Substance Abuse & Addictions

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Substance Abuse & Addictions

One of the most important decisions each of us faces throughout our lives is whether or not to use drugs like alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamines, narcotics and nicotine – all of which affect our mind and emotions. 

While substance use does not always indicate abuse, the risk is extremely high.   lStatistics Canada reports that alcohol, tobacco and mood-altering drugs are widely used in Canada by girls by the time they reach grade 12. Girls are as much at risk of abusing alcohol and drugs as boys are, and in some cases face more serious health consequences.

Since alcohol is widely used in most Canadian homes, and consumption of wine or beer is a normal part of special occasions, it is not surprising that by Grade 10 over 90 percent of young people have tried alcohol. While it is not uncommon for girls to want to experiment with alcohol use at parties, the increased number of younger girls who reported being drunk is quite high and indicates potentially serious alcohol-abuse problems. The figures appear to be equally as high for both the Grades 8 and 10 groups with regard to substance use for drugs like hashish and marijuana, suggesting the widespread availability of the substance and a greater curiosity for girls to try it.

Why do people use drugs or alcohol?

There are lots of reasons that young people start using drugs and alcohol:

  • curiosity
  • experimentation
  • celebration
  • pleasurable effects
  • loss of inhibitions
  • pain relief
  • to relieve various emotional problems (e.g. anger, stress, anxiety, boredom, or depression)
  • to boost confidence
  • as a way of rebelling or to express alienation from mainstream society
  • to help cope with traumatic life experiences
  • social pressures
  • following a parent's example
  • for a sense of belonging or social acceptance and to avoid rejection
  • dependency
  • it’s glamorized by the media

What are the risks?

Drug use becomes a problem when it results in negative consequences for the person using the drug. These may be physical, mental, social, emotional, legal, economic, or environmental consequences including:

  • increased health problems such as illness, injuries, and physical damage to the body or death
  • personal problems such as loss of motivation, physical or psychological dependence, problems at work or school
  • family problems like strained or unhappy relationships and family breakdown
  • social problems like increased crime and traffic accidents
  • increased risk of serious drug use later in life
  • poor judgment which may put you at risk for accidents, violence, unplanned and unsafe sex, and suicide
  • a drug-related conviction may result in a fine or prison sentence as well as a criminal record, which could effect employment opportunities and travel outside the country
  • addiction


Peer Pressure Girls who use socially “appropriate” drugs like alcohol and tobacco tend to do so in groups; girls who use illegal drugs are more likely to be introduced to them by boys, often while on dates.

Body Image In a culture that too often defines female worth in terms of body size and shape, girls resort to diet pills, cigarettes, and other substances to maintain starvation diets. In a 1997 study, four times as many 12th-grade girls as boys reported taking non-prescription diet pills on a monthly basis.

Media Girls are also bombarded with ads from various media that promote the use of over the counter and prescription medications for common ailments such as headaches, sleeplessness, and depression, promoting a quick-fix approach to solving physical and mental health problems.

Abuse In a 1997 national study, high school girls who reported having been physically or sexually abused were twice as likely as girls who did not report abuse to use cigarettes, alcohol, or other drugs.

Stress Girls tend to feel they lack control over their lives. More adolescent girls than boys reported feeling a lot of stress. More girls than boys say that they use cigarettes (66% vs. 49%) and alcohol (38% vs. 27%) to deal with stress.

While some girls will experiment with drugs or alcohol and then stop using them, or continue to use occasionally, without significant problems, some girls will develop a dependency and some will move on to more dangerous drugs and cause significant harm to themselves and possibly others.

If you think that you or a friend may have issues with substance abuse, it’s important to talk to someone you trust.  Check out these sites for more info: 

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