Addictions are a serious social problem in Canada, as in other Western industrial countries, and indeed in most if not all societies around the world. The prohibition of alcohol and other addictive substances and behaviors by several world religions attest that the problem of addiction is an ancient one. Addictions, and the patterns of behavior associated with addiction, cause enormous misery to addicts and those around them, and on society as a whole.
The following essay will explore the issue of addictions as it affects Canadian society. What are addictions? Are they primarily a cause or a consequence of the social problems associated with them, or are they something of both? What contrasting views and interpretations of addictions have been put forward, and what public policies -- and policy debates -- have resulted from efforts to deal with the addiction issue in Canada.
As will be discussed below, addiction as a concept and a public policy issue has a broader scope than drugs, whether illegal or legally available. As a result, available data do not provide a full view of the scope of the addictions problem in Canada, but deal only with portions of it. However, even these tabulated components demonstrate the extent of the resulting social problem. The report of a conference of addictions specialists held in 2001 found that
Whether measured statistically or in terms of public concern, addiction is a major health issue for Canadians. More than one in five deaths in Canada and hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations result from the use and misuse of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs every year. The cost to the economy is at least $18 billion a year, including more than $4 billion in direct health care costs ("Canadian Addictions Researcher Workshop," 2002, p. 5).
An official national drug strategy paper issued in 1998 specified the scope of its concern as including alcohol, legal medications (both those s...