Skip to main content

Visions Journal

A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.

What is it? Where do I get it?

Dan Reist

Reprinted from "Alcohol" issue of Visions Journal, 2006, 2 (9), p. 32-33

You have finally admitted your drinking (or drug use) is out of control. Now what? People often talk about “treatment.” But what is it? Some medication? Some procedure to fix the problem? You go to your doctor who tells you to attend Alcoholics Anonymous. Or, you talk to your priest who suggests some weekly classes at church. But you want “treatment,” so someone suggests a local clinic. There you meet with a counsellor who at least starts to do an assessment. Someone is going to find out how sick you are and get you the “treatment” you need.

After several meetings with the counsellor you still haven’t been given any “treatment” or sent to any hospital where they can sort out your problems. Instead, you are being asked to explore your beliefs, your feelings and your actions. When are they going to offer “treatment”? You begin to wonder if “treatment” even exists.

According to a Ministry of Health document called Every Door Is the Right Door, you have been in treatment all along. Intervention or treatment for substance use problems should happen at several levels and along a continuum of services.

Fundamental to any effective treatment system are the social supports for individuals provided within the community. These social supports include any initiatives that influence the determinants of health for the local population, such as recreational services, faith communities, shelters, immigration services, continuing education, employment services, community centres and other social service programs. In fact, most people who recover from substance use problems never access any other formal services—that is, they do not access specialized addictions programs or see specially trained professionals.

Effective treatment involves a wide range of first responders, from school professionals to police officers, from family physicians to social workers. With proper training, these individuals can offer brief interventions, or provide referrals to other services. These first responders are also important in providing essential supports to people in long-term rehabilitation or community reintegration who have become disconnected from their communities. These services are vital components of treatment.

Specialized addictions services are also important, though they are only part of the treatment continuum. These specialized services include several different elements delivered in different settings. Most individuals will need only one or two components, and one setting is not necessarily better than another. Treatment might involve withdrawal management, designed to help you safely stop using alcohol or other drugs, and delivered in a hospital-like context, in a clinic, or in your home. Sometimes you will be prescribed medications to deal with short-term adjustments or to address another health condition that has been masked by your substance use. Or your doctor may suggest a maintenance dose of a safer drug than the one you have become dependent on. You may benefit from various forms of counselling or group therapy.

In order to address the issues that contribute to substance use problems, people need a stable residential environment. They may need to get away from their home environment for a short time. In these cases, a variety of permanent or short-term housing options are needed in addition to the more clinical components of treatment.

“Treatment” is about putting your life together in a way that makes sense and contributes to your health and the well-being of the people around you. You are wise to reach out to people who can help you sort out options for addressing your substance use and the harms it is causing.

About the Author

Dan is Director of the Communication and Resource Unit at the Centre for Addictions Research of BC (CARBC). CARBC is a University of Victoriabased centre dedicated to research and knowledge exchange on substance use, harm reduction and addiction

  1. Al-Anon Family Groups Headquarters, Inc. (2003). Are you troubled by someone’s drinking? Al-Anon is for you! Retrieved from

Stay Connected

Sign up for our various e-newsletters featuring mental health and substance use resources.