Years of battling against addiction can change a person. However, many individuals are able to overcome their struggles and use their insight to help others.
According to Daily Commercial News, in terms of regular use of drugs and alcohol, 54 per cent of construction workers have more than one drink a week, compared to 47 per cent of Canadian workers. Twenty-one per cent of construction workers use recreational cannabis on a regular basis compared to 15 per cent of workers in other sectors.
Ben Ellard, an instructor of civil engineering and technology at SAIT, says he hid his addiction during his time as a construction worker as he used it to deal with personal problems.
“I think that was the biggest challenge because I knew I had a drinking problem and when you’re a person with a drug addiction, you don’t always want to give it up,” he said. “Drinking made me happy, drinking took away some of my problems so I did whatever I could to avoid it, like staying at my desk to work harder so I didn’t talk to people as much.”
Drinking also affected Ellard’s performance.
“I can definitely take a look back and see work that I did when I was sober and work that I did when I was drunk,” he said. “Other people would say, ‘Oh, you’re just having an off day,’ but I didn’t have off days. I was either sober or I was drunk.”
Jill Drader, an adjunct instructor at SAIT who is also founder and CEO of OWLSEEK, also gave insight into her struggles with addiction during an event at SAIT focused on improving mental health in the trades. She says but it can be more difficult for women to find treatment compared to men.
“I did go through substance use and addiction and I was addicted to alcohol and cocaine for a long time until I got sober in 2006,” she said.
“It’s harder to find resources and counselling for women specifically. But now it’s a little bit better and there are peer groups that are really helpful because that was the only place to find people who weren’t hiding behind the stigmas and were able to offer support and resources and help.”
‘Oh, you’re just having an off day’ — but I didn’t have off days.
From the perspective of someone who used to be a in a construction environment, Ellard gave his opinion on how substance is stigmatized and how he saw a mix of people wanting to hide their addiction but also saw people owning up to it.
“There are people in the construction industry that don’t hide it,” he said. “And amongst their peers, they are people who don’t mind working with them cause there one of the guys and he’s cool and he gets his job done because he’s high functioning, and they kinda let it slide.
“And then there are other people that are like, ‘No man, we don’t do that here, I want to go home safe, and I want you to go home safe, so I’m not gonna work anywhere near you.’”
Ellard also experienced being treated differently from his peers when he gave up drinking.
“It was really, really hard to quit drinking when I was working downtown because there was so much pressure to be treated as part of team,” he said. “It does take a lot from me to show people that I can be fun just because I don’t drink anymore doesn’t mean I’m a party pooper and that makes people think I’m really weird.”
Drader reflected on her years of substance abuse and hopes that a brighter future is in store for others that are struggling with substances.
“I think we have to look at the reason why people are using [substances] on worksites or anywhere and what is that real pain piece and why are people hurting that they feel like they need to self-medicate,” said Drader.
“So, once we get to the bottom of what people really need to create a life of wellness out of illness then we can work together to build healthy co-operations.”