Holiday songs are all about the winter holidays being ‘the most wonderful time of the year,’ that is often not the case for many people. Of course this was true for so many more of us in 2020, where happy times with family were instead quiet times within one’s own household, or worse still alone, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While annual family squabbles can be difficult and uncomfortable, loneliness after a year of isolation is incredibly taxing for anyone. Unfortunately, that bleak state of affairs has left many Canadians turning to negative habits like alcohol, drugs, and other addictive behaviours for comfort.
When we think of addiction we often first think of ‘hard drugs’ with seriously addictive and often fatal consequences, but there are so many more addictive behaviours that exist. One of our most prominent worldwide drug crises, the opioid epidemic, often starts with a routine prescription for pain medication following an injury. Other common vices such as alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine are bad for our health but we feel we need them more during difficult times. Even more habits, such as gambling and disordered eating can, too, classify as addictions.
Addiction is a disability not widely understood by the Canadian public. For most individuals who drink socially without issue, they can enjoy a glass of wine (or two), but usually know when to call it quits without negatively impacting their health or their decision-making. In alcoholism though, that impulse control is no longer present, and so even the slightest trace of alcohol can lead to incessant consumption. While medically complicated, the simplest explanation is that addiction changes one’s brain chemistry, so that the brain requires more and more of a substance at each use in order for that person to feel fulfilled. With alcoholism, for example, this can require a person to consume alcohol consistently through the day in order to feel functional.
Yet just because a person needs to indulge in these substances or behaviours in order to feel fulfilled, it does not make them any less dangerous. While some drugs are dangerous in even small amounts, others such as alcohol or caffeine may be safe in small doses, but have detrimental effects when indulged in over long periods. This is also true of something like gambling, where playing one scratch ticket may not be problematic, but an uncontrollable gambling addiction can have dire consequences on one’s employment, housing, and relationships.
The bottom line is that addiction is a serious disability, and both Canadian law and medical professionals have recognized it as such. Addicts who work to recover are recovering from a truly difficult brain disease, and retraining their brains and their behaviours how to live their lives in a completely different way.
There are numerous supports available through employers, community resources, counselling groups, or even private clinics – yet they often start with the individual recognizing their own struggles, and consciously deciding that they want to change their lives around. Recovery is often possible but it is never an easy journey, and requires tremendous effort and endurance through its numerous daily challenges. Compassion and understanding can go a long way to getting there – especially during these difficult times.
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