More than a third of people in the UK – 39 per cent – with a history of addiction have reported a resurgence in their addictive behaviour or have recently relapsed while in recovery, according to a YouGov survey.
The poll, conducted for the charity Action on Addiction, also revealed an increase in addictive behaviour in young adults and children as young as 12 during the Covid-19 crisis.
Around four per cent of respondents said they have a close relative between the ages of 12 and 25 struggling in this way – meaning more than two million children and young people are affected nationwide, the charity calculated.
Kate, who is a patron of Action on Addiction, made a virtual visit to Clouds House, a rehab centre in Wiltshire run by the charity.
In a video call from her family home, Anmer Hall in Norfolk, she spoke to staff about how they have adapted their services, taking them online and reconfiguring the entire centre to allow 10 residential clients to be able to isolate for two weeks.
She also discussed fears that more people will need treatment as the lockdown eases.
Kate said: “The worrying thing is, it is all those people who aren’t necessarily reaching out who are struggling, who perhaps don’t feel they can reach out.
“Or the fact that maybe they haven’t realised that addictive behaviours have sort of established, particularly if it’s the first time – and it’s those people who aren’t necessarily being vocal about it.
“It’s making sure that they know they can reach out and that you are there to help and support them in this very difficult time.”
The duchess was given a briefing on the new research and spoke to chief executive Graham Beech, clinical lead Dr Simone Yule and treatment manager Anya Sparks, about whether they had noticed a difference in the number of people contacting them for emergency help.
Dr Yule said: “We are seeing more alcohol issues and in the community.
“I think definitely we know alcohol sales have gone up exponentially, so the rise in people that are now starting to seek treatment with lockdown gradually lifting, I think that is going to have a big impact.”
Mr Beech told the duchess their website was busier than ever and they were doing as much as they could to connect people digitally and also to let people know Clouds was still open.
He added: “We have done some polling and we have discovered that people are struggling during lockdown.
“More people are drinking and gambling but also we are concerned about the number of people who are struggling to maintain their recovery and are getting into relapse.
“We are particularly concerned about families and young people and the impact that lockdown and addiction is having.”
As part of the virtual visit, the duchess was given a tour of the facilities and waved to staff who socially distanced outside to greet her on the video call.
She also spoke with former Clouds House residents Claire and Chris, who are currently in the centre’s aftercare programme.
Chris told the duchess how emerging from rehab into lockdown had been a “blessing in disguise” as it made him “feel safe again”, and how he had been using Zoom to connect with the centre.
He added: “It was a gentle stepping stone back into reality. It kind of took away all of my temptations, the accessibility, the associations I had with friends.
“There’s always the fear of missing out and that kind of got taken away in a sense, so it was really nice for me, it felt gentle.”
Praising the dedicated staff, Kate replied: “It’s a lifeline for many people and you know and it’s great that they are able to continue the support, whether remotely or those who are actually still receiving treatment now during lockdown and providing life changing support.”
The duchess also spoke to Lucy, whose mother was previously a resident before the family embarked on a series of courses together to help her beat her addictions.
Lucy told Kate: “We do it every few months or whenever mum feels she needs it, or whenever we feel we need it, and it’s been game changing for our family – really beneficial to be in a room and talk so openly as we have done.”
The duchess praised the holistic approach of Clouds and Action on Addiction.
“For someone who is suffering to take that one individual and ask them to go through it themselves is a real challenge,” she said.
“But if you can pull in family members or those around them to try and help them through, it is really extraordinary and actually I’ve heard in the past everyone learns a huge amount from it as well, so it’s really fantastic.”
The duchess promised the staff she would visit in person when the coronavirus outbreak is under control.
Kate said of the way the centre had adapted: “They are unprecedented times, but I’m sure you are doing an amazing job and well done for keeping things going and ticking over as normal.”
The poll found that almost a quarter (24 per cent) of those experiencing problems with addiction said they would need help to resolve them, while four per cent of those questioned reported an increase in online gambling.
Of the 25 per cent who had increased the amount of alcohol they drink, 15 per cent are experiencing related problems with relationships, work, money or sleep, or withdrawal symptoms.