Substance Use

“Substance use” is a broad term that encompasses everything from debilitating addiction to the use of recreational substances. Many people in our society use caffeine, alcohol, marijuana, tobacco or other drugs without any serious negative effects. However, in some instances this use may escalate and become a problem.

There are no simple answers to why some people become addicted and why others seem to be able to use substances recreationally without any problems. However, if alcohol or other drugs cause a problem in one’s life the recognition of this fact in itself can be very difficult and painful.

The use of a substance or a behaviour (such as shopping, gambling or sex) as a substitute for dealing with feelings, emotional problems and intimacy issues is generally referred to as addiction.

Where substance use has become a problem for oneself or a loved one there is no easy answer, no simple fix. In most cases, the first and major step is the recognition by the individual concerned that there is a problem. After that there are a number of ways of proceeding, including 12-step programs and detox. Some people are able to moderate their substance use and continue to use recreationally. However, where it becomes an actual problem interfering with their lives, total abstinence is often the only reasonable recourse.

Counseling is frequently necessary to help develop strategies for reducing and/or avoiding substance use and then developing new strategies in life to cope with the issues that helped create the problem in the first place.

Find more resources at

  • The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) combines clinical care, research, education, policy development and health promotion to help transform the lives of people affected by mental health and addiction issues.