Student resources on substance use disorders & addictions

This following information was developed by medical students and summarizes available services and supports for identifying and managing substance use problems offered to all University of Toronto medical students. It additionally addresses concerns regarding physician/student professionalism and confidentiality specific to the medical profession.

You may also want to visit the substance use disorders & professionalism FAQ for additional information. 

Substance use disorders in the medical profession

Medical students and professionals are not immune to developing substance abuse and addiction. In fact, substance use disorders in both medical students and practicing physicians occurs at roughly the same frequency as in the general population. Given the significant professional obligation and responsibility that medical professionals and students possess, it is of great importance to facilitate early support and therapeutic intervention for the health and well-being of both individuals suffering from addiction, as well as the public on a whole (Dyrbye, 2005; Marshall, 2008).

Help and support is both available and effective. The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) released a policy paper suggesting early intervention strategies are necessary for decreasing substance abuse rates (CMA, 2010). While in Ontario, physicians who enter the Ontario Medical Association’s (OMA) Physician Health Program for monitoring and support in recovery regarding substance dependence have an 85 per cent success rate after five years of monitoring (Brewster, 2008).

The following information has been designed to assist medical students in recognizing problem behaviour coping with substance use disorders and to facilitate early intervention strategies, as well as equip students with the necessary tools to support and promote health throughout their careers.

Identifying substance use disorders and addiction

Identifying that you or a peer is at risk of developing a substance use disorder can be challenging. It is often difficult to differentiate social from problem use. The links below provide some validated questionnaires and warning signs to assist you in identifying if there is a problem. If you are concerned about yourself or a peer please reach out to one of the services listed under counselling and health resources below.

Counselling and health resources

Should you or someone you know currently be experiencing an acute crisis or emergency, please contact 911 immediately, or call one of the numbers below for further assistance:

  • Toronto Distress Centres: (416) 408-4357 or (416) 408-HELP
  • Gerstein Centre: 416-929-5200

University of Toronto: Office of Health Professional Student Affairs (OHPSA)

Private and confidential personal counselling services for students enrolled in the Faculty of Medicine. Counsellors will conduct an initial assessment with the student and discuss with the student how best to address their needs. Counsellors can also provide more information on community resources available. See more information regarding confidentiality.

Location: University of Toronto, St. George,  FitzGerald Building, Room 121
Hours: Monday to Friday, 8:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. (additional evening hours also available)

For more information contact OHPSA, or book an appointment online

Ontario Medical Association (OMA) Physician Health Program (PHP)

Confidential support for physicians, residents and medical students. The PHP can provide information on substance abuse and dependence, offering support for those seeking help. For students seeking help, PHP can assign a case manager to their care who will monitor treatment plans and refer them to community resources for assessment and treatment.
Location: 150 Bloor St. West, Suite 900, Toronto, Ontario M5S 3C1
Hours: Monday to Friday 8:45 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Contact by phone:1.800.851.6606, or visit the OMA website.

Community Supports

There are many available resources in the Toronto community that you can access for help with substance abuse and dependence issues, such as a family practitioner or non-university affiliated psychiatrist. For details on confidentiality, please refer to the substance use disorders & professionalism FAQ.

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)

CAMH has diverse programs and services available for assisting those struggling with substance abuse and dependence disorders. Some of these services include an addictions assessment, Addiction Medicine, Alcohol Dependence Research and Treatment Clinic and Back on Track. For more information about these services, visit the CAMH website, or see CAMH contact information.


Information Helpline: 1-800-565-8603, or visit the Drug and Alcohol Healpline website


In cases where students or physicians self-present for help to OHPSA, the OMA’s Physician Health Program, or other support persons, privacy and confidentiality is strictly kept unless it is determined there is an immediate and serious risk of harm to self or others.

Related links:


Brewster J. M., Kauffman I. M., Hutchison S. and MacWilliam C. (2008) Characteristics and outcomes of doctors in a substance dependence monitoring program in Canada: prospective descriptive study. BMJ. doi:10.1136/bmj.a2098

CMA Board Working Group on Mental Health and CMA Physician Mental Health Strategy Working Group.  (2010). Physician Health Matters: A mental health strategy for physicians in Canada. Canadian Medical Association.

Dyrbye L. N., Thomas M. R., Shanafelt T. D. (2005). Medical Student Distress: Causes, consequences, and proposed solutions. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. (80)12, 1613

Marshall, E. (2008). Doctors' health and fitness to practise: Treating addicted doctors. Occupational Medicine, 58, 334-340.  

This resource was developed by Kelsey Watson and Jeff Graham, University of Toronto, MD Class of 2018.