anti-depressant. Your difficulties go out of the window, but the come-downs - the depression, paranoia, suicidal feelings, irritability - never mind the physical effects, are all over society. Ketamine is also on the rise, and the psychological effects as well as the long-term physical effects, including effects on the bladder - are bad.

“But there is help out there and we also see lives turned around. Whenever people get to the Priory, the wheels have come off and the party is over but they are still minimising their usage. So we always ask for a ‘collateral’ letter – from the wife, husband, partner, and/or children – which tells us how the patient’s drug use has affected them. They tell the truth – and will say things like ‘do you remember when you wrecked the place on cocaine, drove the car, spent £1,800 in one night on cocaine, hit me and shouted at everyone’. Cocaine has a devastating effect on all aspects of people’s lives.”

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