How many people are addicted?

Addiction or problematic use is a difficult concept to measure

Those with drug-related problems tend to be difficult to find, and addiction is difficult to measure. Experts consistently fail to agree on what constitutes an addict, problematic use or problematic user. Estimates as to how many people are experiencing drug problems have to be drawn from different sources, using different ways of measuring.

Numbers receiving help for alcohol and drug problems

According to the Office for National Statistics Adult substance misuse treatment statistics 2022 to 2023: report there were 290,635 adults in contact with drug and alcohol services between April 2022 and March 2023. This is a small rise compared to the previous year (289,215). The number of adults entering treatment in 2022 to 2023 was 137,749, which is higher than the previous 2 years’ figures (130,490 and 133,704).

Other key statistics from the report:

  • 48% the adults in treatment were there for problems with opiates. The number of people in treatment for opiates was slightly lower than last year (from 140,558 to 138,604) but this remains the largest substance group.
  •  The next largest group is treatment for alcohol alone – 30% of all adults in treatment.The number of those rose by 2% from the previous year (from 84,697 to 86,257) but this is lower than the peak of 91,651 in 2013 to 2014.
  • After seeing a decline in the previous 2 years, there has been a rise in the overall number of adults entering treatment for crack cocaine. This rise includes people who are using crack with opiates (18,832 to 20,158) and those who are using crack without opiates (4,711 to 5,444).
  • People starting treatment in 2022 to 2023 with powder cocaine problems increased by 10% (from 21,298 to 23,529). This surpasses the previous peak number of 21,396 in 2019 to 2020.
  • New entrants to treatment with cannabis problems increased again this year, which saw a 2% rise (from 28,263 in 2021 to 2022 to 28,845 this year).
  • New entrants with benzodiazepine problems fell 6% (from 3,848 in 2021 to 2022 to 3,620 this year), after increasing every year since 2018 to 2019 up until 2021 to 2022.
  • More than two-thirds of people in treatment were men and less than one-third were women (68% men to 32% women). In the alcohol only group the difference between men and woman is smaller with men making up 59% and women 41%.

Updated December 2023