Canada: B.C. creates first guideline in Canada for treating alcohol addiction
Guideline focuses on early prevention, including screening patients as young as 12 years old
By Ashley Wadhwani
December 17, 2019
The B.C. government will soon be rolling out a first-in-Canada guideline for doctors dealing with people suffering from alcohol addiction, as the province works to curb a rise in high-risk drinking among youth.
Alcohol addiction is the most common substance-use disorder in the province, according to BC Centre on Substance Use. Most concerning is that more than 20 per cent of British Columbians over the age of 12 are currently taking part in heavy drinking – a stat that screams for the need for early intervention, Addictions Minister Judy Darcy said during an announcement Tuesday.
Speaking at the centre in Vancouver, Darcy said that the goal of the guideline is to bridge the gap between research and practice and be used by clinicians to manage and treat high-risk drinking and alcohol-use disorder.
“The health system has generally failed people who use alcohol,” said Dr. Keith Ahamad, an addiction specialist at St. Paul’s Hospital who helped write the guideline.
“The result is our hospitals and emergency rooms are filled with individuals suffering a range of consequences of alcohol addiction. We’re left managing the devastating effects rather than preventing and treating the addiction itself.”
The guidelines will be implemented by @BCCSU through a series of in-person seminars throughout the province, working with Doctors of B.C. and a free, self-paced course offered in partnership with UBC.
Roughly 17,000 people died due to alcohol in 2017, according to the most recent data publicly available from the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria. That’s up 2,000 deaths from 2013.
Ahamad said the new resource will help family doctors and physicians – who are often the first point of contact for people who are concerned about their alcohol use – connect their patients to the care they need more easily.
The guideline also includes a focus on how doctors can improve early screening and intervention for youth as young as 12 years old, before their high-risk drinking becomes a more serious addiction.
“Traditionally, evidence-based treatment and recovery have not been well integrated and implemented into routine clinical care,” said Cheyenne Johnson, co-interim executive director at the centre.
“We’re hopeful these new guidelines will support the development of a substance-use continuum of care that identifies signs of alcohol addiction early and provides evidence-based treatment and referral to recovery services.”
Health Canada considers low-risk drinking as no more than 10 drinks a week for women, limited to two drinks per day, and up to 15 drinks a week for men, not exceeding three drinks a day.
The guideline was created by a committee of 43 clinicians and researchers in B.C., as well as people with lived experience. Darcy said that the committee will update the guideline every three years to ensure it is based on the most current research available.
Moving forward, staff with the centre will be working with Doctors of B.C. medical association to roll out the guideline province-wide through in-person seminars starting in the new year. A free, online course will also soon be offered through the University of B.C.
Researchers will also be working with the First Nations Health Authority to create a supplement of the guideline focused on culturally safe care for Indigenous peoples who are addicted to alcohol, as well as a second supplement to help woman who are pregnant.