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

The National Drug Treatment Monitoring System (NDTMS) statistics report presents information on adults (aged 18 and over) who were receiving help in England for problems with drugs and alcohol in the period 2021 to 2022:

There were 289,215 adults in contact with drug and alcohol services between April 2021 and March 2022. This is a rise compared to the previous year (275,896).

The number of adults entering treatment in 2021 to 2022 was 133,704, which is similar to the previous 2 years’ figures (130,490 and 132,124). The numbers of people entering treatment continues to be relatively stable after falling steadily since 2013 to 2014.

The number of people in treatment for opiate use was very similar to last year (going down slightly from 140,863 to 140,558). Nearly half (49%) the adults in treatment were there for problems with opiates, and this remains the largest substance group. 

People in treatment for alcohol alone make up the next largest group (29%) of all adults in treatment. The number of those rose by 10% from the previous year (from 76,740 to 84,697) but this increase comes after a decline from a peak of 91,651 in 2013 to 2014.

Following the pattern of last year, there has been a fall in the overall number of adults entering treatment for crack cocaine. This fall only includes people who are using crack with opiates (21,308 to 18,832). Those who are using crack without opiates saw a small increase (4,545 to 4,711).

The number of people entering treatment for crack is now at the lowest level since 2015 to 2016.

People starting treatment in 2021 to 2022 with powder cocaine problems increased by 11% (from 19,209 to 21,298). This is close to the peak number of 21,396 in 2019 to 2020.

New entrants to treatment for cannabis problems increased again this year, which saw a 4% rise (from 27,304 in 2020 to 2021 to 28,263 this year). New entrants with benzodiazepine problems fell 11% (from 4,321 in 2020 to 2021 to 3,848 this year), after increasing every year since 2018 to 2019.

Although the numbers are relatively low, there was an increase in adults entering treatment in 2021 to 2022 with ketamine problems (from 1,444 in 2020 to 2021 to 1,551 this year). This is part of a trend in rising numbers entering treatment over the last 8 years. The total is now 3.5 times higher than it was in 2014 to 2015.

Updated January 2023