HIV and emotional wellness

Drugs, alcohol and sex addiction

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health estimates that 1 in 5 people who have problems with their emotional health use substances such as street drugs and/or alcohol. Some people use substances to help cope with low self-esteem, stress, anxiety and depression. Others may turn to sex, shopping, gambling or other activities as a coping mechanism.

“I am a survivor of a residential school. I started attending when I was five years old and I was abused before and while at the school. After leaving, I wanted to distance myself from everything that had happened there and I discovered the best way to do that was to use drugs and alcohol.”


Sometimes these ways of coping can become addictions. This can happen gradually: Often people don’t realize that their social drinking, drug use or sexual risk-taking is getting out of hand.

Substance use can directly harm the immune system. It can also interfere with your ability to stay healthy by making it more difficult to stick to your pill-taking schedule, eat well or get a good night’s sleep. Sex addiction can affect your ability to practice safer sex, leading to sexually transmitted infections. It can negatively impact your intimate relationships. Education, counselling and support groups can help you deal with addictions. For an alcohol or drug addiction, there are things you can do to minimize the negative effects of using these substances (sometimes called a harm reduction approach).