British Columbians dealing with high-risk drinking or alcohol use disorder will be connected to services that better suit their needs.
- Alcohol addiction is the most common substance-use disorder in B.C.
- Over 20% of British Columbians over the age of 12 are currently taking part in heavy drinking.
- Nearly 200 health conditions are associated with long-term high alcohol consumption.
- Average consumption levels as low as one or two standard drinks per day are directly or indirectly linked to increased risk of at least eight different types of cancer, as well as numerous other serious medical conditions.
A new made-in B.C. guideline helps fill a crucial gap in the province’s system of care for people with addictions.
The Provincial Guideline for the Clinical Management of High-Risk Drinking and Alcohol Use Disorder has been announced by Judy Darcy, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, and representatives from the BC Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU), a research centre of the UBC Faculty of Medicine.
“The rise of problematic drinking in British Columbia, especially among our young people, is of deep concern to our government,” said Darcy. “The impacts are far reaching and can be devastating for youth, for families and for communities across B.C. These new guidelines are the first of their kind in B.C. They will significantly improve care for people who struggle with alcohol use, and better connect them to the supports and services they need.”
The guideline helps bridge the gap between research and practice and will be used by clinicians to manage and treat high-risk drinking and alcohol-use disorder, resulting in more people accessing better, quality care.
“The health system has generally failed people who use alcohol. The result is our hospitals and emergency rooms are filled with individuals suffering a range of consequences of alcohol addiction,” said Dr. Keith Ahamad, clinical assistant professor in the department of family medicine, clinician researcher, BCCSU, and co-chair, guidelines writing committee. “We’re left managing the devastating effects rather than preventing and treating the addiction itself. We have a responsibility to provide easy access to upstream evidence-based treatment and to look to guide people earlier toward treatment and recovery. These guidelines provide the tools to empower primary care in doing just that.”
The guideline also includes recommendations to improve early screening and intervention in primary care settings for youth aged 12 to 25 and adults, as well as new tools for withdrawal management and guidance for continuing care.
“Alcohol addiction is the most common substance-use disorder and can be devastating in terms of both health impacts and the costs to our health system, as well as the harms caused to individuals, families and our communities,” said Cheyenne Johnson, co-interim executive director, BCCSU. “Traditionally, evidence-based treatment and recovery have not been well integrated and implemented into routine clinical care. 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.”
“Alcohol addiction is the most common substance-use disorder and can be devastating in terms of both health impacts and the costs to our health system, as well as the harms caused to individuals, families and our communities.”
Cheyenne Johnson, BCCSU co-interim executive director
The guideline was created by a committee of 43 clinicians, researchers, scientists and policy experts from regional health authorities and the Ministry of Health, as well as people with lived experience. The committee intends to update the guideline every three years to ensure it is based on the most current research available.
The BCCSU will work with health-care partners to bring the guideline into practice through a number of initiatives, including:
- a series of in-person seminars throughout the province;
- new training and specialist supports for primary care teams in collaboration with Doctors of B.C. that will be implemented early next year; and
- a free, self-paced course offered in partnership with the University of British Columbia.
In addition, the BCCSU is working on two supplements to the guideline: one in partnership with the First Nations Health Authority, which will give clinicians the tools to provide culturally safe care to Indigenous peoples; and a second to support the management of alcohol-use disorder for women who are pregnant.
“The provincial guideline will increase knowledge and options for people with alcohol-use disorder,” said Dr. Nel Wieman, senior medical officer, mental health and wellness, First Nations Health Authority. “The upcoming Indigenous supplement to the guideline will address cultural safety and humility in providing holistic health care to people with AUD. It will also bravely expand the conversation about alcohol use in First Nations communities.”
Improving addictions care throughout the province is an integral part of A Pathway to Hope, B.C.’s roadmap for improving mental health and addictions care for everyone. Implementing the roadmap is a shared priority with the BC Green Party caucus, and is part of the Confidence and Supply Agreement.
- Read the guideline
- Read a summary of the guideline recommendations
- Canada’s Low Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines (Canadian Centre on Substance Use and
- Alcohol Consumption in BC (Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research)
- A Pathway to Hope
A version of this article originally appeared on the BCCSU website here.