Addiction is a Health Condition

May 15, 2020. Article by: Government of B.C.

There are different reasons why people use substances. Some people who use substances do not experience challenges. Many people use alcohol - a mind-altering substance - in safe and enjoyable ways. But for those who do struggle with substance use and addiction, it is often the result of external factors, not personal choices.

There are common misconceptions about addiction. If someone has not experienced addiction themselves or with a person they care about, there may be things about this condition they do not know.

B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, discusses the experiences of people who face addiction.

Roots causes of addiction can involve physical, emotional, or psychosocial pain stemming from past trauma and other negative experiences. These circumstances can make it very difficult for people to cope in their lives.

People may have genetic risks that cause predispositions to substance use disorder, or stress and trauma in their past or current environment. They could be struggling with their mental health, have social challenges such as poverty or housing instability, or become dependant on prescription medications to deal with physical pain.

Addiction can be a chronic, relapsing health condition. When someone uses substances, changes can occur in their brain. This makes it very challenging for them to stop using substances, especially if they don’t have access to supports to reduce harm or begin their recovery.

Inaccurate information and discriminatory language can promote negative and judgmental ideas about addiction. Stereotyped or negative words and ideas often contribute to negative attitudes about both addiction and about people who use substances. These attitudes can result in real barriers to recovery.

Someone experiencing addiction may be fearful of what others will think or say. This may prevent them from asking for help. And sometimes they are turned away from help because of the negative attitudes of others.

Dr. Bonnie Henry emphasizes the importance of non-judgemental, understanding and support for people experiencing addiction. People need to feel safe to step forward and ask for help.

We know we need to have supports in place that are compassionate, that meet people where they are.


If you or someone you know needs help

If you use substances – including alcohol – often, quitting “cold turkey” can be dangerous. Stopping your use of substances in an abrupt or immediate way can cause withdrawal symptoms.  Talk to your health care provider now about prescription medications and other ways to prevent harm.

Call 8-1-1 for information on recovery and addiction treatment services in your area. Speak to a registered nurse, pharmacist, or health service navigator about general health concerns.

Search for services in B.C. using the Mental Health and Substance Use Service Map.