The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health estimates that 1 in 5 people who has problems with their emotional health also has a problem with substances, such as street drugs and/or alcohol. Some people use substances to help manage low self-esteem, stress, anxiety and depression. Others may turn to sex, shopping, gambling or other activities. And people can combine these activities—for example, using drugs and having sex.

“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.”

These activities sometimes come with downsides. Substance use can harm the immune system. It can also interfere with your ability to stay healthy by  making it more difficult to stick to one’s pill-taking schedule, eat well or get a good night’s sleep. Using drugs while having sex can lead people to make decisions they would not normally make, and it can negatively impact one’s intimate relationships.

Sometimes these activities 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. Education counselling and support groups can help you deal with addictions. For alcohol or drug use, there are things you can do to minimize the negative effects of using these substances (this is called a harm reduction approach).