CMHA recognizes National Addictions Awareness Week

WELLINGTON COUNTY – With substance use on the rise, the Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington (CMHA WW) is actively engaging in working with the community to create change while reducing the stigma surrounding addiction. 

Nov. 22 to 28 marks National Addictions Awareness Week (NAAW), an annual national public education campaign coordinated by the Canadian Centre for Substance Use and Addiction in cooperation with all its partner organizations, including CMHA.

“This years’ theme for National Addictions Awareness Week is ‘Driving Change Together’, highlighting how individuals can collaborate to create change and shape a brighter future for people who use substances,” states a Nov. 22 release from CMHA WW. 

“With approximately six million Canadians struggling with addiction in their lifetime, the campaign provides an opportunity to learn more about substance misuse prevention and to talk about treatment and recovery.”

In the Nov. 22 release, CHMA WW CEO Helen Fishburn notes that data continues to emerge showing COVID-19 the pandemic has been contributing to an increase in overall substance use among vulnerable populations.

“We have certainly seen substance use and abuse increase significantly,” Fishburn explained in an interview with the Advertiser.

“As well as we’ve seen a really sharp increase in deaths by opioid overdose through the pandemic … alarming increases. 

“Drive Change Together is really that our community is coming together to create change and really shape a brighter future for people who use substances.”

She added while people continue to struggle with mental health stigma, the stigma surrounding addiction is significantly worse.

“People really struggle with understanding addiction,” she explained. “They don’t understand that it’s an illness.

“There’s a lot of shame attached to people drinking and using; there’s just really not a lot of understanding and empathy at times for people with addiction issues so we’re really wanting to change that.”


Fishburn said CMHA WW is doing everything it can on its social media channels to promote how to create a more positive perspective for people with addictions and increase the awareness and education around it. 

This includes making sure people are understanding how language matters when referring to people who struggle with their use of substances.

“We used to, in the old days, call (them) an ‘addict’ and now we talk about people who are living with addiction,” Fishburn explained.

“So it’s using non-stigmatizing language and really trying to remove as many barriers as possible for people to access supports for addiction.”

As part of National Addictions Awareness Week and beyond, Fishburn said the organization is really working to incorporate messages around the use and abuse of substances into all its webinars, social media posts and in its everyday language.

As the community has gone through different phases and waves of the pandemic – being isolated, not being able to interact with people, go to work, go to school – it’s been hard on people’s emotional wellness, Fishburn said of the increase in substance abuse. 

“And in those moments where people are alone, they’re struggling, they’re very worried and anxious about what’s happening in the world, not only now but into the future.

“It’s very easy in those moments for people to turn to relief of that worry and anxiety through use of substances and it can be a very slippery slope for people as they use substances because you feel better immediately.”

Fishburn explained if an individual drinks alcohol, it often makes them feel better in the short term, but because alcohol is a depressant, the more alcohol someone consumes over time, the more it actually makes them feel worse.

“So people can get lulled into that feeling where alcohol can immediately take some of their anxiety away, take some of their worry away short term,” she said.

“There may be short-term relief without them thinking about what the long-term consequences might be.”

She added it can be very easy to find substances that alleviate mood short term but then can have a detrimental effect on people long term.

As part of their work at CMHA WW, Fishburn said they always want people to think about their own alcohol and drug use and make it a conscious reminder for themselves.

“We want people to monitor their mood and their use of substances in the same way and if you can make that a conscious reminder for yourself then you’re really checking in with yourself on your use of substances,” she said.

“There are many, many ways to alleviate stress and worry without having to turn to substances. 

“But for people to be aware of that and just to monitor their thoughts, their feelings and their use of substances is a really really good useful strategy.”

Fishburn added in that time of self-reflection, if people find themselves concerned about their drinking or drug use and they’d like to reduce it or eliminate it altogether, they can reach out to services at CHMA WW like Here 24/7.

“There’s really great opportunity to change that trajectory so you don’t really develop a full addiction,” she explained. 

Fishburn emphasized there are services available at CMHA WW for individuals struggling with substance use, including Here 24/7 where they can connect with ongoing services available in the community.

“I think the overall message is we don’t want people to struggle with it on their own,” Fishburn said. 

“If they’re concerned, if they have a gut feeling that something doesn’t feel right, that’s always a really good indicator to pick up the phone and talk to somebody.”