8.1 Overview

When a person decides to make a change in their substance use, there are many options for treatment in Canada.  People make decisions about change for numerous reasons, each reason is personal to each individual.  Having access to support for a substance use disorder is an important component in recovery.  This chapter will explore various treatments in Canada.  This information is in no way comprehensive and it is important to note that the numbering system (7.1/7.2) is not used as a way of rating or validating treatment.  Both Western and Indigenous methods have an important role in treatment options.  As Social Service practitioners please explore both fully.

There are many theories on substance use, as we explored in Chapter 6, and various Western treatment approaches are based on theoretical and scientific research. For individuals who are choosing to make changes in their substance use, there are many options.  Some options that have been successful in treating substance use disorders include:

  • withdrawal management
  • counseling
  • medication
  • skills training
  • evaluation and treatment for co-occurring mental health issues such as depression and anxiety
  • peer support

For more information on publically funded treatment programs in Canada you may wish to review The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, which has The National Treatment Indicators (NTI) project.[1]  This is the only national, accessible source of information on publicly funded substance use treatment centres in Canada.

Stopping substance use is just one part of a long and complex recovery process. By the time people enter treatment, their substance use may have caused serious consequences in their lives, including to their health, their family lives, work, and more.  Because substance use can affect so many aspects of a person’s life, to be successful treatment should address the needs of the whole person. An individualized treatment program that allows a service provider to explore the intersectionality of a person’s substance use is preferable.  Treatments that meet the specific medical, mental, social, occupational, family, and legal needs of clients are an important aspect to success.  For example, Kruk and Sandberg[2] suggest women “seeking recovery from “hard drugs” (alcohol, heroin, methadone, cocaine and crack cocaine, and metamphetamines) should have a menu of choices made available to them in their recovery journey, including the options of both non-abstinence and abstinence-based recovery”.[3]

There are many different treatment programs offered in Canada as every person with a substance use disorder is unique; the substance use is the common factor.  Remember, success is individual; for some, success may be a reduction in use or safer usage rather than abstinence.  When a person decides to access treatment for their substance use, there are questions that must be asked, to provide a safe and supportive individualized program

Food For Thought

  • Why do you think people decide to change their substance use?
  • Do you think there are good reasons/bad reasons to change substance use?  Does the reason matter?
  • If someone does not have a NS Health card can they access treatment in Nova Scotia?
  • How does one obtain a healthcard?
  • Can one obtain a healthcard if they travel from province to province or if they have no fixed address or identification?
  • If they only have a healthcard but no private insurance what are their options?
  • For individuals who are homeless or street entrenched, what are the barriers to accessing any type of treatment for a substance use disorder?

Along with individual factors to address in treatment, the geographical location in Canada may also be relevant.  For example, living in a rural area or an urban area will impact choice for treatment.  Social Service workers in rural areas must be aware of services that are available not only in their community, but in communities in proximity to ensure individuals can make well informed choices on treatment.


  1. The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction. (2021). The national treatment indicators project. https://www.ccsa.ca/national-treatment-indicatorsPrograms
  2. Kruk, E., & Sandberg, K. (2013). A home for body and soul: substance using women in recovery. Harm reduction journal10, 39. https://doi.org/10.1186/1477-7517-10-39
  3. Ibid.

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