Addictions: Gaining Understanding and Finding the Path to Recovery
“Addiction is not a choice that anybody makes; it’s not a moral failure. What it actually is: it’s a response to human suffering.”
– Dr. Gabor Maté
Five years ago, I discovered my passion of supporting people with substance use disorders as a student at a non-profit clinic in Penticton, BC. The clinic was focused on providing grassroots substance use treatment services, and it was there that I had many opportunities to help individuals and families that had been impacted by substance use disorders. I stood on the frontlines and watched as members of the community were taken by Canada’s Opioid Crisis, which has claimed a suspected 32,632 lives and resulted in 33,493 hospitalizations across the country from January 2016 to June 2022 (Government of Canada, 2022). Through my experiences, I observed a significant gap in public understanding about addiction, and I want to bridge that gap by shedding light on this complex issue.
So what exactly is a substance use disorder, and how does it affect people’s lives?
Firstly, it’s important to understand that “addiction” is a complex condition that can affect people in different ways. It’s not just about being physically dependent on a substance or behavior, but also about the intense psychological and emotional attachment to it. It is important to understand that it is very common for people to use substances or engage in behaviors and not be addicted to them. “Substance use” occurs when someone uses alcohol or drugs but there are no negative consequences. “Substance misuse” or “substance abuse” happens when a person experiences some negative consequences as a result of their drug or alcohol use. A “substance use disorder” is a medically recognized term to describe when a person feels like they need to use substances regardless of continued negative consequences.
“Addictions” can develop for a variety of reasons, such as to cope with stress or other uncomfortable emotions, to fit in with a certain group, or even just out of curiosity. It can also be influenced by genetics and other biological factors. The most common forms of “addictions” are substance use disorders, such as alcoholism and drug addiction. However, it’s also possible to be “addicted” to behaviors like gambling, shopping, eating, exercising, and even the internet.
One proven effective strategy for reducing the harms related to substance use disorders is known as “Harm Reduction” which aims to eliminate as much risk as possible from otherwise risky activities. Examples of drug-related harm reduction strategies include supplying clean needles, providing access to naloxone kits to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, and offering supportive treatment recovery services. As a society, it is common for us to employ harm reduction in a variety of other non-drug related areas, such as encouraging the use of seatbelts, providing safer sex education and supplies, educating people on fire safety with the use of smoke alarms, and encouraging healthy eating and physical activity to reduce the risk of chronic diseases. It is important to recognize that harm reduction is a helpful step in many people’s journey of recovery.
When someone is struggling with “addiction”, it can have serious consequences on their physical and mental health, as well as their relationships, responsibilities, and overall quality of life. It’s not something that can be overcome easily, and often requires professional help and support both for and from loved ones. But it’s important to remember that substance use disorders and behavioural addictions are treatable, and there is hope for recovery. With the right support and resources, it is possible to break free from the cycle of addiction and rebuild a healthy, fulfilling life.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. There are many resources available, including harm reduction services, individual therapy, support groups, and rehabilitation programs. It’s never too late to start the journey towards recovery.
Government of Canada (2022, December 14). Federal actions on opioids to date. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/opioids/federal-actions/overview.html
Maté, Gabor. (2018). In the realm of hungry ghosts. Vermilion.