Addiction seems to be the word du jour. Pretty much everything is addictive, and everyone's hooked. Some take the word too literally, whilst others struggle to separate social norms from genuine dependence.
With the news that, by 2017, at least 33 per cent of adults in the UK will have tried a drug - that's one in three, or 17million people - it's about time we took addiction seriously. It's not even about the users 'confessing' to drug use - according to a 2014 Opinium Research report, 38% of people surveyed already knew of someone with a drug or substance problem they'd define as 'major'.
Marijuana used to be, and still can be considered, the 'classic' gateway drug - there's no denying the studies, and it certainly remains the narcotic choice for most. That being said, the Home Office has reported a 60.4% rise in class A drug use - particularly cocaine and MDMA - by 16 to 59 year-olds between 1996 and 2004. This has helped to normalise hard drug use - increasing the numbers of 'brief flirtations' in formative years, but also fuelling a dangerous rise in dependence and addiction.
Most users won't progress beyond recreational use, but what begins as innocent curiosity can easily lead to long-term abuse for others. With more people trying drugs than ever, the risk increases for instances of serious dependence. What many will regard as harmless experimentation can be catastrophic for those who are predisposed to addiction.
It's a story I know well - my own battle with alcohol and drugs began at a very young age and nearly destroyed my family before I was able to get it under control. A few drinks quickly led to a few more, followed by some cocaine and, before I knew it, I would be coming to in an unknown area with no recollection of the past night's events. My family struggled with the weight of this for years, unable to help me until I was ready to help myself.
The nature of addiction means it's never possible to know if you'll become addicted before trying a substance. Nor is it simple to pinpoint the moment that a habit becomes an addiction. Taking the idea of 'illegal' drugs out of the equation might help you think more about what you're predisposed to - most people underestimate the dangers of alcohol as a drug, too.
Even those who wouldn't regard themselves as alcohol dependent still often consider drinking necessary, for a good time. Getting 'lashed', 'pissed', 'bladdered', 'wankered' - all synonyms for enjoyment as much as for dangerous levels of alcohol consumption. The two things go hand in hand, as if they aren't capable of happening without each other - I, for one, think that's very damaging.
Binge drinking definitely gets a lot of press, but what isn't often reported is how heavy or recurring binge drinking repeatedly leads to other substance abuse. Once again, it's about your predispositions towards certain drugs and narcotics, but the warning signs can be there - if you chose to pay attention to them.
It's not possible to predict the future, but we can surely focus our attention on the real life impacts of what has become a sensationalist issue. People need to know that their habits can form darker patterns of abuse. That's not to say everyone who tries a drug once will become an addict, but with a 14.8% increase in the number of people who had used illegal drugs between 2008 and 2014, it's not difficult to understand where the additional two million UK adults trying drugs comes from. Where will their dalliances with drugs end, and who will be there to offer the guidance and day-by-day, minute-by-minute support for the number of people with drug dependencies that will stem from this increase?