"It's important for us to let people know we are there to support them no matter what," said Sarah Crawford, Umbrella Project and sexual violence and harm reduction coordinator at AC. Photo credit: Gabrielle Nadeau

Algonquin College hosted National Addictions Awareness Week (NAAW) events from Nov. 22 to 26 to help raise awareness for addiction, recognize how it affects people and find preventative action against it.

The college encouraged attendees to have difficult conversations by hosting online and in-person events open to all students.

According to the Canadian Center on Substance Use and Addiction, within the past year, youth aged 15 to 24 continue to have the highest self-reported use of illegal substances compared to other Canadian age groups.

The AC Umbrella Project, a project funded by the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development Mental Health Innovation Fund, aims to create a safe space on campus for students to feel comfortable and supported.

This project is a collaboration between Algonquin’s Student Support Services, Partnerships and Applied Research, community partners Rideauwood Addiction and Family Services, the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health and the Tungasuvvingat Inuit Centre.

According to Sarah Crawford, the sexual violence and harm reduction coordinator at AC, the aim of the project is to encourage students to discuss the safe consumption of alcohol and other substances through extra-curricular training, workshops, education, awareness and welcoming support services for both students and staff.

“We want to change stigma and use of stigmatizing language,” said Crawford. “Often people will refer to addicts as ‘drunkies.’ Words like that are really damaging.”

On Monday, Nov. 22, the Umbrella Project hosted a virtual Lunchtime Yoga session from 12:05 p.m. to 12:50 p.m.

A weekly All People, All Pathways meeting, in partnership with the Community Addictions Peer Support Association (CAPSA), is offered to students struggling with addiction or in search of a safe space to talk about their substance use habits.

“All People, All Pathways is a group for anyone looking to explore their relationship with alcohol and other substances,” said Crawford. “It is not like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous where people have to be abstinent — it meets people where they’re at and allows them to explore their relationship with substances and decide whether they want to make any changes, learn more about harm reduction or stop altogether,” she added.

A Make-Your-Own Christmas Ornament event took place on Monday in the college’s residence building where students decorated Christmas ornaments while discussing addiction and simultaneously raising awareness for NAAW.

On Tuesday, Nov. 23, students partook in a ‘Spill the Tea’ event run by Crawford and Algonquin college counsellor at Patti Hancock, which safely guided students in frank discussions related to sexuality, sexual health, consent, kinks and dating. This week’s discussion focused on addiction.

A ‘Let’s Toke About It’ event happened Wednesday evening, discussing and informing attendees about safe cannabis use.

“When people are using substances, often it’s the only time people expect them to get better before providing them any support, whereas you wouldn’t say ‘come back when your cancer is better in order to be supported,’” Crawford said.

Counseling services are offered on campus for anyone dealing with substance use at welcomecentre@algonquincollege.com.

“Regardless of what is happening, people who are looking for support should always be supported,” Crawford added.