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Addiction is a significant public health concern in Canada, impacting individuals, families, and communities across the nation. Substance use disorders encompass a spectrum of challenges, from alcohol and opioids to stimulants and other drugs. 

Addiction doesn’t discriminate based on age, gender, or socioeconomic status, affecting people from all walks of life. Canada grapples with the complexities of addiction, facing issues such as stigma, limited access to treatment in some regions, and the ongoing struggle to address the root causes of substance abuse. 

Despite concerted efforts to expand treatment options in Canada, raise awareness, and reduce barriers to care, the multifaceted nature of addiction necessitates continued dedication from healthcare providers, policymakers, and the community to provide comprehensive support and interventions for those affected.

Substance use in Canada incurred expenses exceeding $46 billion by 2017, encompassing healthcare, the justice system, and productivity losses. 

Beyond its financial toll, substance use poses significant dangers. Addictions to alcohol, nicotine, and various drugs contribute to health complications, social challenges, and the potential for fatal consequences. An estimated 21% of Canadians, about 6 million people, will meet the criteria for addiction in their lifetime.

Here is a breakdown of the financial toll of substance abuse in Canada [1]:

  • More than two-thirds of substance use costs are alcohol or tobacco-related.
  • Alcohol abuse cost Canada $14.6 billion in 2014
  • Tobacco use cost Canada $12 billion in 2014
  • Opioid use (oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl) cost Canada $3.5 billion in 2014
  • Cannabis use cost Canada $2.8 billion in 2014

Addiction In Canada By Substance

Canada’s most commonly abused drugs are alcohol, nicotine/tobacco, and cannabis. Illegal drugs and the abuse of prescription drugs are also serious issues for Canadians.

The following sections are some major statistics for each substance [1].


  • Alcohol is the most common drug used by Canadians
  • Around 249 per 100,000 hospitalizations were entirely caused by alcohol (comparable to the rate for heart attacks which was 243 in 100,000)
  • Alcohol-caused hospitalizations are 13 times higher than for opioids
  • Alcohol contributed to 22% of all substance-use-related deaths in Canada in 2014 (14,826 deaths).
  • 15% of Canadians who drink alcohol drink more than recommended by Canada’s Low-risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines.
  • Alcohol-related health, law enforcement, and productivity problems cost Ontario at least $5 billion yearly.


  • Smoking is responsible for nearly 17% of deaths in Canada.
  • Around 18% of Canadians used a tobacco product in the past 30 days.
  • More than 3% of Canadians used an e-cigarette in the past 30 days.


  • Over 40% of Canadians have used cannabis in their lifetime.
  • About 15% of Canadians have used cannabis in the past year.
  • About 32% of Canadians who have used cannabis in the past 3 months reported using it daily or almost daily.

Prescription Drug Misuse

  • Around 5% of Canadians who reported using psychoactive prescriptions in the past year also reported problematic use.
  • 12% of Canadians used opioid pain relievers in the past year, and 3% reported problematic use.
  • Of Canadians who reported past-year stimulant use, 19% reported problematic use.
  • Of Canadians who reported past-year use of sedatives, 1% reported using sedatives to get high.

Illicit Drug Use

An estimated 3% of Canadians have used one of 5 illegal drugs (including cocaine or crack, ecstasy, speed or methamphetamines, hallucinogens, and heroin) in the past year.

Past-year use of at least one of these five illegal drugs was 4% among youth ages 15-19, 10% among young adults ages 20-24, and 3% among adults ages 25 and older.

Drug dependency presents a particular concern, particularly among the younger demographic, signifying heightened risks. Canadian youths and young adults constitute a substantial portion of drug consumers. 

Here are select substance use figures relevant to young individuals in Canada [1]:

  • Individuals aged 15-24 face a higher likelihood of encountering mental health conditions and substance use disorders compared to other age brackets.
  • Around 60% of illicit drug users in Canada fall within the 15-24 age range.
  • In Ontario, 23% of students acknowledge being offered, sold, or given drugs within school premises within the past year.
  • The primary substances used by students in Ontario are alcohol (58%), marijuana (35%), non-prescribed pain relievers (17%), and tobacco (11.7%).
  • A 2008 study reported that 23% of 14-year-olds and 70% of 17-year-olds in Saskatchewan engaged in binge drinking at least once in the previous month (data from an older study).
  • An older study from 2005 revealed that approximately 1 in 20 Ontario students in grades 7 to 12 reported using cocaine within the past year.

The use, addiction, and misuse of drugs can lead individuals to grapple with a range of emotional, social, and physical challenges. However, the most severe consequence is mortality. Overdoses, vehicular accidents, and diseases triggered by drug consumption all pose life-threatening risks [1].

In Ontario in 2016, there were 865 fatalities linked to opioids, marking an opioid-related death occurring every 10 hours.

Annually, about 47,000 deaths in Canada are associated with substance abuse.

Alcohol-intoxicated pedestrians contribute to 12.3% of alcohol-related road fatalities in the country.

By 2020, opioid-related causes led to the demise of 4,395 individuals in Canada, equivalent to an average of 12 opioid-related deaths per day.

Among Ontarians aged 25-34, one in nine deaths is attributed to opioids.

Women dealing with addiction face a 54% higher likelihood of premature death due to drug use compared to their male counterparts.

Tobacco stands as the primary cause of premature mortality in Canada.

Here’s a comprehensive list of treatment options available in Canada. The process of treatment can consist of detoxification, therapies, rehab programs, and medications based on the drugs being abused.


Detox is the initial step to rid the body of drugs. It’s often supervised in medical facilities to manage withdrawal symptoms [2].

Medically Managed Detox: Under medical supervision, medications help ease withdrawal symptoms.

Social Detoxification: Supportive environment with counseling and emotional support during detox.

Outpatient Detox Programs: Monitoring and support while living at home.

Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies

These therapies target changing thought patterns and behaviors associated with addiction.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Helps recognize triggers and develop coping strategies.

Contingency Management: Rewards for maintaining sobriety.

Motivational Interviewing: Encourages motivation for change through supportive conversations.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): Focuses on managing emotions and relationships.

Rehab Programs

Residential or outpatient programs offer structured environments for recovery.

Inpatient Rehabilitation: Intensive programs in a residential setting.

Outpatient Rehabilitation: Programs for those who can’t stay overnight, offering therapy and support.

Therapeutic Communities: Long-term residential programs focusing on community support.


Certain medications can help manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings [3].

Methadone: Reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms for opioid addiction.

Buprenorphine: Similar to methadone in treating opioid addiction.

Naltrexone: Blocks opioid receptors, reducing cravings.

Disulfiram: Deters alcohol use by causing unpleasant effects.

Acamprosate: Helps maintain abstinence from alcohol by reducing withdrawal symptoms.

Each individual’s journey through addiction treatment is unique. The right approach often involves a combination of these options tailored to their specific needs and circumstances. It’s important to consult healthcare professionals for personalized guidance and support.

Drug addiction treatment in Canada faces various challenges, hindering efforts to effectively address and combat substance use disorders across the country. These challenges stem from systemic issues, societal perceptions, and limitations within the healthcare system.

Stigma and Perception

One of the foremost challenges is the pervasive stigma surrounding addiction. Misconceptions and negative attitudes toward individuals struggling with substance use disorders often hinder access to treatment. 

Stigmatization leads to feelings of shame and reluctance to seek help, perpetuating a cycle of untreated addiction. This stigma not only affects how society views those with addiction but also influences governmental policies and funding allocation for treatment programs.

Limited Accessibility to Treatment

Accessibility to addiction treatment remains a significant challenge in Canada, especially in remote or underserved regions. 

Long waitlists for treatment programs, scarcity of specialized facilities, and a shortage of healthcare professionals trained in addiction medicine contribute to barriers to accessing timely and adequate care. This limitation exacerbates the severity of addiction and increases the risk of relapse for individuals seeking help.

Fragmentation in Healthcare Services

The fragmented nature of healthcare services poses another obstacle to effective addiction treatment. Coordination and integration between mental health services, primary care, and addiction treatment centers are often lacking. 

This disjointed approach leads to gaps in care, making it challenging for individuals to receive comprehensive and continuous treatment tailored to their specific needs.

Lack of Support for Family Members of Addicts

Family members of individuals struggling with addiction often face a lack of adequate support and resources. Their journey is fraught with emotional distress, financial burdens, and a sense of isolation. 

Limited access to tailored support groups, counseling services, and educational resources specifically designed for families grappling with addiction exacerbates their challenges. They contend with the emotional toll of witnessing their loved one’s struggle, often without guidance on how to navigate these complexities. 

Additionally, societal stigma surrounding addiction can further isolate these families, leaving them without a supportive community to turn to.

Resource Allocation and Funding

Insufficient funding and resource allocation for addiction treatment programs impede efforts to expand and improve services. 

Budget constraints restrict the capacity to offer evidence-based treatments, support research initiatives, and implement innovative strategies to address the evolving landscape of substance use disorders. The demand for treatment often surpasses available resources, further straining the already stretched healthcare system.

Lack of Holistic Approaches

While progress has been made in adopting evidence-based treatments, there’s still a need for more comprehensive and holistic approaches to addiction care. Treating addiction solely as a medical issue overlooks the social, psychological, and environmental factors that contribute to substance use disorders. 

Integrating social support systems, employment assistance, housing stability, and addressing underlying mental health issues alongside addiction treatment is crucial for long-term recovery.

Inadequate Prevention Strategies

Prevention efforts are fundamental in curbing the prevalence of addiction. However, there’s a lack of comprehensive and widespread prevention strategies targeting various demographics and risk factors. 

Educational campaigns, community outreach programs, and early intervention initiatives are essential components that need more focus and investment to reduce the onset of addiction.

Addressing the complexities of addiction struggles in Canada demands a comprehensive and concerted effort across multiple fronts. By recognizing the interconnected nature of mental health, social support systems, and medical care, a pathway to effective solutions begins to emerge.

Integrated Approach to Care

A vital step forward in addressing addiction struggles in Canada involves adopting a more integrated approach to care. This approach emphasizes the need for collaboration between mental health services, addiction treatment centers, and primary care providers. 

Establishing seamless coordination among these sectors ensures individuals receive comprehensive, tailored treatment that addresses both addiction and underlying mental health issues.

Enhanced Accessibility and Resources

Improving accessibility to addiction treatment services is crucial. This necessitates reducing wait times for programs, especially in underserved areas, and expanding the availability of specialized facilities. 

Additionally, investing in training for healthcare professionals in addiction medicine and increasing the workforce in this field would bolster the capacity to deliver quality care.

Community-Based Support and Education

Empowering communities through education and support initiatives plays a pivotal role in combating addiction. Implementing community-based programs that offer education on substance use disorders, destigmatize seeking help, and provide resources for prevention and early intervention can make a substantial impact. 

Engaging local organizations and support groups can create a network of assistance for individuals struggling with addiction.

Innovative Treatment Strategies

Continued research and innovation in addiction treatment are paramount. Investing in new therapies, technologies, and evidence-based interventions can significantly enhance the efficacy of treatment. 

This includes exploring telemedicine options to reach remote communities, integrating digital platforms for support, and developing personalized treatment plans using advances in pharmacotherapy and behavioral therapies.

Policy Reforms and Advocacy

Advocating for policy reforms that prioritize addiction treatment and mental health services in government agendas is essential. Increased funding allocation, improved regulations, and policies that reduce barriers to care are critical for comprehensive and sustainable solutions to addiction struggles in Canada. 

Collaborative efforts between policymakers, healthcare professionals, advocacy groups, and affected communities can drive positive change on a national scale.

1. Addiction Help. Addiction Statistics in Canada.

2. Cleveland Clinic. Substance Use Disorder (SUD).

3. Medical News Today. What are the treatments for addiction?


The Balance RehabClinic is a leading provider of luxury addiction and mental health treatment for affluent individuals and their families, offering a blend of innovative science and holistic methods with unparalleled individualised care.


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