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What is addition?

Another word for addiction is “dependence”.  There are two kinds of substance dependence:

Psychological dependence occurs when a person feels he or she needs the drug or the substance to function or feel comfortable (e.g., the need to drink alcohol to feel relaxed during social interactions).   Some people may feel they need a substance just to be able to cope with daily life.

Physical dependence is evident when a person’s body has adapted to the presence of a drug.  Tolerance has developed, which means that the person needs to use more of the drug to get the same effect.  When drug use stops, symptoms of withdrawal occur.

Impact on the Workplace

Harmful consequences of substance abuse can range from mild (e.g., hangover, late for work) to severe (e.g., homelessness, disease).  Harmful consequences can build up over time, with continuous use of the substance.  If an individual continues to use substance(s) despite the harmful consequences, he or she may have a substance use problem.  The harms of substance use can affect every aspect of a person’s life. Some of the harmful consequences that may impact the workplace include:

  • injuries while under the influence
  • feelings of anxiety, irritability or depression
  • work absenteeism
  • trouble thinking clearly 
  • blackouts
  • problems with relationships

How common is addiction?

Addiction affects many people.  A 2002 study of the rates of addiction found that 2.6 per cent of Canadians were dependent on alcohol and that fewer than one per cent were dependent on illegal drugs (Statistics Canada, 2003).  

  • 76.8% of people with alcohol and illicit drug addictions are employed (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2004)
  • Rates of addiction are two to three times higher in men than in women
  • Highest rates among people aged 15 to 24 (Statistics Canada, 2003)

The harms of substance use can extend to the individual’s family, friends, co-workers, clients and even strangers (e.g., drunk driving).  Stigma associated with addiction labels substance use problems as shameful.  As a result, affected employees are more likely to hide their addiction and may continue to dismiss the need for help.  Hence, it is important for employers to ensure that the workplace is supportive of employees affected by addiction and offers help to those in need, e.g., EAP, information about services in the community.  

Tools and Resources:

Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse - The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse has a legislated mandate to provide national leadership and evidence-informed analysis and advice to mobilize collaborative efforts to reduce alcohol- and other drug-related harms.

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health: Information about Drugs and Addiction - CAMH has created materials to help clients and their families, professionals and the general public learn more about addiction and mental health issues. Our publications include helpful tips, answers to frequently-asked questions, best practices and emerging knowledge on different topics to help increase understanding, reduce stigma and promote informed decision.

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health - Addiction: Toolkit- Based on current clinical evidence and the extensive clinical experience of the editors and contributors, the toolkit provides brief answers to common clinical questions, as well as relevant clinical tools and patient resources.

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health: Mental Health and Addiction 101
- These tutorials are a starting point for learning about substance use and mental health problems, as well as about factors that are critical to understanding those problems

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the University of Toronto Faculty of Pharmacy - Prescription Drug Abuse: A Canadian Perspective - This presentation illustrates that there are many indicators that prescription drug abuse is an increasing problem and that the health care system is inextricably linked to it.  It also lays the groundwork for addressing this problem.

Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care: Smoke-Free Ontario - The Smoke-Free Ontario plan is designed to help more people quit smoking and ensure that young people don't pick up the habit in the first place.

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