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Do you know if you or someone you care about is at risk for an addiction to drugs, alcohol or gambling?

When a person becomes stressed or overwhelmed dealing with day-to-day life it is not uncommon for them to search for ways to feel better. Many people then turn to food, alcohol, drugs or gambling as a way to boost their spirits. Addictive behaviours that involve drugs, alcohol or gambling can be perceived as being pleasurable in the early days. However, these behaviours can result in powerful addictions that can destroy a person's home and work life.

The results of our Your Life at Work Survey, done by The Globe and Mail and Howatt HR, show that those with a higher stress level and an lower ability to deal with the stress of their work and life, were more at risk to have an addiction problem.

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The survey results show that people who were at risk for using drugs on average had a 6 per cent higher QWL score. This is the final score of the survey, which looks at your quality of work life, where a higher score indicates you are under more stress and strain, have less ability to cope with stress, are less engaged at work and have a higher risk of having health issues.

Those with at risk of having a gambling or alcohol addiction had a 4 per cent higher QWL score.

More than 6,000 people have taken the survey since it was launched in February.

The study results have found that people who report that they have high coping skills, on average also report low levels of involvement in drug, alcohol and gambling activities, as well as low levels of stress and health risk.

Studies show that an addiction to drugs, alcohol or gambling hurts not only individuals but also the economy. Here are some facts about addiction:

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse estimates the total societal cost of substance abuse in Canada is $39.8-billion. That's about $1,267 for every Canadian. That includes the cost to healthcare, the justice system and its indirect impact on productivity.

The Centre for Addictions and Mental Health reported that 20 per cent of people with mental health disorders, which includes anxiety, depression and schizophrenia, also have a substance use problem.

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The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse reports that people driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs continues to be a major safety problem in Canada. In fact, nearly as many people died in car crashes in 2010 because of drugs (34.2 per cent) as those drinking and driving (39.1 per cent).

The Uniform Crime Reporting survey reported that there continues to be an increase in the numbers of drinking and driving incidents, 90,277 in 2011 – 3,000 more than in 2010.

ProblemGambling.ca said in a 2009 report that gaming in Canada is the largest entertainment industry. It's about the same size as the movie, TV, record and professional sports industries combined, supporting over 135,000 jobs. It's a $15-billion industry that has resulted in about 3.2 per cent of Canadians having moderate to severe gambling problems.

The National Treatment Indicators Report 2011-2012 found that 4.4 per cent of Canadians meet the criteria for substance use disorders and only 0.4 per cent of this population obtained treatment from publicly funded programs.

The gap in the percentage of the population with potential addictive issues actually seeking professional support suggests there may be some barriers to getting help. One may be the lack of exposure to drug, alcohol and gaming risk tools to help people to self-evaluate their risk.

Self-awareness is a positive first step, so screening tools can help people understand their level of risk and provide the information they require to decide to make a change.

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Contrary to stereotypes, many people with addictive issues do not live on skid row. A significant percentage of people at risk for drug, alcohol or gambling addictions in the early stages often attempt to maintain their family and work responsibilities.

The grim reality is the higher the frequency, duration and intensity of the behaviours, the higher the probability these people will lose their family, work, relationships, health, finances and even their freedom.

This month's monthly addition to the Your Life at Work Survey is a drug, alcohol and gambling (DAGS) screening tool.

Once you have completed the Your Life at Work Survey you gain access to your DAGS results, in addition to your Quality of Work Life Risk Index, or QWL, score.

If you feel you may have a problem, there are many ways to get help. Every Canadian province or territory has professional addictive services that can assist individuals to evaluate their level of risk in more detail. Company employee assistance programs also can provide access to professionals for additional screening and treatment planning. Your family doctor can also be a valuable resource.

Bill Howatt (@billhowatt) is president of Howatt Consulting in Kentville, N.S.

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All the stories and resources associated with our survey can also be found at tgam.ca/yourlifeatwork.

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