Substance Use, Abuse, Addiction, and the Opioid Crisis: Where are you on the Substance Use Continuum

Updated: Aug 30

With the combined stresses of film work and the COVID pandemic, it’s not surprising that, for some, drug and alcohol use has progressed to substance abuse and addiction. When substance use gets out of control, it can feel hard to reach out for the help you need. In this post and the Actsafe/Calltime video linked below, we explore the issues of substance use, addiction and getting help when needed.


The Calltime Mental Health Campaign initially emerged out of a deep concern from film sector union leaders at the rise in substance use and addiction related issues of their members. The most heartbreaking consequence of this being the overdose deaths of fellow brothers and sisters, causalities of the ongoing fentanyl crisis, that is far from over.


In 2020, BC recorded a 74% increase in mortality rates equating to 6 deaths per day, with 56% of those deaths occurring in people’s private residences. So the common misperception that this drug epidemic is a downtown Eastside or vulnerable population issue is incorrect. Right now what we’re faced with is recreational drug use that has transitioned into something much more severe where recreational drug use can now be a recipe for death.


Continuum of substance use

Of course, substance use can vary widely from person to person, and can include alcohol, marijuana, and other legal and illegal substances. As well, not all substance use leads to severe consequences. For some, limited or moderate substance use or alcohol consumption is a personal choice that does not have a detrimental effect on their personal and work lives.

To help evaluate our own personal use, substance use behaviors can be thought of as falling along a continuum from no use to chaotic use. As this harm reduction model shows, any one individual may end up at different points along the continuum throughout their lifetime.


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None. Some people do not drink or use substances at all for health, family, personal, religious and other reasons.


Social. An occasional casual drink at home, possibly with others, with a meal, or at other social occasions.


Recreational. More intentional use as part of a social events including parties, going out to a bar or pub, or at sporting or other events.


Moderate. The middle ground between casual social and recreational use and heavier or frequent use. Could include occasional binge drinking/use, or heavier use at social events.


Chronic. Where it’s a regular part of personal patterns and habits, whether with people or alone. May include increased frequency and intensity, with a greater impact on life and work.


Compulsive, Alcohol or substance use becomes something that it’s no longer just a choice. Use becomes more compulsive and is used to cope and deal with the stress, to forget about s issues, or to be able to relax that I need the substance.


Chaotic. At this stage, substance use is having a serious impact on, and putting at risk, health, work, lifestyle, friends/family and overall wellbeing.


It is within these stages of compulsive and chaotic use that many people are diagnosed with substance use disorder and addiction. Where it is no longer a choice, but an ingrained pattern and addictive habit.


Based on these categories of use above, another way to evaluate our alcohol and substance use is by evaluating how much of a problem it has become – the degree to which it is impacting our life and health.


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So a couple questions to ask yourself would be: “Where am I on the harm reduction spectrum? Where am I on the continuum of substances use?”


Workplace and coworker safety

Another ‘lens’ to view substance use through is that of impairment and workplace safety. Impairment from substance use can cause physical and behavioral changes that affect our ability to work safely. These changes can include:

  1. Impaired judgment, perception, and decision making

  2. Decreased motor co-ordination, reaction time, and sensory perception

Psychological or stress-related effects, such as mood swings or personality changes

So while on a personal level we may feel comfortable with our substance use in the context of our personal lives, we should also consider how our use affects us, and our colleagues, at work and on set.


It’s easier to see the direct connection to workplace impairment if someone drinks or uses right before a shift, or during the workday. However, substance use outside of work can progress to where it becomes a workplace impairment due it remaining in our system based on the quantity or frequency it is consumed, or the mental and physical ripple effects substance use has our ability to be clear mentally and to actually be physically attuned to the work, the equipment, and the people that are around us.


When is substance use a problem?

Two important signs that a person’s substance use is risky, or is already a problem, are harmful consequences and loss of control.


While each time a person uses a substance may seem to have little impact, the harmful consequences can build up over time. When someone is addicted to a substance, he or she may:

  • Take more of the drug over longer periods of time and need more of the drug to feel “high”.

  • Spend a lot of time trying to get the drug, and give up other activities to do this.

  • Try to quit using the drug, but are not able to.

  • Continue to use the drug even though it harms relationships and causes physical problems.

  • Feel sick and experience other symptoms of withdrawal when he or she tries to stop using.

Addiction

For some, the transition from substance use, to abuse, to addiction seems to emerge out of a drive to numb the negative feelings of life, while for others addiction is a way to experience greater highs. No matter how it starts, advances in research over the past 10 years have revealed that addiction is not so much a problem with a particular substance or behaviour, but instead a brain disease that develops over time. Addiction occurs when what is initially a voluntary behaviour becomes associated with a particularly positive feeling or emotional reward. Depending on a complex mix of biological, genetic, social and emotional factors, some people experience a particularly distinct ‘high’, sense of intoxication, and positive emotional state from the use of the substance or behaviour. Eventually, a person with a developing addiction no longer feels ‘normal’ without engaging in the behaviour and, as the behaviour is repeated and increased, a tolerance develops so that it takes more of the behaviour to have the same effect. When the person tries to stop, an uncomfortable experience of withdrawal is felt and the drive, desire and craving to engage in the behaviour causes the person to repeat it despite any negative consequences.


Breaking Free

There is good news and hope, however, for anyone struggling with addiction. The same science that is revealing the complexities of addiction and the associated impact on the brain, is also revealing that the brain is quite capable of healing and renewal. With the proper support, those suffering can build bridges of support and healing that can compensate for the negative effects of addiction.


Calltime Mental Health is in the process of developing and expanding our resources related to substance use, support and treatment. In the meantime, if you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, here are a few simple steps to begin on a path of help and healing:


  1. Reach out for help. Often feelings of helplessness and shame can prevent us from admitting our perceived weaknesses. You are not alone, and we all have our ‘issues’. Think of one close friend or colleague you could talk to and ask them if you can share a personal and sensitive issue with them. Share as much of your story as you’re comfortable with, and tell them you’d like them to ask you how it’s going once in a while. This will help break you free of secrecy and shame.

  2. Call the appropriate health information or resource line to inquire about programs, step groups or other resources you can access (see resources below and on our Resources page). There are a wide range of support and recovery programs available for all types of addiction issues. Even if you’re not sure you’re ready, or that these options are for you, give them a call to see what they offer – you’ll likely find out that you’re not alone and that there are people who can help and who understand.

  3. Call your Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) or Member Assistance Program (MAP) for confidential, non-judgmental support. You will receive immediate support and an opportunity to book an appointment with a counsellor to discuss your concerns and figure out the best plan based on your personal situation. If you determine that substance abuse/addiction treatment should be part of your plan, check out your union’s health benefit plan funding options for treatment (See Looking for Help page).

  4. Access other community based resources and supports specific to your concerns and personal situation. Some resources are listed below, and also check out the Resources section of this site.


Finding Help – Phone and Web Resources

Helpful resources are just a call or a click away:

Other Related Issues/Addictions:

To learn more about these topics and our approach to substance abuse in the Motion Picture Industry watch the recording of the webinar that we offered at the Actsafe Entertainment Safety Conference in February 2021.