National Addictions Awareness Week Nov. 17-21, 2014

Dear Community of Practice Members,

In recognition of National Addictions Awareness Week (Nov. 17th-21st), we would like to share with you some reflections and resources on substance use.  Here you will find:



Initiatives such as the Changing the Culture of Substance Use Project on Campuses (CCSU) and National Addictions Awareness Week provide us with opportunity to reflect on the language we use in regard to people and behaviours of concern in this connection. Those who ingest substances and become objects of attention as a result are often accustomed to being referenced as drug abusers. Why might it be more helpful to speak instead of “substance use” and problems that can emerge in relation to it? 



Low-Risk Cannabis Use on Campus


Friday Nov. 28th

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Balancing our Thinking Around Drinking:
Low-Risk Alcohol Use on Campus

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“Abuse”especially when used in conversation in this area, can come across as prejudicial or dismissive of the various positive reasons for which people typically engage in use. Generally, the term “abuse” is used for situations of mistreatment where the target is a vulnerable individual (e.g., a spouse, child, elder, etc.), a group, or animals. Users are not blameworthy for some moral offense of doing damage to substances, yet the language of “abuse” associates them with those who inflict harm. The term “abuse” no longer appears in a DSM diagnostic label for disorder in regard to ingesting substances. In view of these various considerations, what is its place in our vocabulary? By declining to use that term, we may find that those we wish to communicate with and relate to will have greater trust in us and be more receptive to us. 

“Addiction” is a term to be considered critically and used with caution. "Addiction" sometimes carries connotations of disease or a person being powerless under the controlling influence of a substance. Formal treatment for addiction, including detoxification, is readily viewed as the only way of escape from an otherwise hopeless situation. But this picture is rather narrow, ignoring other factors that can prompt (or deter) use. Is it also somewhat demeaning in supposing that humans can be not just physiologically and psychologically affected, but so fully deprived of internal resources and agency that they become utterly reliant on external support? This is not to deny that compulsion, habituation and dependence can occur. However, recognition of this does not have to ignore a reality that many people can and do change their patterns of use quite abruptly and decisively without  treatment. (Of course, some people will need more extensive intervention and support.)  The label “addict” magnifies liabilities here. This characterization (like alcoholic, junkie, etc.) demeans the person, and neither fosters understanding, respect and regard on the part of those employing it, nor encourages self-esteem, hope and confidence in the labeled individual. Reconsideration of the legitimacy of this pejorative designation could serve us all well.

It would be in accord with the longstanding human experience with psychoactive substances if we acknowledge that use of these can at times prove positive (as typically expected) and at times adverse (as generally not welcomed), with some occasions delivering both outcomes. Versus distorted “it’s all bad” and “it’s all good” representations, we are more aligned with reality to appreciate that
 risk of harm in substance use covers a spectrum from very slight to very grave and that degree of risk involves factors relating to the person, the substance and the circumstances of use. The broad insight from across the ages can be summed up as ”not too much, not too often and only in safe contexts”. That framework suggests individual rights and responsibility of such agents for self-management. It also invites collective action that, while supporting services to individuals, recognizes shared accountability for healthy and safe environments and fosters those in part through judicious community regulation.
Contributed by Tim Dyck, Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia (CARBC)




Learn more about the Changing the Culture of Substance Use Project in the CCSU Snapshot Report.  The report conveys to our community stakeholders the growth and potential impact of the CCSU project on the broader campus community with respect to promoting healthier relationships with substances and changing a culture of substance use on campus. It is our hope that this report will create opportunities for fruitful dialogue, increased awareness of the importance of this type of work to the health and wellness of campus members and inspire new thinking and action by learning what other campuses are doing.  Be sure to check out the innovative work happening on campuses across BC!  

Copyright © 2014 Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division, All rights reserved.
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