Addictions in Nunavik

Overview of the addictions situation in Nunavik

All of the actors in the various networks (health and social services, education, employment, police and justice), along with the vast majority of Nunavimmiut, concur that alcohol and drug abuse is a central issue for all of Nunavik’s residents, organizations and communities. The problem’s extent and severity is reflective of the impact of colonization and the numerous individual and collective traumatic events and societal changes it brought along. As a result, these events have been affecting the social and family structure of all, and have initiated a wide array of psychosocial problems that we have only started to understand and deal with.

Over the past few years, various public-health authorities as well as providers of health and social services in Nunavik have identified certain tendencies in matters of addictions:

  • in every age group, an increase in the number of individuals using alcohol and drugs;
  • The first use of alcohol and drugs is occurring at a younger age.

In 2004, it was estimated that 60% of the Nunavik population used drugs during the year, a proportion four times higher than that observed elsewhere in Canada. The use of cannabis is widespread among both men and women and for all age groups but is highest among men and young persons. The consumption of other drugs such as cocaine and amphetamine are also on the rise.

What characterizes alcohol use in Nunavik compared to the other regions in Québec is the high number of episodes of excessive drinking or binge drinking. Binge drinking accounts for some of the riskier behaviors observed, among them criminal actions, parental neglect, violence, physical and sexual abuse, accidents, and driving under the influence. The consequence of such problematic behavior is a mortality rate related to drinking which is four times higher in Nunavik than in the rest of Québec.

According to health professionals and community representatives involved in Iilusiliriniqmi Pigutjiutini Qimirruniq (the Clinical Project), fetal alcohol syndrome disorder (FASD) is one of the problems associated with excessive alcohol consumption with the greatest impact on young children in Nunavik. The effects of the spread of FASD in Nunavik are staggering, and more so if we consider that all of the children thus afflicted will have repercussions their entire lives. People affected by FASD are more likely to develop behavioral problems, to drop out from school, to be unemployed, to become addicts, to require services from Youth protection, to be placed, to find themselves incarcerated, etc. There are currently no FASD diagnostic services in Nunavik, in spite of it being acknowledged that rapid detection allows for early intervention and thereby favors the maximum development of those children who are touched and in so doing, limits the negative effects on their lives. FASD, moreover, is 100% avoidable.

Overview of the addictions services in the region

In view of the current situation in regards to substance abuse in Nunavik, the existing service offer in the area of addiction remains highly inadequate.

Nunalituguait Ikajuqatigiitut (NI) is the leader in Nunavik for prevention and raising awareness regarding substance abuse. Despite their long-term commitment, NI and its partners are struggling to encourage healthy changes in the behaviours of a significant part of the population.

In Nunavik, the local CLSC’s points of service are the usual point of entry for addictions services. Basic services are offered by local nurses and social workers. Clients can be referred to physicians working locally or in another community.

Despite the scope and severity of the needs associated with alcoholism and drug abuse, there are few professionals specialized in addiction services in the region and only one institution that offers treatment to adults only: the Isuarsivik Treatment Centre. Furthermore, this community organization cannot accommodate clients with children. Many Nunavimmiut choose or are forced to use out-of-the-region addictions treatment centres.

In addition, the region lacks professional after-care and support services for Nunavimmiut coming out of a treatment cycle. This situation often increases the possibility of relapses.


In the face of the magnitude of the challenges associated with substance abuse, there is an urgent need to strengthen the whole continuum of care in Nunavik. This will require major investments in the areas of prevention, detection, professional community-based support and specialized treatment.

In addition, Nunavik’s organizations as well as their leaders and the general population must play an active role in changing the existing social norms that currently promote the excess consumption of alcohol (binge drinking) and the regular use of drugs. I know my assignment is supposed to have a beginning, middle and end, but I dont know what to put in these sections!