In Harm Reduction

Substance use is a serious issue that affects every aspect of a struggling person’s life. But it’s not just the affected person that suffers the consequences. Loved ones and colleagues of the struggling person experience the serious effects, too.

Substance Use Issues are Common

Approximately 1 in 12 adults suffers from a substance use problem. So, there’s a high chance that you know someone struggling or someone who died as a result of substance use disorder. In fact, many of the people who died because of the opioid crisis in Canada worked in the construction industry. This means that in your workplace alone, there may be at least one person who is struggling with a substance use issue.

Why Construction Workers?

Construction work is physically demanding and can potentially lead to injuries. Construction workers also tend to work long hours. And statistically, people who work more than 50 hours per week are more likely to engage in alcohol and drug abuse than people who work less than 50 hours per week. Even more, construction is a male-dominated industry. Male-dominated cultures tend to stigmatize men who report physical pain or emotional distress. So workers struggling with pain from an injury or experiencing stress from working long hours will be less likely to openly talk about their issues. They may turn to substance abuse as a coping mechanism. This combination of factors creates an industry with more overdose deaths and substance abuse problems compared to other job sectors.

How to Reach Out to Someone Struggling with Substance Use Disorder

Here are three important steps you can take if you suspect that someone you know has a substance use problem.

Bring up the topic but avoid asking direct questions. Direct questions like “Do you have a problem with alcohol?” could make the person feel suspicious of your intentions, nervous that they’ve been exposed, or defensive. However, approaching them with a question like “Hey, is everything alright? You don’t seem like yourself…” makes it more likely that they will feel understood and as though someone cares that they are struggling. When a person feels understood—and like someone is interested in listening—they are more likely to open up. Once they do, this gives you the opportunity to offer your help or recommend resources, such as seeing a doctor or therapist. Listen without judgment and remember that we all have struggles.

Offer to mediate or provide support.
One of the scariest things for people struggling with substance abuse is admitting they need help. Having someone they trust by their side can make all the difference in them taking steps to ask for help. You can help by letting the person know that you’ll go with them when they meet with their company supervisor. Or you can offer to mediate if the person must speak to loved ones about their problem. While they will have to do the recovery work themselves, having support is critical to them staying on the path towards sobriety.

Provide them with educational resources and information. Sometimes, it takes time for a person with substance use issues to admit they have a problem and accept help. Remember that alcohol and drug use is often a symptom of a bigger issue. Substances are usually used as a negative coping mechanism that helps the person deal with life stressors or emotional concerns. If the person is in the stage of ambivalence—or denial—offer them educational resources and information. Podcasts, websites, YouTube videos or other recovery-related content may help inform them of the benefits of quitting and how they can start the recovery process.

Helping someone with substance use issues is a kind and generous act. But also it’s a brave act because you risk rejection. Remember that the person is emotionally and physically struggling, so an initial negative reaction to your good intentions is likely. Let the struggling person know that you believe in them and that you’re there to help. Recovery is a long process, but with supportive people—and the right resources—substance use disorder is treatable.

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