Substance Use & Addiction

“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.” – Johann Hari

I work with individuals, couples and families struggling with substance use and addiction in a variety of ways.

Early on in my career I found myself on a path working towards a specialization in Substance Use and Addiction. The longer I worked in the field, the more apparent it became to me that something was missing. There are many theories that explain addiction, such as the traditional medical or moral models and although there may be some helpful pieces one can draw from them, they often feel like they fall short. There has been an increasing amount of research suggesting that there has been a missing piece in substance use treatment the work I was doing was the opportunity for connection and it’s incredibly powerful ability to help people heal.

For every one person I worked with, there was this network of people surrounding them who were missing as a vital part of their healing journey. As clients left treatment, they would return to their relationships and environment that were often unhealed and a large source of pain remained for all parties involved. Returning to using behaviour is so much more appealing when the connections in our lives are strained and one feels alone. Substances are a competing attachment relationship. I quickly realized that in order to create lasting and effective change, I needed to be working with the person who was substance involved and the most important people in their lives.

I subscribe to the belief and evidence that suggests humans are designed to seek emotional connection and safety for survival. When there is a rupture or breakdown within these vital relationships we experience pain, trauma and emotional loss. In an effort to numb the pain and vulnerability we use substances (among other tactics such as power, anger, wealth, shopping, gambling or food), however when we do so, we also numb the ability to feel joy, love and connection which makes it very difficult to heal. We must believe that we are worthy of love and affection – from self and other – in order to begin the healing process. Education and increased awareness are also important pieces, as the more informed we become, the more informed choices we can make.

I work with individuals, couples and families struggling with substance use and addiction in a variety of ways.

The person who is substance involved:

There comes a moment when we recognizes that substances are having a harmful impact on our lives. Sometimes we see the harm on our mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, financial, and social wellbeing. Other times, it’s not as obvious as we are able to function quite well even though we use substances at some point in our day. People use for a variety of reasons, for example to help with physical pain, to relax or have fun, manage the symptoms of trauma/emotional pain or to help with sleep. Nonetheless, there are other ways to manage and cope with all of these symptoms, without causing more harm to your being.

Substance Use Counselling can have a variety of outcomes, typically ones goal is to either reduce the harm associated with their substance use or to practice abstinence. The goal of our work together will be to figure out what is right for you and increase you capacity to live without substances being a primary factor in your life. I offer my clients a safe environment where they can explore resources and utilize a variety of options and tools to help them better understand how substances found a way into their lives and what purpose they have held up until now.

An important note: When engaging in Substance Use Counselling one is required to abstain from substances for at least 12-24 hours before your appointment. I know this may be hard but substances numb our ability to feel and the ability to feel is an essential requirement for therapy. This is something we can discuss further in therapy and we can come up with a plan together to make this possible.

Family members and friends with a loved one who is substance involved:

Often times, it is a person’s family and friends who are ready for therapy a lot quicker than their loved one who is substance involved. This has become a sub-specialty of mine throughout the many years that I have been working within the drug, alcohol, and gambling treatment system here in Ontario. I have worked within and coordinated many family programs, focused on supporting family and friends who are struggling due to their loved ones use.

It is very painful to bear witness to someone we care deeply for harming themselves through their substance use on a daily basis. Often times feelings of helplessness, anger, fear, frustration, sadness and hopelessness are present. We wonder if it’s somehow our fault, if we’re enabling or if we could do something differently. It is a difficult realization that we cannot change another person but one that is important to come to in order to start making change. Once we start to make change ourselves, it invites the idea that change is possible and those around us are inevitably required to change as well. This can be a very empowering experience.

While working together we will discuss your goals for counselling, develop healthier strategies for coping and self-care, increase knowledge about the role of substances in your loved ones life and explore how substance use impacts the family system and relationships.