Addiction and substance abuse problems have claimed and destroyed lives, so why is it that the need for treatment in oil workers is so often overlooked? It is no secret that living in Fort McMurray means frequently encountering substance abuse and addiction problems. There is not much to do in Fort McMurray, particularly during the cold, harsh winters, which turns people toward heavy drinking and drug abuse. There is an obvious need for addiction and substance abuse treatment among many of the workers, but all too often this need is neglected and swept under the rug.
It is very important that workers in Fort McMurray know that it is acceptable to seek help for their substance abuse problems. If they express these concerns to the right people, they will be met with support and community, not judgment.
In Fort McMurray, the demographic of oil workers is almost entirely male, and a very masculine culture is present in the oil sands. This is typical of the working population in an oil boom town. It is also typical of boom towns that this largely male demographic tends to expend their testosterone by overusing illicit substances and alcohol. This practice is so popular and common that it becomes part of the community’s culture and mindset, which is very much what has happened in Fort McMurray.
The overwhelmingly male presence in a boom town like Fort McMurray is largely instigating the substance abuse and celebrating it, which means that anyone who is drawing negative attention to substance abuse is behaving in a counter cultural manner. Anyone who is growing concerned about their own inability to manage their relationship with addictive substances will be going against the group to voice these concerns and speak out against substance abuse. Men in these communities do not want to be ostracized, so they try to follow the traditions and values of the group, but this is not a healthy practice for those who are being harmed by substance abuse and addiction.
Fort McMurray, Alberta represents the classic oil boom town story. Since the mid twentieth century, the Athabasca oil sands have been the site of incredible industry and prosperity. In the late 1800’s, it was estimated that the Athabasca oil sands were some of the most extensive in the entire world and preparations for an industrial mega-complex were underway. But it was not until the 1970’s that the Athabasca oil sands became known through out Canada as the country’s most lucrative source of employment. Since that time, with the exception of the occasional recession due to world market oil crashes, the Athabasca oil sands has been flooded with would be employees, seeking profitable oil work, and Fort McMurray has become the epitome of an oil boom town. Everything one would associate with a boom town is present in Fort McMurray; the good, the bad and the ugly.
The positive things that have come out of Fort McMurray are abundant. Canada’s economy benefits enormously from the operations of the oil sands, generating tens of billions of dollars into the national economy. The province of Alberta in particular thrives significantly because of the oil industry. Living in Fort McMurray and working in the oil industry has been a positive thing for many Canadian families. The oil industry has provided a good life and a good retirement for a great many Canadians.
The dark side of the boom town story is certainly present in Fort McMurray as well. Like every classic boom town in history, the money has rolled in faster than anyone has known what to do with it. This tends to become problematic to communities. An underdeveloped city in possession of too much money leads to trouble. There is not enough recreation to keep people occupied, and people become restless and turn to substance abuse and debauchery for entertainment. Fort McMurray is a major Hell’s Angels trade center with a serious drug and alcohol problem and a very high crime rate.
Alberta has run into a problem of depleted substance abuse treatment resources. It is becoming widely known that the oil industry of Northern Alberta has spawned a culture of rampant substance abuse problems. Oil jobs are incredibly high paying, but demand the worker to live in harsh northern conditions, usually in a work camp. This attracts a largely male demographic who find themselves living with little to no entertainment or recreation after their grueling work week, causing them to turn to drugs and alcohol for amusement.
The sale of alcohol in Alberta is becoming privatized, making a vast selection of liquor available to oil workers. The drug trade follows wealth, and is highly prominent through out Alberta, with a large presence in and around the oil sands. Illegal substances are more than accessible; they are routinely offered to oil workers.
The Alberta oil sands is notoriously a den of substance abuse and addiction, so much so that its rehabilitation treatment facilities are having to turn people away, put them on waiting lists or drastically shorten their programs. Throughout Alberta, whether someone is looking for a Calgary rehab program or an Edmonton addiction treatment center, they will find few facilities taking new clients. With the worker’s population and the availablity of addictive substances increasing simultaneously, the situation is becoming dire.
Government funded rehabs are maxed out and support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous are carrying a large part of the weight of Alberta’s addiction problems. However, they are only intended to be supplemental support and cannot offer the safe recovery environment that inpatient rehab offers. Because of this, most substance abuse problems do not receive the attention they need, or they go entirely untreated, putting many lives at risk. Addiction treatment facilities and rehabilitation programs across Canada want to help aid the addiction crisis in the oil sands of Alberta, and those who struggle with drug and alcohol substance abuse problems in the oil field are encouraged to reach out for help as soon as possible.