While the New Year is a time that many people choose to take a moment and reflect on their lives and habits to make changes for the better, for others the steps to a healthier life by leaving addictions behind them is a serious issue that requires constant dedication and commitment. Addictions can happen to anyone, in any stage of life or social status, and can take over control of their life. Approximately 21% of Canadians(1) meet the criteria for substance abuse disorders – about 8 million people – and many others face addictions beyond substance use.
What is an Addiction?
Addictions are incredibly complex, and the medical community is still trying hard to understand them better. While we are now confident that addictions aren’t a moral failing, as many old-fashioned beliefs held, new views of addiction as a brain disease or condition are still contentious.
What Causes Addictions?
The causes of addiction are still uncertain, but medical science can now point towards distinct changes in the brain and often body, as a result of addiction. Whether or not the initial choice to abuse substances or engage in addictive behaviour is entirely voluntary, the body and brain make adaptations when they are faced with repeated substance or behaviour patterns to try to cope and get “back to normal,” resulting in changes that make it harder to break the addiction cycle. The brain becomes so used to the changes from the addiction that it cannot cope without them anymore.
While the many other complicating factors in addictions are not quite understood, we do know that the beginning of an addiction can start almost anywhere and even be accidental, but the repercussions involve all Canadians.
Effects of Addictions
Addictions that involve substance abuse are some of the first examples people think of when they imagine the negative effects of addictions. For example, chronic drinking can cause serious damage to the liver, heart, and brain; while smoking regularly damages the lungs, mouth, and heart among other organs.
Addictions of all kinds can also have far more than health repercussions, as they often can lead to stress, unhealthy lifestyles, and pressure on work and personal relationships. The nature of addiction is that it can become an all-consuming part of one’s lifestyle, pushing out the room for balance and other important aspects of their life. While the continuation of an addiction may be a personal issue, it often quickly becomes much bigger and involves many negative consequences.
Fortunately, there are many different resources for healing addictions and preventing new ones.
Rehabilitation – Generally focused into “inpatient” (live-in resident, intensive programs with 24-hour support) and “outpatient” (programs involving visits to a centre over the span of weeks), rehab is an option for many different kinds of addictions that can focus on social support, detox, and educational services.
Therapies – There are many different types of therapy programs to choose from that are suited to your needs and what you know works well for your healing process. These can range from traditional “talk” or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy with a psychologist or psychiatrist to medication-based programs.
Support Groups – Sharing an experience and a recovery program with other individuals sharing similar struggles can be incredibly empowering and provides the opportunity for mentorship and community. Many of these support groups use multi-step programs to help their participants escape their addictions.
Addictions can be an overwhelming and intimidating problem to face, both for those addicted and their loved ones. Thankfully, ongoing research has helped us to better understand these issues and develop more diverse and effective care for Canadians.
Addiction Helpline (AHS) 1-866-332-2322
Addictions Foundation of Manitoba
Adult services: 1-855-662-6605
Youth services: 1-877-710-3999
“Addiction In Canada.” AddictionCenter, Addiction Center, www.addictioncenter.com/addiction/addiction-in-canada/.