Canada: Addiction


Public conversations on addiction and substance misuse are easily derailed, for many reasons. People overestimate the power of “chemicals” to cause addiction, and underestimate the impacts of early-life stressors on making people susceptible to addiction. They assume that addiction is a failure of “willpower,” and that overcoming it is a matter of willpower, too.

The good news is that, with a studiously empirical approach to translating the science of addiction, advocates can boost public understanding and expand the political will for more sensible approaches. FrameWorks has partnered with the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative and the Palix Foundation to investigate the communications aspects of this important social topic.


Talking about Addiction: A FrameWorks MessageMemo.
This strategic guide synthesizes the implications of a series of studies into how people think about addiction and ways to expand the narrow discourse on the causes and consequences of this social problem.


Rounding Up the Associations: How Perceptions of Addiction Are Recruited
Looking at qualitative data gathered from interviews with scientists and ordinary Albertans, this report maps the gaps between how Albertans think and experts talk about the science of addiction. Specifically, we look at gaps in understanding surrounding issues of definition, causation, intervention and responsibility. These gaps in understanding represent specific challenges in communicating about this science and in translating a developmental perspective on addiction.

Changing Addiction from a "Sin Problem": Peer Discourse Sessions on Addiction in Alberta
This report shares the results of eight peer discourse sessions conducted in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta, with diverse groups of civically engaged people about addiction. This research maps the public discourse that shapes how Albertans reason about issues of addiction and the range of treatments that are readily seen as appropriate and effective. It also demonstrates the importance of values in communicating why addiction matters to all Albertans.

Can Redirecting Values Increase Support for Addiction Policies and Related Issues (2011)
This report summarizes the findings of a quantitative experiment that tested thousands of Canadians attitudes and support for policies when exposed to one of four orienting values, measured against a control group that was not exposed to a value. Three values were effective in collectivizing the issue and bringing people away from individualistic understandings of the causes of and solutions for addiction.

Cracks in the Brain: Enhancing Albertans' Understanding of the Developmental Causes of Addiction (2011)
This report summarizes the findings of our initial round of quantitative and qualitative research on Explanatory Metaphors for their ability to expand thinking on the developmental causes of addiction.

Dials and Rivers: Using Explanatory Metaphors to Expand Understanding of Addiction and Its Treatment (2013)
This report summarizes the findings of quantitative and qualitative research, which sought to develop and test Explanatory Metaphors for their ability to expand thinking on the science of the risk/reward system and the treatments that experts agree are most effective in addressing issues surrounding addiction. 

Testing Usability: The Use of Addiction Explanatory Metaphors in Framing Public and Professional Conversations (2014)
This report summarizes the findings of qualitative research to explore how experts use three Explanatory Metaphors — Redirecting the River, Reward Dial, and Outcomes Scale — to communicate knowledge about addiction to members of the general public. The report concludes with a set of recommendations on how communicators can use these metaphors to expand public thinking about the science of addiction and effective addiction treatment. PDF version available.


Infusing comedy with frames to communicate science. FrameWorks’ partner, the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative, has recently launched a series of short videos that use comedy to communicate serious messages about the neuroscience of addiction. These videos are informed by the results of more than five years of FrameWorks communications research in Alberta that has been conducted in close partnership with the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative. These videos represent a new frontier for framing—using non-traditional science translation venues to communicate core science principles. The videos, as well as other information about the science of addiction, can be found at 

Metaphor Visualization: Redirecting the River

Metaphor Visualization: Calibrating the Reward Dial

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  Updated: 05/31/17