Substance Abuse

“Substance abuse is an enormous problem in Canada,” says Dr. John S. Millar, MD, in an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Dr. Millar is Provincial Health Officer for British Columbia.

The exact cost –monetary and nonmonetary- of disease, disability and death due to substance abuse is difficult to estimate. But it is thought to be in billions of dollars.

Three commonly abused substances are tobacco, alcohol, and drugs.

Tobacco use continues to be the leading lifestyle-related cause of death in Canada – 45,000 each year. About 30 percent of adult Canadians over 15 smoke regularly. Teenage girls are more likely to smoke (39 percent) than teenage boys (22 percent).

Alcohol use takes its toll. About 10 percent of adult Canadians have a drinking problem. Impaired driving is a major cause of death. About 45 percent of the dead drivers have some alcohol in their blood and 38 percent are over the legal limit of .08 percent blood alcohol concentration.

Use of drugs like cannabis, cocaine and heroin amongst Canadians has been increasing. In 1994, the daily use of cannabis in Canada was estimated at 7.4 percent of the population, cocaine at 0.7 percent, and LSD, speed or heroin at 1.1 percent.

In Alberta, the most popular illicit drug is cannabis (marijuana and hashish).

In 1994, 32.8 percent of Albertans (aged 15+) reported using cannabis at some time in their lives, while 8.4 percent said they had used this drug in the 12 months preceding the survey.

What about Medicine Hat? I asked Paul Jerry, a Chartered Psychologist and Instructor at Medicine Hat College in the Addictions Counseling Program.

“Compared to other places in Alberta, Medicine Hat is doing well,” says Jerry. Out of 26 AADAC service areas, Medicine Hat ranks 14th for rate of cannabis and other drug possession charges; 24th for sexual and physical assault charges; and 19th for total rate of alcohol-related primary and secondary diagnosis admission to hospital.
According to AADAC’s breakdown of client demographics, 60 percent of these clients are adult males, 23 percent adult females, 10 percent collaterals and 6 percent teens, says Jerry.

Why are some people prone to substance abuse?

According to Dr. Millar, there is a biological or genetic propensity for substance abuse. This is similar to chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and asthma.

It has also been shown that people who have been abused or neglected in childhood or children from low socio-economic background (poverty, homelessness) have high incidence of substance abuse.

It is also common among people with mental illness.

Dr. Millar says that it is important to understand the underlying cause for substance abuse for any intervention program to succeed. We should stop treating addicts and substance abusers as criminals and begin treating them as patients who deserve respectful, effective care.

I asked Paul Jerry, who has 10 years’ experience in the field of mental health and addictions, about the Addictions Counseling Program at Medicine Hat College.

“Our program is unique in that we hold the view (different from AADAC) that eating disorders and sexual compulsivity can be framed in an addictions perspective. So we apply the addiction model to alcohol, drugs, gambling, food and sex. We train counselors to intervene with these issues in individuals, couples, families, groups, and communities.”

Finally, Carl Jung (1875-1961) has the last word: Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism.

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