Addiction is not a choice and none of us are immune, the Duchess of Cambridge has said in a landmark speech to beat the "taboo and shame" that surrounds it.
The Duchess , speaking at the Forward Trust's Taking Action on Addiction campaign, said "no one chooses to become an addict, but it can happen to any one of us".
In her speech, aimed at breaking the stigma of addiction, the Duchess urged the public to try to understand the "multi-layered and complex" journey towards addiction, which has been compounded by the "devastating impact" of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Echoing the mission of her late mother-in-law Diana, Princess of Wales, to change society's attitude towards difficult, unglamorous topics, she said: "By recognising what lies beneath addiction, we can help remove the taboo and shame that sadly surrounds it."
Wearing a striking red dress and carrying a folder of notes, the Duchess spoke in front of an audience of charities, patrons, former addicts, their supporters and event hosts Ant and Dec, for the Taking Action on Addiction campaign.
"Addiction is not a choice," she said. "No one chooses to become an addict. But it can happen to any one of us. None of us are immune. Yet it's all too rarely discussed as a serious mental health condition. And seldom do we take the time to uncover and fully understand its fundamental root causes.
"The journey towards addiction is often multi-layered and complex. But, by recognising what lies beneath addiction, we can help remove the taboo and shame that sadly surrounds it.
"As a society, we need to start from a position of compassion and empathy. Where we nurture those around us, understand their journey, and what has come before them.
"We need to value and prioritise care and support, helping to restore and connect individuals who are clearly suffering, to the people around them."
Pandemic's 'devastating' impact on addiction rates
Saying she is "so passionate" about the work of The Forward Trust during the event at the Baftfa headquarters in London, she paid tribute to the work charities do "day in, day out" to help those who need it.
"The pandemic has had a devastating impact on addiction rates," she added. "And families and children are having to cope with addiction in greater numbers than ever before."
Quoting research, she said 1.5 million more people have now reported increased alcohol consumption since lockdown began, with another 2m who had been in recovery experiencing a relapse.
She also spoke of the "incredible people" she had met, who through "their own hard work" and the help of charities had turned their lives around.
"These are stories of healing, of hope and recovery, that can inspire us all," she added. "We can all play our part in helping this work. By understanding, by listening, by connecting. So that together we can build a happier, healthier and more nurturing society."
Ahead of her speech, the Duchess spent time talking to event host Ant McPartlin about his own struggles with addiction to subscription painkillers and alcohol, for which he spent time in rehab.
She said: "The more you speak to everybody… and hearing some of their stories today… once you start sharing your story there are so many people who have experienced it themselves, or have known someone."
McPartlin said: "I felt that myself. By the time I asked for help, it was bad. But as soon as you open up to people… the problems start to disappear. It gets better."
The Duchess spoke about her passion for prevention and helping people deal with their problems before it gets to crisis point: "You hear this time and time again… it gets to this point [where people say] 'I wish I had had this support earlier'."
The Duchess also met families that had been affected by addiction, including Ellie Froud, 39, who was there with her daughters Elsa, 14, and Leah, 15.
Ellie twice attended MPACT courses (Moving Parents and Children Together) developed by Action on Addiction, and told the Duchess that although she was recovering from her addiction at the time, "there was stuff that needed to be looked at around my family".
Leah said MPACT had improved her relationship with her mother. "She recognised what her addiction had done to our family," she said, adding that now "if there is a problem, me and mum talk about it".
Leah also told the Duchess: "A lot of my friends have also got parents with addiction."
The Duchess replied: "It is amazing how many people do know someone, or families who are going through this."
Taking Action on Addiction is a long-term campaign which aims to improve awareness and understanding of addiction and enable more people to ask for and receive help.
The launch of the campaign coincides with Addiction Awareness Week, which aims to provide a platform to highlight the challenges of addiction, to engage with people and families affected, and to raise public awareness.
Bryony Gordon’s Mad World , The Telegraph’s mental health podcast, is running daily episodes on addiction over Addiction Awareness Week, with guests including musician Nile Rodgers, footballer Tony Adams and others with extraordinary tales to tell. Listen on Apple Podcasts , Spotify or your preferred podcast app.
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