Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction


Treatment services and supports can help people experiencing harms related to substance use and addiction. To provide the best possible care, health care and allied professionals must take a personalized approach. Offering a flexible range of services for differing needs at different times provides individuals with the best chance of a successful recovery. By providing them in-depth research and tools, individuals are empowered to make more informed decisions about their well-being. The research section features information on quality care, recovery and opioid use treatment for youth.

Quality Care

Quality Care

Addiction Care

Deciding to get help for problematic substance use or addiction to alcohol or other drugs can be one of the most important decisions a person makes. Whether they are seeking services for themselves or for someone they care about, finding the right treatment is key. Like other chronic health conditions, addiction requires care and support. To help inform individuals about available choices, CCSA published Finding Quality Addiction Care in Canada. The publication empowers and educates individuals by:

  • Providing information about different treatment options;
  • Preparing individuals to talk to an addiction or healthcare provider about getting help for alcohol or drug use;
  • Including questions to ask an addiction or healthcare provider; and
  • Providing information to better understand the services that one can receive.

Best Practices Across the Continuum of Care for Opioid Use Disorder

People living with an opioid use disorder should have access to treatment options that meet all of their needs. These options are comprehensive and evidence-informed. They can improve the lives of those with an opioid use disorder. By identifying the best practices across the continuum of care, service providers can provide effective services to prevent and minimize the experience of harms. These practices include:

  • Determining the patient’s treatment goals;
  • Customizing a treatment plan to meet the individual’s needs and goals;
  • Continually assessing the person’s well-being for issues that could prevent successful outcomes;
  • Providing services that are culturally competent and safe;
  • Providing services that are trauma and gender informed;
  • Reducing stigma; and
  • Establishing trust and helping people sustain positive changes in their substance use through peer-led support services.

For more information, please see the Opioids section.

National Treatment Indicators

The National Treatment Indicators project helps inform effective system and service planning by collecting accurate substance use treatment data. For more information, please see National Treatment Indicators.

Reducing Post-secondary Alcohol Harms

Alcohol can cause harm to young people and their communities. Many students are unaware of the potential short-term consequences of drinking. These include injuries, regrettable actions, criminal actions and more.

To understand the extent of excessive alcohol consumption by young people in their community, partners from Sherbrooke, Quebec, formed a committee with two members of the Postsecondary Education Partnership – Alcohol Harms network, Bishop’s University and the Université de Sherbrooke. The goal was to identify initiatives that would reduce alcohol-related harm. The suggestions included:

  • Establishing a procedure to ensure that each young person visiting the emergency room for severe alcohol intoxication receives a brief intervention to screen for potential problematic alcohol use;
  • Referring youth who are hospitalized for follow up with addictions counsellors;
  • Developing an online or mobile application that gives individualized feedback to young people about their drinking; and
  • Having safe support spaces for youth who have drunk too much where they can sit, relax, drink water and eat.

For more information about youth alcohol harms, please see Youth and Alcohol.



Recovering from an addiction is a personal journey that can take place through many different care pathways. While in recovery, most people experience a positive quality of life that brings engagement with family, friends, the community and the workforce. However, many people experience challenges and barriers when starting their recovery journey. To better understand the experiences of people in recovery, CCSA and the National Recovery Advisory Committee conducted the first Canadian survey of people in recovery in Canada. Some of the findings include respondents:

  • Reporting having a positive quality of life, with 90.7% rating their quality of life as either excellent, very good or good;
  • Defining recovery (some through using abstinence) leading to improved health, social connections and functioning, as well as enhanced quality of life; and
  • Using a variety of pathways to initiate and sustain recovery, with many choosing a combination of family, and professional and mutual support resources.

Many Canadians might not be aware that recovery from addiction is possible and sustainable. By educating people in recovery, their supporters, treatment professionals and the public on recovery processes in Canada, they can better understand the programs, supports and barriers. It can also help reduce the stigmas, stereotypes and misconceptions about recovery. To help lead the discussion about recovery, CCSA created a communications toolkit that features:

  • Infographics and images using the data from the 855 people surveyed who were in recovery;
  • Important messages about recovery to share with staff, colleagues, clients, families and others in the community; and
  • Posters, banners, text and images for Twitter and Facebook.

Moving Toward a Recovery-Oriented System of Care

The journey towards sustainable recovery from substance use and addiction is a personalized one. Individuals can use personal, social and community resources as significant supports for long-term recovery. In addition, the results of the Life in Recovery survey suggest that many different service providers play a role in improving the lives of individuals and their families. The report based on the survey reiterated the idea that collaboration across sectors and with community-based services is key.

To build on that work and support the movement toward a recovery-oriented system of care, CCSA collaborated with the National Recovery Advisory Committee to develop a resource for service providers and decision makers. It highlights:

  • The value of adopting a recovery-oriented approach across the continuum of care;
  • Information about Canada’s collective vision;
  • Six guiding principles for recovery; and
  • Examples of policies and practices that can be implemented to support each recovery principle.

Opioid Use Treatment for Youth

Opioid Use Treatment for Youth

In Canada, substance use treatment for youth aged 12 to 24 years has not been able to keep up with rising rates of opioid use disorder and overdose deaths. Given the current state of the opioid crisis in Canada, there is a clear need for treatment services that youth can access. Established treatments have been created for adults. Treatments for youth opioid use should respond to the specific needs of youth.

About the Improving Treatment Together Project

The Improving Treatment Together (ITT) Project works directly with families, youth and service providers to improve youth opioid disorder treatment. The goal is to build solutions that fit the needs of youth with opioid use disorder. This approach provides a greater impact when creating products and tools that will help improve youth opioid disorder treatment.

The ITT project has three guiding principles:

  1. Improving access to opioid use disorder treatment for youth;
  2. Providing opioid use disorder treatment that meets the specific needs of youth; and
  3. Allowing youth to receive opioid use disorder treatment for as long as they require it.

Currently, the project is concentrating its work in western Canada.

Research and Publications

The need for the ITT Project came to light from consultations with stakeholders in 2016 and 2017 around a review of recently published research pointing to the need for developmentally appropriate substance use treatment for youth. The recently published research includes:

Project Partners and Collaboration

CCSA is working closely with two main provincial partners to develop the ITT project: Foundry in British Columbia and Alberta Health Services in Alberta. Other collaborations being developed to help align the project with emerging research and promising practices include the McCreary Centre Society, the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use and the Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Misuse, Prairies.

CCSA is also working with national partner FRAYME to ensure learning and knowledge generated by the ITT Project is widely shared across Canada and internationally.

CCSA and Foundry are working together with selected communities in British Columbia to co-design solutions that are meaningful to community members. These solutions will become elements of the services offered by four Foundry centres as part of their integrated youth hubs.

Virtual Service and Supports

Virtual service and supports (VSS) are considered any access to health care, harm reduction, disorder management or treatment (e.g., counselling, peer support) provided through technology, such as telemedicine, video conferencing or apps.

In many areas of Canada, COVID-19 safety restrictions increased the virtual services available to people using substances to compensate for a decrease in face-to-face or in-person services. These VSS will likely continue into the future.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) has been researching the impact of these services and supports, and developing policy, practitioner and technological recommendations to best meet client needs.

Research and Publications 

Fostering Equity in Virtual Care for Substance Use: What We Heard

While the rapid shift toward virtual services has been significant during the COVID-19 pandemic, a substantial challenge remains: Many populations in Canada continue to encounter barriers in accessing these vital resources.

The study, Fostering Equity in Virtual Care for Substance Use: What We Heard, was done in collaboration between CCSA and a research associate with lived experience of substance use. We collected recommendations directly from equity-deserving populations on how to tailor virtual substance use services and supports to their realities, needs and preferences.

Equity-deserving populations are communities that experience significant barriers in participating in society. In this study, these populations included:

  • People experiencing socioeconomic or housing issues,
  • Members of a racial or ethnic minority,
  • Women,
  • Members of the 2SLGBTQ+ community and
  • People living in a rural or remote area.

We also prepared a concise policy brief that highlights key considerations for decision makers in health, technology, social supports, and equity, diversity and inclusion.

Client and Practitioner Experiences and Perceptions of Virtual Services and Supports for Substance Use or Concurrent Disorders During the COVID-19 Pandemic

CCSA, the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre, the Canadian Psychological Association and Canada Health Infoway wanted to understand the abrupt switch from in-person care to virtual care in response to pandemic restrictions. Between February and April 2021, a survey collected experiences with and perceptions of VSS from people using virtual care for substance use, substance use disorders and concurrent disorders, and people who had not used VSS for these conditions. We also interviewed practitioners who provide virtual care. Client and Practitioner Experiences and Perceptions of Virtual Services and Supports for Substance Use or Concurrent Disorders During the COVID-19 Pandemic summarizes our research findings.

Accompanying the report are four reports-in-short, which explore issues related to:

In October 2021, CCSA also released a policy brief, Considerations for Virtual Services and Supports for Substance Use and Concurrent Disorders, on the same research.

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