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Understanding Addiction

Addiction Services for York Region believes in a holistic perspective of addiction[1] in both its etiology and the resulting treatment approaches.  Addiction is a multifactoral interaction between biological, psychological, social and spiritual factors[2].  These various aspects of addiction must be viewed simultaneously. 

We acknowledge it is important not only to focus on the addiction behavior itself, but to focus on the person in whom the addiction arises. A holistic approach places the person as the central focus. The person is bigger than and is not defined by the addiction behavior.

Addiction is not viewed within the individual alone, but rather within the context of total system of relationships, including one’s physiology,  family, and the society culture.  Addiction is defined in relational terms as an unhealthy relationship between the person and the substance / activity / experiences.   Addiction can function as a coping mechanism while contributing to negative consequences and their recurrence.  


Concurrent Disorders



Criteria for addiction:

According to the DSM-IV ( Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), three of the following criteria must be met to define an addiction:

  • Increased tolerance,
  • Withdrawal when not engaged,
  • Partaking more than you wanted/expected,
  • You wish to decrease use but are unable,
  • You spend a lot of time and energy on the substance/activity (driving to multiple doctors to get prescriptions, spending excessive hours in a casino regularly, chain smoking, planning your day around a hangover or crash),
  • You neglect or give up important social, occupational or recreational activities due to this substance/activity, or
  • You continue with the substance or activity despite knowing that it is causing you problems or making problems worse.

Elements of addiction

Physical dependence is when the body adapts to the presence of a substance in such a way that it reacts when the substance level drops. The body is shocked by the change and can develop uncomfortable or painful reactions, such as shaking, headaches and nausea. Some drugs provide a chemical the body produces naturally, the way steroids provide testosterone. They body may stop producing its own, relying on the artificial supply and struggle to cope when the supply stops.

Psychological components are an important aspect of addiction.  When someone decreases or stops using the substance/activity it can lead to anxiety or depression. Often, the substance or activity has been used to cope with stress, anxiety, sadness or some other emotional void – stopping the use returns the user to the original feelings that led them to the drug or activity in the first place.

The third component is Spiritual. Spirituality can be explained as having to do with making meaning of our life. It is the essence of our survival and that which keeps us committed to working through the struggles and pain we encounter in life. Those with addictions have often lost their connection to feeling a sense of moral fulfillment and have often lost fulfilling relationships with others. A person may look to distract themselves from, or numb themselves to, such feelings. As the dependence negatively affects one’s relationships and connection to society the spiritual dread deepens, driving the person further into the addiction.

Quick facts:

  • There were more deaths from opioid overdose in 2008 than there were driver deaths in car accidents.
  • A Statistics Canada survey of substance abuse in 2012 found that youth had higher rates of substance use disorders (11.9%) than all other age groups, and that men have a higher incidence of substance abuse than women (6.4% compared to 2.5%).[3]
  • Many illegal drugs in Canada have the added risk of including other dangerous drugs or chemicals.
  • Canada has some of the highest levels of prescription drug use world-wide.[4]
  • In 2010-11 Canadians consumed an average of 8.0 litres of pure ethanol alcohol, which is the equivalent of 470 standard servings of beer, wine or spirits for every person age 15 years and older in Canada per year.[5]
  • A survey of drug use amongst Ontario students from 1977 to 2013 found 17 significant decreases between 1999 and 2013, including a decline in alcohol (from 66% to 49.5%), binge drinking (from 27.6% to 19.8%), cannabis (from 28% to 23%) and opioids (from 20.6% in 2007 to 12.4% in 2013.) The only increase has been in the use of over-the-counter cough and cold medication that is used to "get high."[6]

Treating addiction at ASYR

We use a holistic biopsychosocial spiritual approach to help individuals and families to deal with addiction issues.  Treatment is tailored to suit individual situations and needs. ASYR also uses harm-reduction as an approach to addiction treatment. Harm-reduction incorporates a spectrum of strategies, from lessening the harm to abstinence. We equally respect and support those who wish to reduce their gambling/substance use as those who choose to stop completely.

Click here to see ASYR programs that can help people affected by an addiction.

Contact our intake department


[1]ASYR acknowledges that the term addiction can be interpreted as being stigmatizing. It is not our intent to perpetuate stigmas associated with this term but rather we hope to use addiction as a term to encompass different behaviors associated with substance misuse and gambling behaviors.

[2]The Government of Canada has endorsed a multifactoral biopsychosocial model called the determinants of Health. It has used this model to develop the Health Promotion Strategy and Canada’s Drug Strategy

[3]Mental and substance use disorders in Canada

[4]Narcotic Drugs: Estimated World Requirements for 2013 / Statistics for 2011