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Overlooked – the families of people who drink, use drugs and gamble

Adfam calls for more more recognition of the impacts on families and friends of people who drink, use drugs and gamble.

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New research with YouGov

On Tuesday (2 November 2021) Adfam published new research entitled “Overlooked” about the 5.5 million people who are the families and friends of people who drink, use drugs and gamble, basically about one in ten of us. The research is based on a public survey of 2061 adults undertaken by YouGov. Adfam asks how a problem that affects millions of people, and for so long, remains so hidden. The report also contains recommendations to improve the current situation. Below I share the key findings from the report.


  • 11% of people are currently negatively affected by a family member or friend’s drinking, drug use or gambling.
  • That’s an estimated five and a half million people in Great Britain.
  • Of those five and a half million, the research indicates that approximately four million are most negatively affected by alcohol, one and a half million by drugs and one million by gambling.
  • Some people have a loved one who is dealing with two or more issues relating to drugs, alcohol and gambling.

A long-term problem

The majority of people cope with a loved one’s drinking, drug use or gambling for many years.

  • A third (34%) of those surveyed said they have been negatively affected by a friend or family member’s drinking, drug use or gambling for more than ten years and a third (27%) between four and ten years.
  • This means the majority of people (61%) surveyed that were affected by a friend or family’s drinking, drug use or gambling, have been negatively affected for more than four years.
  • Nearly a quarter (24%) said the problem has been on-going for one to three years.

The impact of the pandemic

  • Nearly half (48%) said the pandemic had strained their relationship with the person who drinks, uses drugs or gambles.
  • 15% said they had suffered more verbal and physical abuse since the beginning of the first lockdown.
  • A third (32%) said their mental health has suffered.
  • 18% said they are feeling more isolated.
  • A third (31%) said they have found it difficult to speak with/see the person who drinks/uses drugs/gambles to offer support because of the pandemic.

The table reproduced below shows the survey results of the impact of lockdown.

Impact on working life and opportunities

  • Just over a third of people (31%) report that their loved one’s drinking/drugtaking or gambling negatively affects their working life, with 6% needing to take time off/reducing hours, 6% having to take sick leave more frequently and 22% struggling to concentrate/ have a lower level of productivity when they’re at work.
  • Just under half of those surveyed (45%) felt that they had been disadvantaged in some way because of their family member or friend’s drinking, drug use or gambling. The most frequently cited disadvantages were: financial (24%), health (20%) and employment (14%).


  • Only a quarter (23%) of affected families think the potential harms caused by behaviours such as drinking, drug use or gambling on families and friends are given sufficient attention and recognition across the media.
  • Only around a tenth (9%) of affected families think that national and local Government is doing enough to provide services and support.


The Adfam report makes four key recommendations:

  1. Increase services to support children and adults affected by a loved one’s substance misuse or gambling – and reverse the sharp decline in support available over recent years.
  2. Ensure that where services are available, families and friends of people with a drug, alcohol or gambling problem are prioritised for identification and referral.
  3. Ensure that families and friends who have vital caring responsibilities are recognised and supported financially, emotionally and practically. The research revealed that many families and friends have been prevented at times from carrying out vital caring duties during the pandemic. These were commonly things like looking after a person’s physical needs or caring for their dependents or generally providing emotional, practical and financial support.
  4. Ensure that family members of people with drug, alcohol and gambling issues are included in all relevant Parliamentary Inquiries and policy making.


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