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Substance Abuse and Getting Help

By Shatyra Williams, MSW, RSW

Published: April 2014

If you smoke cigarettes, drink wine, or regularly use over-the-counter medications you may be familiar with the warning labels placed on certain substances. Research has shown that addictive qualities exist in a variety of drugs and medicine. It is important to become well informed about any substance that is entering your body. This article will discuss substance abuse, the impacts of substance misuse, and treatment options for anyone suffering from addiction.  


Women of all ages, cultures, nationalities, and socio economic statuses can be impacted by substance abuse. The general perception presented by the media of substance abusers depicts individuals being consumed by illegal street drugs. It is important to recognize that the reality of substance abuse is much more complex. Prescription and over-the-counter drug misuse is on the rise and can have equally or even more devastating impacts on your life and the lives of your family members.

What is Substance Abuse?

To better understand the term ‘Substance Abuse’ we will break it down into definitions of the individual words as they relate to the topic of addiction. 


Substance: substances include any drug or chemical that has the ability to alter your mood, thought process, or behaviour. This can include over- the-counter medicine, illegal/street drugs, prescription medicine, stimulants such as coffee or caffeinated beverages, Alcohol, sleeping pills, tobacco and herbal products, and more.

Abuse: abuse refers to using any substance in a way other than it was intended or prescribed to be used. This can include overconsumption, using a drug without a prescription, disobeying prescribed doses, etc.

Understanding Addiction

You may have abused a substance at one point in your life and felt that it was harmless and risk-free. An extra Tylenol or extended use of sleeping pills; these are common examples of how easily drugs can be misused. Addiction develops when your body becomes reliant on these extra doses and you begin to crave the substance on a regular basis. You may feel that the drug or substance helps you to relax, think clearer, or enhances creativity. If you are even deeper in the grips of substance addiction, you may rely on a substance simply to feel “normal” or get through your day. This is a major sign that it is time to seek help for your addiction immediately.

Impacts of Addiction

Developing an addiction can have life-changing impacts.  Dependency can affect your ability to maintain relationships, establish financial stability, maintain physical health, and experience emotional clarity. Drug addiction also has the potential to cause permanent and irreconcilable damage to relationships and families. 

Addiction touches the lives of each family member of an individual struggling with the addiction. If you suspect that a family member may be abusing drugs, look for some of the following signs:


  • Changes in appearance (weight loss/gain, appearing un-kept)
  • Changes in appetite (eating less or more)
  • An individual may become withdrawn and refuse to participate in events or social activities they once loved
  • Unexplained or unusual behaviours that are inconsistent with the individual’s regular lifestyle
  • An individual may have a noticeable shift in mood (increased or decreased energy levels, become more hyperactive, or extremely fatigued)
  • Increased secrecy and self-isolation


These are some examples of the many ways that a chemical dependency may present itself. Each individual experiences the impacts of drugs differently and each substance affects the mind differently.

    Addiction Treatment Options

    Depending on the severity of an addiction, there are different options available to help treat your dependency.

    • When deciding which option is right for you, consider some of the following questions:
    • How long have I been relying on this substance?
    • What type of support do I have to help me with this struggle (family, friends, supportive other)?  Where can I find addictions resources in my community?
    • What attempts have I already made to break my dependency?
    • Would the guidance and support of a professional counsellor benefit me?

    The following treatment options are available:


    • Drug rehabilitation facilities
    • Out-patient rehabilitation programs
    • Alcohol and Narcotics Anonymous Meetings (AA, NA) for group support
    • Medical interventions such as Detoxification
    • Professional Counselling (Psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy)

    Preventing Addiction

    Prevention is the best way to avoid the devastating effects that a serious drug addiction can bring. Avoid abusing drugs and chemicals of any kind in order to protect yourself from any chance of developing a chemical dependency. Each of our bodies are unique and different. One person may become instantly addicted to a substance while another person may abuse a substance for quite some time before feeling the impacts of a full blown addiction. By abusing drugs or medications you are putting yourself at risk of developing an addiction.

    Healthy Coping

    Drugs are sometimes used as self-remedies to help individuals with managing problems, dealing with anxiety, addressing stress, or calming the mind. The key to breaking the habit of drug misuse before it becomes an addiction is to practice healthy coping methods. Learn new ways of tackling your problems and begin to incorporate these healthy strategies whenever the urge to take an extra dose of medicine occurs. Examples of healthy coping include: Seeking professional help from a counsellor or doctor, speaking with friends or family for support, joining a support group, journaling your thoughts, art therapies, and physical activity.


    If you notice that you are becoming dependent on a substance,

    you may want to consider some of the following tips:

    Begin to break the habit by taking baby steps- Slowly reduce your dosage
    If you find yourself misusing drugs mainly in social settings such as parties, or group activities, consider limiting these types of social events
    Minimize your exposure to any friends who may be unsupportive of your plans to reduce using
    Speak to a close friend or someone you can trust 
    Know your limits. If your substance use has gotten out of control, seek professional support as early as possible

    Words of Encouragement

    Regardless of the type of addiction you are facing, you can overcome the dependency. Acknowledging your substance abuse is the first step towards overcoming the addiction. You may not see a change right away, but with persistence and dedication to healing you will be able to regain control over your life. There are many resources available to assist women experiencing addiction. Seek out appropriate supports in your community and access the help you need today.

    “We are addicted to our thoughts. We cannot change anything if we cannot change our thinking.”
    - Santosh Kalwar

    About the Author

    Shatyra Williams MSW, RSW is a Toronto-based Social Worker with a passion for women's wellness. As Program Manager of RWRJ's Artistic Healing Group, Shatyra teaches healthy coping strategies for women survivors of trauma. Through a variety of creative educational techniques Shatyra helps women to challenge themselves, to embrace their imperfections, and to love their journey.