Part of the cause of Northern Alberta’s oil worker addiction problems are the harsh living and working conditions. The oil sands are located near Fort McMurray, which is largely isolated in a section of Canada’s vast Boreal forest. The area is considered northern living, and an allowance is given to residents accordingly. Because the oil sands are so far north and remote, and because the living conditions near the oil sands are so cramped and unaccommodating, the area is a breeding ground for addition and substance abuse problems.
The hardest part of working in Alberta’s oil industry is the cold. This is an obvious and unavoidable environmental factor. Temperatures reach below minus sixty degrees Celsius in the winter and take lives every year. Working in the outdoor oil pits means wearing protective winter gear and many layers. A number of precautions must be taken to keep equipment and instruments from freezing. In day to day life, driving, commuting, running errands and even taking the trash out have to be done with extreme caution to stay protected from the cold. Many people site the cold as being the most difficult part of living in Fort McMurray or in an oil camp, and thus one of the major contributors to addiction and substance abuse.
Personal space is also a major issue for oil workers. Whether one is living in Fort McMurray or on-site in a camp, the living conditions are very tight. Camps provide a very small amount of living space to each employee, which tends to cause feelings of agitation and depression. This in itself can lead to substance abuse and addiction problems, but the way it really hurts oil workers is by driving them into town to blow off steam, where they are offered alcohol, drugs, sex and gambling opportunities for purchase. Because there is so little healthy recreation to participate in in Fort McMurray, these addictive substances and activities are the common ways of killing time as an oil worker.
Although a majority of the employment in Fort McMurray comes from the oil industry, oil workers are by no means the only working professionals who are affected by addiction and substance abuse. Being a dentist in Fort McMurray, or being an attorney, CEO or physician means surviving under many of the same harsh living conditions. Addiction and substance abuse run rampant through out the city.