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See the Person, Stop Stigma in Brant

The experience of substance use is different for each person and how it affects people depends on many factors. Substance use disorders are often connected to a person’s lived experience, mental health and behaviour patterns. Addiction is caused by dependence, resulting from changes in the brain that cause cravings and withdrawal symptoms. As a result, using substances may be a choice for some people but for those with substance use disorders, it really isn’t a choice and quitting may be extremely difficult even with support.

Learn their story

People who use substances are diverse community members who come from all walks of life - they are parents, children, friends, co-workers, and neighbours. People who use substances are well aware of the impact they are having on society and their loved ones. They experience feelings of guilt and shame related to their use. They also judge themselves and others who use drugs. These judgements and feelings of shame add to the many barriers that many people with substance use disorders face in getting the support and services they need.

Stigma is the process of unjust devaluing and discrimination of people on the basis of particular characteristics (e.g., race, gender, mental health, substance use) in ways that socially exclude those individuals from mainstream society. Stigma includes negative attitudes and beliefs about a group of people due to their behaviours or circumstances in life. It includes discrimination, prejudice, judging, labelling, excluding and stereotyping. This further contributes to feelings of hopelessness, shame and isolation. Because of these negative feelings, stigma increases the likelihood that a person will hide their substance use from others, use alone or in an unsafe way, and avoid seeking help from others, even when they want to.

Stigma can destroy self-esteem and relationships, make it harder to access treatment, jobs and housing, and leads to discrimination and isolation. 
Health Canada, 2018

Stigma impacts people with substance use disorders, as well as their family members, peers, service providers, and our entire community. Stigma also further isolates individuals with substance use disorders, makes it harder for people with substance use disorders to enter treatment, and contributes to their continued use. By working to stop stigma, we can build a healthier, more caring Brant/Brantford. Treat people with substance use disorders with dignity and respect to help build their sense of autonomy and control over their own lives. This will contribute to their sense of self-esteem, pride, and desire for change.

Brant Photovoice Project: Substance Use does not Define a Person

Using photos to tell their stories, we asked Brant residents to describe their personal journey of  substance use or recovery. The following photos represent the various thoughts, feelings and stages that individuals with substance use disorders experience in their day-to-day lives. 

The photos shared as part of this project may trigger distressing feelings. If you need to talk to someone for support, please contact the 24-hour crisis line for St. Leonard's Community Services at 519-759-7188 or 1-866-811-7188. If you are interested in seeking treatment for a drug or alcohol problem, contact ConnexOntario at 1-866-531-2600.

Take Time to See the Person

There is no typical path to substance use. There are many reasons why people develop substance use disorders. Some are genetic or biological. Some stem from childhood trauma, sexual abuse, violence or overwhelming stress at school, work or home. Some come from feeling alone, excluded or powerless. Some result from prescription medicine used to deal with chronic pain. Sometimes the cause is unknown.

Substance use disorders are a health issue, not a character flaw. It is simply not a matter of will power or having a desire to stop. A substance use disorder is a medical condition diagnosed under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM-5 (CAMH). It causes changes in the brain and body that make it very hard to stop using a substance, regardless of the harm it causes to the person or to others around them. People with substance use disorders deserve to be treated with the same dignity, care and respect that is given to others living with a health condition or disorder such as cancer, heart disease, or diabetes. Social support can help address stigma and help improve the lives of people with substance use disorders.

Substance use is only a part of a person’s larger picture. It is important for everyone in our community that we choose to see the person and not simply their substance use disorder.

Take Action to Stop Stigma

Choose Compassion

  • Acknowledge a person as a human being who should be treated with dignity, care and respect.
  • See a person for who they are and what they can be, and not by what drugs they use.
  • Recognize that your own experiences, or lack of experiences, should not be used to make assumptions or judgements about another person's life.
  • Give support to the person and remember to extend support to their family members and loved ones. Listen to their stories, be there for them when they need you, and acknowledge how hard the situation may be for them.
  • Focus on the person's lived experiences and the strengths that they have, rather than what they're doing wrong.

Choose your words carefully

  • Use person-first language. Avoid using hurtful labels such as drug abuse, substance misuse, drug user, or addict; replace with the terms substance use and a person with a substance use disorder.

  • Accept a person's situation and avoid judgement. Acknowledge what the person is going through, how hard it might be to talk about their substance use disorder, and avoid passing blame.

  • Replace negative assumptions with expressions of care and concern. 

  • Listen and avoid lecturing. Allow space and time for a person to share their story. Give them your full attention and stop yourself from jumping in. Never force someone to share their story if they aren't ready or willing.

  • Ask how you can support a person instead of coming to your own conclusions and solutions. It could be a glass of water, company to sit with, or helping them get the support they need at that moment.

  • Examine your own biases.

Choose to get involved

  • Like, retweet and share our posts on social media. 
  • Educate yourself about substance use disorders and harm reduction
  • Get trained to use Naloxone which can reverse an opiod overdose and save a life. Call the BCHU's Harm reduction program at 519-753-4937 ext. 471. 
  • Help others become more aware by passing on facts and challenge stereotypes. 
  • Know what resources are available for people with substance use disorders. Offer this information to others if asked or when they are ready. 
  • Read the Brantford- Brant Community Drugs Strategy to learn about what is being tdone to reduce the harms associated with drug use in Brant. 

Adapted with permission from a publication produced by the Hamilton Drug Strategy. Distributed by Brant County Health Unit.