Addictions Awareness Symposium puts spotlight on difficult topic
By Ryan Melanson,
Leading a healthy lifestyle is a crucial part of a successful Canadian Armed Forces career, and like any large organization, the CAF does have issues with substance abuse and other types of addictions that can create problems for members in the workplace and at home.
But battling an addiction, even a serious one, does not mean the end of a CAF career, as many members have shown through successful recoveries. There are numerous resources available to personnel, including professional help to avoid falling into the traps of addiction, and intensive treatment for those who have serious issues.
Highlighting those resources was just one item on the agenda as a large group from Formation Halifax gathered in Windsor Park on November 27 for a day-long Addictions Awareness Symposium.
“This is an important issue and people have worked hard to make this day happen, so we’re pleased to have so many people attending,” said Capt(N) David Benoit, the leadership Champion for the MARLANT Addiction Free Living Working Group.
“Addiction-free living is one of the five pillars our formation is trying to focus on to promote total health and wellness among our military and civilian team,” he said, noting the other pillars include active living, nutrition, mental and social well-being, and the importance of proper sleep.
“For that reason, this symposium is meant to help our people, so we hope they can get engaged, get involved and ask questions.”
The room heard from Mary McGrath, a psychologist at CF Health Services (Atlantic) who works as part of the base’s addiction prevention and treatment team, alongside addictions counselors, social workers and nurses.
“We have a very diverse team ready that’s able to take care of any issues that may come up. We have comprehensive screening, assessment and treatment,” she said. The team offers an intensive 30-day outpatient program to help treat CAF members, and in about five per cent of cases, refers members to residential treatment centres.
“We also treat people who have much less severe problems, maybe people who just need a little education or a few sessions to get some help. Not everyone who comes to us has reached the addiction stage,” McGrath added.
Her presentation touched on more common addictions like substance abuse involving alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs, as well as gambling, and new issues now on the radar of health-care providers like debilitating addictions to video games or social media. She also touched on a number of myths surrounding addictions, including the false notion that addiction is a choice or simply evidence of a lack of willpower.
Everyone’s addiction is different, McGrath added, meaning that not every treatment plan is the same.
“It’s not one size fits all. We need to take care of our patients’ needs, and those needs are all different.”
The morning presentation was followed by an off-the-record First Voice Speakers panel, which saw currently serving CAF members and DND civilian employees share stories of their personal battles with addiction and recovery, as well as a leadership panel that gave senior officers a chance to speak on the topic and take questions from members.
The event was organized by PSP Health Health Promotion along with the MARLANT Addiction Free Living Working Group, with special thanks going to military and civilian co-chairs CPO1 Tom Coates and Tammy Barriage.