September 22, 2006 Features & Images » Feature Story

Winds of Change still blowing 

Healthy community strategy moving towards addressing the need for substance abuse treatment

By Cindy Filipenko

It’s a beautiful, sunny, Pemberton summer morning. Walking out of the post office, I run into an acquaintance I haven’t seen in months. Standing at the corner next to the Esso station, we catch up in the shorthand common to such relationships. Within a few minutes, we’ve covered the essential territory: work, kids, partners, summer plans and the quest for more downtime.

“You look great!” I say with all sincerity, because she does. There’s an energy and a freshness to her that I have never noticed before.

“I’ve been on the sobriety train since January,” she says, matter-of-factly. “And I’ve lost 20 pounds.”

Two women, who marginally know each other, candidly discussing an issue long kept in the dark, literally in the light of day. Maybe the winds of change really are blowing.


The effects of substance abuse extend far beyond the user. Families, sometimes generations of families, can be affected by having to cope with an alcoholic or drug addict. In the ’80s, this was well documented through the literature of the ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) movement. People raised by them share a distinct set of traits, from having to “guess” at what normal behaviour is to being extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that loyalty is underserved. These people have an increased likelihood of either becoming substance abusers or partnering with them — in some cases, they do both.

Failing that, these people may adopt other compulsive behaviours, such as food or work addiction. More importantly, adult children of addicts tend towards insecure relationships because they parallel their childhood relationship with their alcoholic or dysfunctional parents. Thus, the chaos addicts create impacts another generation.

While an addict’s family may most keenly feel the effect of the individual addict, communities also feel the effects. These run the gamut, from teachers having to deal with young children whose academic/social performance in school may be impaired by living in an unpredictable, unstable environment to tragedies of far greater magnitude. A horrible, heartbreaking event brought the issue of substance abuse in the Pemberton Valley to the forefront of community concern in May 2002.

Ross Leo was just 15 years old when he died. The Mt. Currie youth was brutally beaten to death by two adult men in an altercation over alcohol. The teenager had come across two men “sleeping it off” in a wooded area of BC Rail lands near the local elementary school. Nicknamed “The Jungle”, the densely treed area was a well-known drinking spot among alcoholics who went there to consume the alcohol they bought a few blocks away at the government liquor store.

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