In Northern Alberta, on-site at the tar sands, a culture of addiction and substance abuse has emerged among the oil workers. The working and living conditions promote this way of life and perpetuate it every day. The winters are extremely harsh and recreational opportunities are very limited, yet the pay rate is incredibly high. This leaves workers with a lot of time on their hands and very minimal ways of spending it, which is how addiction and crime gets in the door. A number of addictive substances and activities are available to the largely male population in place of healthy activities. Statistically, the two most prevalent addictions in the Fort McMurray, Alberta area are alcohol and cocaine.
Alcohol is one of the oldest addictive substances in the world, and has been abused as long as it has been around. Canada, Russia and other Northern lying regions that turn frigid in the winter are known for their alcohol abuse. Alcohol is widely available throughout these parts of the world, which is likely because it has a numbing effect when consumed heavily and gives the feeling of a false warmth. In Fort McMurray and the tar sands area, alcohol is immensely popular as a way of coping with the -60-degree temperatures that can ravage the region in January and February. Alcohol sales in Alberta are privatized, meaning there is less government regulation on the sale of alcohol than in some other provinces. It is also an affordable substance, with a wide range of qualities and prices to accommodate any budget, making it widely available and very popular.
Unlike alcohol, cocaine is an expensive substance to purchase, but because most of the people living in Fort McMurray work for the oil industry, money is not an object. Illegal cocaine sales are some of the most lucrative in the country in Fort McMurray. Residents of the city have claimed that cocaine is a staple at almost every party. The Hells Angels are a presence in Fort McMurray and are largely responsible for the illegal drug trade and the access the city has to cocaine. Appropriately dubbed the “rich man’s drug,” cocaine is thought of as the favorite way to kill time among oil workers. It has even permeated the local culture through language; in time off from work, short-changes are commonly referred to as “snort-changes” in reference to cocaine use. Residents of Fort McMurray who are struggling with addiction or substance abuse problems such seek out the services of a Fort McMurray rehab right away.