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The Punjabi population in Canada has been steadily increasing due to Canada’s more relaxed immigration laws.

In Surrey, British Columbia, about a third of residents are Punjabi, and the area has come to be known as “the South Asian heart” of Canada.

Indo-Canadians account for roughly 5% of the total population in British Columbia, according to a 2016 census. Punjabi is the third most common language spoken throughout Canada, after French and English. 

However, as the Punjabi community gains Canadian social recognition, many individuals find the pressures of assimilation overwhelming. 

Because of the stigma surrounding consumption and cultural difficulties in communicating about mental health, people within the Punjabi community often turn to addictive drug use as a coping mechanism for trauma and relief from mental health problems. 

According to Canada’s Centre for Public Health Services, In British Columbia alone, over 80% of Punjabi men are addicted to and using opioids. Heroin drug addiction within the Punjabi community is a disease, silently devastating the south Asian population. 

To understand the complicated relationship between Punjabi consumption and the stigma of alcohol and drugs for South Asian clients, it is imperative that the Punjabi community receives the mental health and intervention resources they need from Punjabi-speaking counsellors sympathetic to the negative ramifications of social and cultural pressures. 

Looking at the division between social expectation and ethics is essential in helping and providing interventions for Punjabi speaking clients.

Why Is Heroin The Number One Drug In The Punjabi Community?

There is a dichotomy between Punjabi cultural and social attitudes towards drugs and alcohol consumption and Sikh ethical values. Some of the core values and Principles of Sikh tradition include: 

  • Kirat Karna – honest, hard-working labour 
  • Wand Chhakna – sharing the wealth with those in need selflessly
  • Sarbat da Bhala – prayer for universal peace and prosperity
  • Ishnan and Darshan Ishnan – purity of the body, keeping it clean and free from vice
  • Sacha Achar – maintain good moral character by living a virtuous life


In contrast, the social culture in Punjab values a patriarchal division of gender roles. Punjabi social order expects men to work hard to provide for their families – which would fall under Karit Karna and Wand Chhakna’s definitions. 

However, the engrained social traditions of men gathering publicly and consuming alcohol to excess at the end of each day complicate social vs moral order. These social traditions contradict Ishnan and Darshan Ishnan and Sacha Achar’s values’ definitions and confuse excess consumption. 

Punjabi men view mild opium consumption similarly to having a few drinks at the end of a long day to add further complication. At least one-third of south Asians in rural Punjab consume opium daily. 

These socially accepted loopholes create a division between social and ethical values and create complications when it comes to the fundamental understanding and stigma of alcohol and drugs for South Asian clients. 

The stigma surrounding alcohol and drug use is one that Punjabi people carry with them regardless of their location and creates a slippery slope when communicating about the more severe nature of heroin drug addiction for Punjabi people.

Social Factors in Punjabi Men vs. Women

Punjabi gender roles are primarily patriarchal. Punjabi society expects men to work hard and provide for their families and intend for Punjabi women to tend to the home, raise their children, and nourish the family. 

Because of the patriarchal system and the patrilineal nature of inheritance, society expects Punjabi men to be healthy and proud. 

The social acceptance of alcohol consumption creates a complex narrative surrounding the definition of excess and what is healthy. Additionally, any emotional vulnerability is perceived as a weakness or a failure of masculinity in some way.

Most Punjabi women are relegated to the home, providing meals for the family and cleaning the house, and any movement away from their caretaker role is considered taboo. Their social status is still inextricably bound to their fathers’ or husbands’ position. Any behaviour deemed socially or culturally unacceptable reflects negatively on the entire family and their social status. 

Additionally, there is no direct translation into Punjabi or Hindi for words like anxiety or depression, which means that some of the most significant initial indicators in behaviour that could provide clues into the need for intervention for Punjabi speaking clients aren’t available.

Apparent opioid-related deaths in Canada from 2016 – 2017 according to Canada’s Center for Public Health Services:

Location Male % Female %
British Columbia 81% 19%
Alberta 72% 28%
Ontario 69% 31%
Quebec 64% 36%
Saskatchewan 57% 43%
Total 68.6% 31.4%

Economical Factors

The area of Punjab withstands a perfect storm when it comes to drug access, distribution, and corruption. Punjab lies right on the border to Pakistan, making it easy for opium pods from the Golden Crescent (Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran), the largest source of heroin to be smuggled in with various legal imports like spices or vegetables. 

Punjab works as a conduit, funnelling in drugs and selling them to locals or packaging them within larger packages of legal exports and shipping them off to Canada, the US, Europe, and Australia. 

In terms of Canadian drug access and distribution, addiction problems and drug abuse are mirrored through the distribution and availability of Doda – dried crushed opium husks – a crude derivative of opium and an easy gateway to harder drugs like heroin. 

Doda was sold legally within the Ontario province until 2010 and widely purchased by the Punjabi Indo-Canadian community, particularly men in the trucking and transportation industries.

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With the criminalization of Doda, heroin and opioids came an increased stigma and secrecy surrounding heroin drug addiction. People who use drugs are more likely to become criminalized and less likely to get jobs, get clean, and reach out for support. 

Because Punjabi men expect to provide for their families, heroin drug use in Punjabi men is complicated, shrouded in secrecy, stigma, and shame.

In Punjab, 70-75% of youth between the ages of 15 and 25 are addicted to and using heroin or other opiates. 

These statistics parallel heroin use in the Punjabi Indo-Canadian trucking and transportation communities. Transportation drivers between the ages of 21 and 30 are offered impossibly large sums of money to drive across Canada from Toronto to Vancouver and back in a few days and sold heroin or crystal meth derivatives to stay awake during this time. 

Drug use is enticing to many young Indo-Canadians for various reasons, including:

  • Cultural familiarity
  • More money in shorter periods
  • Provide more income for families faster 


The last point is incredibly enticing for Punjabi men who wish to settle with their families in Canada. Gaining social status quickly seems to be the most desirable reward. However, due to stigma and familial pride, many Indo-Canadian people fail to recognize heroin drug addiction within the Punjabi community until it’s too late.

Psychological Factors

Much of the initial psychological factors of heroin drug addiction within the Punjabi community begin with a lack of communication and education surrounding drug use. Many first-time users are prescribed opioid pharmaceuticals or given a heroin injection understanding it to be a helpful medicine rather than a highly addictive drug. 

The initial disconnect in the language surrounding heroin use creates confusion and potential addicts who naively enter into drug use under the guise of believing it to have healing properties. 

Because most initial heroin drug addicts in Punjab view mild opium use similarly to having a few drinks at the end of a long day, Punjabi people easily enter into a contract with a deadly drug that is not nearly as easy to escape. 

Masculinity and cultural taboos surrounding mental health are not the only reasons for a lack of drug communication. Punjabi families have a difficult time when it comes to communicating about heroin drug addiction. Pressures on Punjabi immigrant families to assimilate and tend to family well-being are paramount, causing both men and women to go through their daily lives, sacrificing or ignoring anxiety indicators for the greater good of keeping the family unit intact. 

Prolonged use of heroin and other opioid derivative drugs disrupt normal brain function and affect how the body naturally responds to signals that dictate how we interact with the world around us. 

An average brain has millions of cell receptors that interact with chemicals in our body to give us necessary signals by sending natural motivators and stimulants like: 

  • Dopamine
  • Serotonin
  • Endorphins
  • GABA chemicals


Effects of opioid addiction on brain function over time include:

  • Opioids block nerve receptors: Temporarily stopping signals from travelling through the nerves and sending information and feelings to the brain, which relieves any feelings of discomfort for a while.
  • Opioid receptors become blocked: In prolonged use of opioids like heroin, interfering with stimulants and motivators like dopamine and endorphins that naturally tell the body what is happening either internally or externally. 
  • Damage to prefrontal cortex: The prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain dedicated to decision making, becomes overwhelmed. The brain begins to crave natural stimulants, which it once produced on its own, but now only attains from an opioid injection.
  • Instability: Without a constant intake of opioids like heroin, addicts experience elevated stress hormones and a constant state of agitation.
  • Opioid resistance: The body naturally produces resistance to opioids, meaning the addict will need to increase the dose of heroin over time to have a similar level of high.


As doses increase, the body cannot function naturally without heroin in the system, meaning heroin drug addicts will feel physically sick and go through withdrawal symptoms without injecting the drug into their system. 

Signs and Symptoms of Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction is easy to hide in the beginning. Families often understand their loved ones’ symptoms to be attributed to increased stress, fatigue, or perhaps alcohol intoxication rather than heroin addiction.  

Early signs of heroin drug addiction can include:

Physical effects

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Mumbling or slurred speech
  • Itchy skin
  • Constipation
  • Loss of enjoyment or participation in activities and recreation formerly enjoyed


Psychological effects

  • Memory loss
  • Pain relief
  • Euphoria
  • Calmness
  • Disorientation


Extreme use

  • Heart issues
  • Issues with the prefrontal cortex 
  • Insomnia
  • Addiction
  • Death


Because the signs seem so benign in the early stages, and the stigma surrounding heroin drug addiction for Punjabi men and women is so prevalent, heroin treatment for Punjabi clients can be challenging to initiate. 

It’s essential to pay attention to social factors like social behaviour changes, like self-isolation or spending time with a new group of friends. 

Extreme mood swings can be an additional symptom as addicts have difficulty regulating brain chemicals like dopamine or endorphins and the limbic system, which helps create the motivation necessary to perform daily tasks. With increased drug use as neurotransmitters and the limbic system becomes fried and stops functioning normally. 

When heroin drug addiction for Punjabi people goes past the early stages and into full-blown withdrawal, symptoms can include:

  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Hot and cold sweats
  • Uncontrollable shivering
  • Prolonged goosebumps

Seeking Help: Different Solutions To Overcome Heroin Addiction in the Punjabi Community

Counselling with Punjabi-Speaking Therapists

Due to the effects of stigma and complex cultural factors, Andy Bhatti and the intervention and addiction services team understand the importance of providing Punjabi and Hindi-speaking counsellors when leading families through intervention.

Andy, who struggled with addiction himself, has first-hand experience in understanding the complicated process many addicts go through in their endeavour to live a clean and sober life and uses this experience to help addicts and families who find themselves in similar situations. 

The intervention and addiction services team understands how critical Punjabi-speaking therapists and counsellors can be in intervening and providing heroin treatment for Punjabi clients. Therapists and counsellors must understand the problematic stigma of alcohol and drugs for South Asian clients due to the specific language barriers when it comes to communicating about mental health and understanding the pressures of status and social stigma.

Counselling is an essential step in seeking help and recovering from heroin drug addiction for the Punjabi community. Not only does it assist the addict and family in identifying destructive patterns, but through a holistic approach, counselling can help recovering addicts track their behaviour through past actions to evaluate what contributed to the addiction in the first place. 

With the help of a Punjabi speaking counsellor, families take the first step in getting their loved ones the help they need. With counsellor help and specific information about their loved one’s addiction, interventions for families in the Indian community become a little less overwhelming, and they can begin to set up the remaining step in an intervention timeline:

  • Get help from a counsellor or therapist who can help facilitate the situation.
  • Form an intervention team with close family, friends, or co-workers of the addict
  • Make a specific intervention plan so everyone is on the same page and working together.
  • Gather all the information about the addiction, possible treatment centres, and the particular needs of a person struggling with addiction
  • Write individual statements focused on love and honesty to communicate to the addict how their addiction affects the relationships with the people in their lives.
  • Offer to support the addict through recovery.
  • Set clear boundaries and consequences should your loved one refuse help.
  • Practice reciting statements to avoid blame and uncontrolled emotions
  • Manage personal expectations. Healing does not follow an exact timeline; intervention may not work the first time.
  • Hold each other accountable. As the intervention team, it is essential to follow up with each other and the addict to ensure everyone feels supported and safe.


With assistance from Andy and the interventionist team, we can find the right treatment fit for your loved one and provide safe intervention for families in the Indian community.

Treatment Centers

Punjabi families searching for south Asian addiction services treatment centres for Punjabi clients often become overwhelmed with all the potential treatment options and the prospect of asking the wrong questions when doing research.

It’s important to remember that families do not need to have all the information to begin treatment for their loved ones. Healing and counselling is something the family can work through together with their therapist. Andy offers treatment centres throughout Canada, the US, and Asia and helps families find their loved ones a treatment centre and counsellor that fits their unique needs. By initiating conversations around topics like treatment costs or the family’s desire for male-only, female-only, or co-ed care, Andy ensures the intervention and addiction services team meets families’ needs

Types of Treatment

Addiction affects the whole family to some degree. 

Andy recognizes the importance of providing services to help the addict and the entire family recover and repair their relationship. Part of the holistic approach include assistance with financial damage, psychological issues, overcoming ingrained habits and coping mechanisms, and communication with the addict’s employers to ensure 

Counselling is an essential step in addiction recovery, which is why Andy and the intervention and addiction services team recognize the importance of providing Punjab and Hindi speaking counsellors. 

Looking into specific factors like mental health that lead to the initial impulse to use drugs is incredibly important. By providing a holistic approach, Andy and his team can get to the heroin drug addiction root, giving Punjabi clients with all the information necessary to get started on the road to recovery.

Once an addict has completed the rehabilitation process, our counsellors ensure recovering addicts and their families have the resources they need to continue healing. 

By providing information for organizations like narcotics anonymous, addicts can attend group meetings with other recovering addicts. Group meetings let recovering addicts gain useful resources, hear similar stories and perspectives, gain strength in catharsis, and build a more extensive support system of like-minded individuals in recovery who hold each other accountable. 


With help from Andy and the intervention and addiction services team, Punjabi families can begin examining and deconstructing addictive behaviour, mental health, and the complex social factors that lead to heroin drug addiction. Andy can help Punjabi families feel safe and supported through every step of recovery.

It is important to remember how crucial intervention can be in the life of a heroin drug addict. Punjabi families can find support, compassion, and ample resources with Andy Bhatti and the intervention and addiction services team that may save your life or the life of a loved one or family member.

Start the process of healing your family and providing care for your loved one today.