This week November 21st through to the 27th is recognized as National Addictions Awareness Week (NAAW). It is dedicated to raising awareness about addictions and substance use and centers around finding solutions for change. This year’s theme is Driving Change Together. Substance use is a complex issue that requires a wide range of perspectives and a collective effort. Everyone needs to work together towards a healthy future for people who use substances.
Substance use is intricately connected with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). People with FASD have higher rates of substance use challenges compared to the general population. What’s more, they often experience challenges successfully moving through traditional approaches to substance use treatment and addictions programs, as these programs often aren’t set up to support people with FASD. In fact, researchers with CanFASD are currently working on a project now to improve substance use treatment for people with FASD.
In order to effectively address FASD as a whole, we also must improve substance use support for people who are pregnant, parenting, or planning a pregnancy. One reason women may continue to use substances through pregnancy is due to the barriers associated with seeking help and support. Some of these barriers include feelings of guilt and shame, not having enough information available about services, unsupportive partners, and issues of stigma. It is essential that we have supportive, respectful, health promoting, trauma-informed, and women-centred programing that supports people where they’re at.
The Co-Creating Evidence Project was the first project of its kind in Canada that evaluated eight multi-use programs across Canada that serve women at a high risk of having a baby prenatally exposed to alcohol or other substances. Although all these programs are different, the common characteristics contributing to their successes included well thought out, evidence-based approaches, strong partnership relationships, flexible, multi-dimensional models, and keeping clients engaged overtime.
Overwhelmingly, clients reported a positive experience at their program. They felt physically and emotionally safe, they trusted staff, had choice about the services they received, and felt their needs were met. One of the most interesting findings of the study is that clients often reduced or quit their substance use, even though these programs do not have substance use treatment as a primary focus.
This study showed the importance of providing programs that include wraparound services, knowledge and empathetic program staff, Indigenous cultural connection, and opportunities for community/peer support. An ideal multi-service program for pregnant and parenting women who use substances would be grounded in best practices and include a wraparound experience with services a range of primary, prenatal, postnatal health, substance use, trauma, outreach, and child welfare services along with cultural programming and/or supports that address social determinants of health factors in a manner that reflects and respects local/regional influences.
Read more about some of the incredible programs involved in the Co-Creating Evidence Study and how their communities rallied to support pregnant and parenting women using substances.
With rising concerns about an increase in substance use challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and changes to existing supports and services, it is more important than ever that we all work together to improve outcomes for those using substances. Help us achieve this goal by making sure you’re using the right language, learning more about substance use and how it fits in with your profession, making sure you’re using best practices when you’re working with people with FASD and/or parenting and pregnant women who are using substances, and connecting with your community to find and/or build appropriate supports.