Blue and orange poster for Addictions Awareness Week

National Addictions Awareness Week
November 22-28 aims at reducing stigma

By Patricia Leboeuf

Posted on Thursday November 19, 2020

“Change Begins With Me” is this year’s National Addiction Awareness Week (NAAW) tagline, aimed at inspiring change in the way people speak about addiction.

“It’s about us making choices to reduce the stigma around substance use,” said Dana Lawson, Personnel Support Programs (PSP) Health Promotion Manager.

This means altering the way we talk about people who are suffering from addictions, as well as understanding that addiction is a disease.

With one in ten Canadians experiencing a substance abuse issue at some point in their life, it is essential that those who are suffering are comfortable seeking help. The knowledge that their illness does not define them can be tremendously helpful for their recovery, said Lawson.

Currently, about 80 per cent of people suffering from substance abuse have found barriers to recovery, including stigma, and about 50 per cent have encountered stigma during active addiction.

“It is a mental health disorder, it is a diagnosable illness, and it needs support just like any other,” Lawson said.

NAAW is a Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSUA) program, and it will be held this year from Nov. 22 to 28.

In addition to an addiction awareness seminar for senior staff, PSP is providing a social media campaign to highlight what resources are available and to encourage people to use destigmatizing language. The hashtags #ChangeBeginsWithMe and #NAAW will tie everything together.

“One of the biggest things the campaign is focusing on is language,” said Lawson. “Stigmatizing language can be hurtful, disempowering to vulnerable people and, when internalized, to ourselves.

“We are always people first,” she added. “With person-first language around addiction, it acknowledges the someone is a person before describing their attribute or illness.”

Instead of calling people addicts or junkies, they should be called people with substance problems or people with addictions.

“Even just a simple switch like that can be a huge thing,” said Lawson.

Throughout the year, PSP Health Promotion hosts programs and courses to help the military community prevent unhealthy coping mechanisms and to strengthen their resilience.

Once someone is suffering from addiction, it is recommended that they reach out to Canadian Armed Forces Mental Health Resources, which includes Warrior Support and the Padres.

If a person is uncomfortable involving their Chain of Command, they can reach out to the Canadian Forces Member Assistance Program (CFMAP) at 1-800-268-7708 or use an entirely external program such as Alcoholics/Narcotics Anonymous and an Ontario Addiction Treatment Centre.

More information and resources can be found on