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Brain Health

Destigmatizing addiction and mental health issues opens the door for getting help

Cartoon of an Addicted Brain
Cartoon of an Addicted Brain

Seth Fletcher

Certified Addictions Professional, CACII

The Canadian Centre for Addictions provides coping strategies to those with addictions, leading to success.

Canadians with mental health issues are two times more likely to also experience substance abuse. This stat from the Mental Health Commission of Canada has come into sharp and increased focus due to COVID-19, as both mental health issues and substance abuse continue to grow. In fact, a recent poll from NANOS Research showed that substance abuse is on the rise nationally, with nearly a quarter of adults reporting increased alcohol consumption. This data underscores the urgency of addressing addiction issues.

Treating the core issue

Fortunately, there are effective treatments available. “Addiction is always the symptom of something else,” says Seth Fletcher, Director of Addiction Services at the Canadian Centre for Addictions, a private treatment facility in Port Hope, ON. “It tends to be a person’s best solution to an already-
existing problem. It’s just a temporary escape. It numbs emotions and feelings, but it doesn’t address the core issue. There’s a very high prevalence of mental health issues when it comes to addiction.”

One of the first steps is to identify the underlying issue, whether it’s anxiety, depression, physical pain, or past trauma. Regardless of the cause, addiction is an attempt to self-medicate. That’s why just treating the symptom is ineffective. “A person can go to detox, for example, and they can stay there for three or four weeks,” explains Fletcher. “But if they come out and don’t have any new coping mechanisms or healthier strategies to manage, whatever the reason was that they were using drugs in the first place, they’re likely to go back to what they’ve always known. They haven’t learned enough about the why.”

Taking the first step

The optimal treatment plan drills down to this “why” and provides tools to set up an addicted person in recovery for success. “If we can promote those resiliency skills and address the underlying issues, all of the sudden they’re not looking for that escape,” says Fletcher. “They’re not looking to numb those emotions and feelings because they’re already being addressed with help from certified addiction counsellors.”

For many people with addictions, the first step to making positive change and leaving addictions behind is the most difficult. Families and loved ones can also seek professional help for an intervention that allows them to outline their boundaries and the consequences for the addicted person if they continue their behaviour. This can be a motivating factor for getting treatment, along with a realization that the substance abuse isn’t worth what it’s costing the addict, whether it’s their marriage, job, or children. Ideally, he or she seeks help before hitting rock bottom.

Overcoming the stigma

Addicts may also be hesitant to get treatment because of the stigma. The fear is that other people may see them as weak. “It’s okay to ask for help,” Fletcher says. “That’s actually the best thing you can do for yourself. If your car weren’t operating properly, you wouldn’t hesitate to take it to a mechanic. If we treat ourselves the way we do other things in our lives, we’d be much better off. There should be no stigma and no shame in seeking help.”

Sometimes We Don’t See That We Need Help

A mix of mental illness 
and addiction can cloud our reasoning and self-awareness

Sometimes, we don’t think 
it’s as bad as it really is

Sometimes, we need someone to see it for us

Interventions can help


Contact an accredited specialist 
A trained specialist has 
the resources and experience to help break through to 
an addicted person.

Build a Plan 

Gather information
The interventionist will prepare you on how the actual intervention will proceed, including how to deal with a refusal to get immediate treatment.


Plan ahead
Decide on your boundaries. Be prepared to defend them. Rehearse the plan to reduce emotional stress on the day of the intervention.


Trust your commitment
Remember, there are only two important reasons for having an intervention: 
1. Protect yourself, and 
2. Get the sufferer help.
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