“One Thing Led to Another”

National Addictions Awareness Week (November 18-22, 2013)

Nov. 21, 2013: Poundmaker's Lodge organized in front of Canada Place to help raise awareness.

I feel like I’ve met Harvey before. So many things about him remind me of my step-brothers and cousins who have worked in the oil patch. He seems like the guy who would show up with the truck on moving day and stick around afterwards to share a beer or two. But Harvey has experienced severe poverty because of an addiction and, listening to him, you can see how easily it could happen:

“I was working 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, and one of the guys at work said, ‘Harvey, do you want something to perk you up?’  And I thought maybe a pill or something, to keep me awake.  And he said, ‘Do you want to try a line of cocaine?’  And I said, ‘Sure.’ And one thing led to another and it went downhill from there. I had my own condo, vehicles, I had a boat, I had the whole thing, but I lost my job, I lost everything.  I ended up on the street.”

The consequences of Harvey’s addiction might seem extreme, but we’ve all heard stories of drug and alcohol use on oilfield work camps where isolation, long hours of work and only sporadic contact with family, increases the likelihood of drug or alcohol abuse.  I think we all sense there is  an addiction problem lurking beneath the surface in many of our communities. Statistics show that we have higher rates of alcohol consumption, higher rates of problem gambling and higher suicide rates in Alberta than the rest of the country.  And, here in Edmonton, we know there are 40 youth gangs in Edmonton which engage in drug-related crimes. Clearly, we have work to do, if we want healthier, safer communities. So, National Addictions Awareness Week  is a good opportunity to learn a bit more and continue the work to address an issue that touches so many lives.

Next week, a drug awareness video aimed at youth called, “Canadian Champions” will be unveiled as part of National Addictions Awareness Week.   The video features celebrities and athletes, like Sidney Crosby, encouraging kids to resist peer pressure and choose a winning path for their lives.  The message may resonate well with young, males who are at the greatest risk for addiction. Other known risk factors include: growing up in a home with parental substance abuse, presence of mental illness, poverty, social isolation, being unemployed, lacking coping skills to manage stress and difficult emotions.

Harvey’s story illustrates how cyclical addictions and poverty can be. Feeding the addiction quickly drains resources from other needs.  Addictions often ruin relationships and damage social supports; families are pulled apart when an addiction takes over.  Weakened by isolation and shame, addictions grow in strength and often lead to job-loss and a subsequent lack of structure, self-worth and purpose.  So, it’s easy to see how, as Harvey put it, “one thing led to another.”