a hand holding six pills
a hand holding six pills

This week was particularly sad for my household, as we learned that our good friends lost their son, suddenly, and of course tragically.

He was very young, and we know little about what happened, but we know that this young man struggled with addiction, and this may have been the cause of his fate. We feel such sadness for this family.

What struck me most though about this tragic event was the silence and discomfort that surrounds it, keeping it in the shadows. We knew intuitively not to ask our friends the details, because they are overwhelmed and trying to cope with this unexpected event. And we have respect our friends’ wishes to mourn privately, but we wish we could provide more support and openly acknowledge the disease that took him.

I wonder how different their experience would be if there had been another cause to his passing, if he had lost a battle with cancer, or another more socially acceptable disease?

There is a remaining stigma around substance abuse that gets in the way of open support and address.  Addiction is a chronic and often relapsing brain disease.  It is not a sign of weakness, personal failing, or poor character.  It is a disease.  Substance abuse is a serious issue and very prevalent in Canada as in many other countries.  The statistics are staggering.  There are 47,000 deaths in Canada annually, directly attributed to substance abuse (NIAAA).  That does not account for the impact that substance abuse has on other health conditions, accidental death and injury, and the pain that resonates out from the individual who experiences substance abuse to their family, network of friends, and workplace.

There are some estimates that 10% of our population exhibits substance abuse and the bulk of these are functioning in the work world.  Substance abuse is the 5th leading factor that leads to death and disability, so it is clearly a very large problem and one worthy of shining a very large light on.

So why is it still so difficult to talk openly about it? To seek support from friends and family?  Take a moment to reflect on your own perceptions about substance abuse and addiction.  Are your conversations and actions contributing to the shaming and the stigma surrounding addiction and substance abuse?

Keep a sharp eye on our coming workshops on substance use in the workplace

Diana Vissers is the Founder and Director of Corporate Services at Work to Wellness Rehabilitation Inc. – a Canadian company providing expert disability management services to Canadian customers. She is in the business of making your place of business healthy, safe and productive. Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter for the latest news and updates on health, wellness and integrated disability management.