Monthly Archives: November 2015

10 Fundamental components of FASD prevention from a women’s health determinants perspective


10 Fundamental components of FASD prevention from a women’s health determinants perspective

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The following ten fundamental components of FASD prevention emerged from a working session of the Network Action Team on FASD prevention. This session was held in Victoria, B.C., in March 2009, and was funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research. This consensus document weaves together a range of sources—women’s experiences, peer-reviewed research, published articles, as well as expert evidence—to create a clear message regarding the importance of FASD prevention from a women’s health determinants perspective.

1. Respectful

Respect is paramount to successful FASD prevention and treatment. It is a vital tool in the elimination of discrimination and stigma in prevention initiatives, and it is pivotal to creating an environment where women can address their health care needs.

In FASD prevention, the implementation of respect as a fundamental principle involves creating conditions for women to discuss their experiences, identifying coping strategies and healing processes to promote women’s wellness, and supporting the inclusion and full participation of women in their own health, care, and well-being.


Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. 2001. Respect is Key: A conversation with Pam Woodsworth. Ottawa, ON CCSA.

Four Worlds Centre for Development Learning. July 2003. Making the Path by Walking It: A Comprehensive Evaluation of the Women and Children’s Healing and Recovery Program Pilot. Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Cochrane, AB.

Poole, N. 2000. Evaluation Report of the Sheway Project for High-risk Pregnant and Parenting Women. Vancouver, BC: BCCEWH.

2. Relational

Throughout life the process of building relationships and connecting with other people can be extremely important. Women who are most at risk for having a child at risk of FASD experience some form of social disconnection, whether that be from their friends or family, the larger community, or other types of relational engagement.

It is vital to FASD prevention to acknowledge that the process of growth, change, healing, and prevention does not happen in isolation. It moves forward through interactions with others in long-term, supportive, trustbased relationships. Therefore, paying attention to the relational dynamics of interpersonal connections in day-to-day life, as well as in comprehensive treatment settings, can enhance the successes of FASD prevention initiatives.


Hartling, LM, 2003. Prevention Through Connection: A Collaborative approach to women’s substance abuse. Stone Centre, Wellesley College: Wellesley, MA.

The Breaking the Cycle Compendium: Volume 1: The Roots of Relationship. Edited by M. Leslie. 2007 Mothercraft Press.

Marcellus, L. (2004). The ethics of relation: Public health nurses and child protection clients. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 51(4), 414-420.

3. Self-Determining

Women have the right to both determine and lead their own paths of growth and change. Although it may run contrary to many prevailing beliefs in substance use treatment and prevention approaches, self-determination is fundamental to successful FASD prevention.

As such, the role of health care and other support systems in FASD prevention should be to support women’s autonomy, decision making, and control of resources, so as to facilitate self-determined care. In order to provide this support most effectively, health systems should involve women in designing models of care, and individually, women should be able to determine their own process of care.


Geller, J., K. E. Brown, and S. Srikameswaran. 2007. Motivational Approaches to Assessing and Treating Women with Disordered Eating and Substance Use Problems. In Highs & Lows: Canadian Perspectives on Women and Substance Use, eds. N. Poole and L. Greaves, 349–354. Toronto, ON: CAMH Press.

Rutman, D., M. Callahan, et al. 2000. Substance Use and Pregnancy: Conceiving Women in the Policy Process. Ottawa, ON: Status of Women Canada.

Cailleaux, M. & Dechief, L. (2007). “I’ve Found My Voice”: Wraparound as a promising strength-based team process for high-risk pregnant and early parenting women. UCFV Research Review, 1(2).

woman4. Women-Centered

Women-centred FASD prevention and care recognizes that, in addition to being inextricably linked to fetal and child health, family health, and community health, women’s health is important in and of itself. Empowerment, safety, and social-justice, are all key considerations to this perspective.

Women-centred prevention and care involves women as informed participants in their own health care, and attends to women’s overall health and safety. It also acknowledges women’s right to control their own reproductive health, avoids unnecessary medicalization, takes into account women’s roles as caregivers, and recognizes women’s patterns and preferences in obtaining health care.


Covington, S. S., C. Burke, S. M.A. Keaton, and C. Norcott. 2008. Evaluation of a trauma-informed and gender-responsive intervention for women in drug treatment. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. 40(S5): 387–398.

Greaves, L., Poole, N., & Cormier, R. (2002). Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Women’s Health: Setting a Women-Centred Research Agenda. Vancouver, BC: BC Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health.

Parkes, T., Poole, N., Salmon, A., Greaves, L., and C. Urquhart. 2008. Double Exposure: A Better Practices Review on Alcohol Interventions During Pregnancy Vancouver, BC: British Columbia Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health.

5. Harm Reduction

Oriented Preventing FASD involves understanding substance use and addictions, including the full range of patterns of alcohol and other substance use, influences on use, consequences of use, pathways to and from use, and readiness to change.

Harm-reduction strategies help to minimize known harms associated with substance use and enable connections and supports to develop between women who use substances and available healing services. A harm-reduction oriented response is pragmatic, it helps women with immediate goals; provides a variety of options and supports; and focuses not only on attending to the substance use itself, but on reducing the scope of harms that are more broadly associated with use.


Boyd, S., and L. Marcellus. 2007. With Child, Substance Use During Pregnancy: A Woman-Centred Approach. Halifax, NS: Fernwood Publishing.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. August 2004. Substance abuse treatment and care for women: Case studies and lessons learned.

Smith, D., Edwards, N., Varcoe, C., Martens, P., & Davies, B. 2006. Bringing safety and responsiveness into the forefront of care for pregnant and parenting Aboriginal People. Advances in Nursing Science, 29(2), E27-E44.

Sad woman's face6. Trauma-Informed

Multiple and complex links exist between experiences of violence, experiences of trauma, substance use, addictions, and mental health. It is important to understand that at times, research initiatives, policy approaches, interventions, and general interactions with service providers can in themselves be retraumatizing for women.

When a woman seeks out treatment or support services, practitioners have no way of knowing whether she has a history of trauma. Trauma-informed systems and
services take into account the influence of trauma and violence on women’s health, understand trauma-related symptoms as attempts to cope, and integrate this knowledge into all aspects of service delivery, policy, and service organization.


Markoff, L. S., B. G. Reed, R. D. Fallot, D. E. Elliott, and P. Bjelajac. 2005. Implementing Trauma-Informed Alcohol and Other Drug and Mental Health Services for Women: Lessons Learned in a Multisite Demonstration Project. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 75(4): 525-539

Harris, M., and R.D. Fallot. 2001. Envisioning a traumainformed service system: A vital paradigm shift. In M. Harris & R.D. Fallot, (Eds.), Using Trauma Theory to Design Service Systems (pp. 3-22). San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Cory, J. and Dechief, L. 2007. SHE Framework: A Safety and Health Enhancement Framework for Women Experiencing Abuse. Vancouver: Woman Abuse Response Program. BC Women’s Hospital and Health Sciences Centre. <>

7. Health Promoting

Promoting women’s health involves attending to how the social determinants of health affect overall health. In the context of FASD prevention, health promotion approaches draw the lens back so that FASD can be understood in its broader context. Prevention and care is not simply about alcohol use.

Social determinants of health like poverty, experience of violence, stigma and racial discrimination, nutrition, access to prenatal care, physical environment, experiences of loss or stress, social context and isolation, housing, and so forth all come together to holistically influence FASD risk factors, prevention, and care.

Accordingly, holistic, multidisciplinary, cross-sectoral, health promoting responses to these complex and interconnected needs are vital to successful FASD prevention.


Poole, N. 2003. Mother and Child Reunion: Preventing Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder by Promoting Women’s Health. Vancouver, BC: BCCEWH.

Salmon, A. 2007. Beyond Shame and Blame: Aboriginal Mothers and Barriers to Care. In Highs & Lows: Canadian Perspectives on Women and Substance Use. Eds. N. Poole and L. Greaves, 227 – 235. Toronto, ON: CAMH Press.

Vandiver, V. 2007. Health promotion as brief treatment: strategies for women with co-morbid health and mental health conditions. Brief Treatment & Crisis Intervention 7(3): 161-175.

8. Culturally Safe

Women who seek help from service agencies need to feel respected, safe, and accepted for who they are, with regard to both their cultural identity and personal behaviours. Recognition of the influence of colonization and migration on a woman’s identity is important, as is recognition of the benefits of building on individual and community resilience.

Service providers must be aware of their own cultural identity, socio-historical location in relation to service recipients, and pre-commitments to certain beliefs and ways of conceptualizing notions of health, wellness, and parenting. Respect for cultural location and having one’s values and preferences taken into account in any service encounter is extremely important, as is respect for and accommodation of a woman’s interest in culturally specific healing.


Ball, J., 2008. Cultural safety in practice with children, families and communities. School of Child and Youth Care, University of Victoria.

Hanson, G. (2009). A Relational Approach to Cultural Competence. In Restoring the Balance: First Nations Women, Community, and Culture. Eds. G. Guthrie-Valaskakis, M. Dion Stout, and E. Guimond, 237–264. Winnipeg, MB: University of Manitoba Press.

Dell, C. A., & Clark, S. (2009). The role of the treatment provider in Aboriginal women’s healing from illicit substance abuse. Saskatoon, SK.

9. Supportive of Mothering

FASD prevention must recognize the importance of supporting women’s choices and roles as mothers, as well as the possible short- and long-term influences that a loss of custody may have on a woman. Prevention and care approaches need to support the range of models for mothering, including part-time parenting, open adoption, kinship and elder support, shared parenting, inclusive fostering, extended and created family, and so forth.

Further, successful FASD prevention must attend to the importance of pacing and support in transitions for women as they move between mothering roles.


Abrahams, R. R., Kelly, S.A., Payne, S., et al. 2007. Rooming-in compared with standard care for newborns of mothers using methadone or heroin. Canadian Family Physician 53: 1722– 1730.

McGuire, M., Zorzi, R., McGuire, M., & Engman, A. (2006). Early Childhood Development Addiction Initiative: Final Evaluation Report v.2. Toronto, ON: Ministry of Health and Long Term Care: Mental Health and Addiction Branch.

Watkins, M. and D. Chovanec. 2006. Women working toward their goals through AADAC Enhanced Services for Women. Edmonton, AB: AADAC.

10. Uses a Disability Lens

Women with substance use and mental health problems may also have disabilities, including FASD. Women need care and prevention responses that fit with what we know about the spectrum of disabilities related to FASD.


Classen, C., Smylie, D & Hapke, E. (2008) Screening for FASD in women seeking treatment for substance abuse. Poster presentation at “Gender Matters” Conference, Toronto, Ontario, May 2008.

Dubovsky, D. (2009). Adapting motivational interviewing for individuals with FASD. Workshop presentation made at National Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders conference: Addressing social and behavioural issues across the lifespan. Madison Wisconsin, April 30 – May 2, 2009.

Self-reported victimization, 2014

500px-Government_of_Canada_logo_svgReleased by Statistics Canada: 2015-11-23

In 2014, one in five Canadians 15 years and older reported that in the 12 months preceding the survey they had been the victim of at least one of the eight crimes measured by the General Social Survey (GSS). This proportion was one in four 10 years earlier.

The rate of self-reported victimization decreases for all crimes except sexual assault

The violent victimization rate, which includes sexual assault, robbery and physical assault, was 76 incidents per 1,000 people in 2014, down 28% from 2004. The household victimization rate, which includes breaking and entering, theft of motor vehicles or parts, theft of household property and vandalism, was 143 incidents per 1,000 households, down 42% from 2004. A rate of 73 thefts of personal property per 1,000 people was recorded in 2014, a decline of 21% compared with 10 years earlier.

Despite significant methodological differences between self-reported victimization data collected through the GSS, and police-reported crime data collected through the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey, both show similar overall trends over this 10-year period.

Victimization rates declined for almost all crimes measured. The largest declines compared with 2004 were for theft of motor vehicles (-59%), vandalism (-49%) and robbery (-39%). Sexual assault, for which the rate remained stable over this period, was the lone crime measured where there was no decline.

Manitoba posts the highest victimization rates among the provinces

Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec recorded the lowest violent victimization rates among the provinces in 2014.The largest decreases compared with 2004 were in Alberta (-51%), Nova Scotia (-40%), British Columbia (-35%) and Ontario (-27%).

In contrast, the drop in the rate of violent victimization was not statistically significant in Manitoba, the province with the highest rate of violent victimization in 2014.

Every Atlantic province and Ontario had household victimization rates below the average of all the provinces in 2014. The provinces west of Ontario had above-average rates, with Manitoba posting the highest household victimization rate.

The household victimization rate of every province decreased compared with 2004, except for Prince Edward Island and Quebec, where rates were similar to those recorded 10 years earlier.

Violent victimization rate higher for women than for men

Contrary to previous results, women reported a higher violent victimization rate in 2014 than men (85 incidents per 1,000 women compared with 67 incidents per 1,000 men). This difference was mainly attributable to the relative stability in the rate of sexual assaults, an offence mostly involving female victims, along with a decrease in the rates of other violent crimes, which mostly involved male victims.

Youth, people who use drugs or binge drink have a higher risk of violent victimization

Age was the most significant factor associated with the risk of violent victimization. The rate of violent victimization was highest among youth aged 20 to 24 years and decreased gradually with age.

Youth were more likely to report activities that could expose them to a higher risk of violent victimization, such as going out every night, using drugs or binge drinking. Even after taking these factors into account, youth had a higher risk of violent victimization, though the risk decreased approximately 3% for each additional year of age.

Canadians who reported using drugs had a rate of violent victimization four times higher than non-users (256 per 1,000 people, compared with 62 per 1,000). The rate was 436 per 1,000 among those who reported using cannabis daily and 610 per 1,000 among those who used drugs other than cannabis in the previous month.

Binge drinking, that is, five or more drinks on a single occasion, was also associated with a higher risk of violent victimization. Those who reported at least one binge drinking episode in the preceding month recorded a rate of 127 incidents per 1,000 people. That compares with a rate of 58 per 1,000 for those who reported no binge drinking episode. However, there was no increased risk associated with frequent consumption of small amounts of alcohol.

Mental health and a history of victimization during childhood are associated with the risk of violent victimization

Mental health was another factor associated with violent victimization. Overall, the rate for those who reported having a mental health-related disability or learning disability, or who self-assessed their mental health as being poor or fair was more than four times higher than for those who assessed their mental health as being excellent or very good (230 per 1,000 people compared with 53 per 1,000).

People who had been abused by an adult during childhood, meaning being slapped, pushed, hit or sexually assaulted before the age of 15, reported a rate of violent victimization in 2014 that was more than double that of those who had not been abused in childhood.

Aboriginal women are at higher risk of violent victimization

As in the past, Aboriginal people as a whole had higher victimization rates than non-Aboriginal people. The difference was particularly pronounced among women. In 2014, Aboriginal women had a rate of 115 sexual assaults per 1,000 women, compared with 35 per 1,000 non-Aboriginal women.

Certain factors associated with the risk of violent victimization were more common among Aboriginal people than the non-Aboriginal population. For example, Aboriginal people were more likely to have been victims of violence in their childhood, to have had a mental health condition, to have used drugs, or to have a history of homelessness. Aboriginal people were also, on average, younger. While these factors explained the higher rates among Aboriginal men, they only partially explained the higher rates among Aboriginal women.

One in seven victims of violent crime report symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress

Most victims of violent crime had emotional reactions as a result of the incident, most often anger. In 2014, one in seven victims of violent crime reported experiencing long-term effects consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Among household crimes, robbery was the most likely to have an emotional or psychological impact. Nearly 1 in 10 victims of robbery reported experiencing long-term effects consistent with suspected post-traumatic stress disorder.

Financial loss was the most common consequence of household crime. Most incidents (81%) led to a loss and nearly one in five (19%) involved losses of $1,000 or more.

One-third of criminal victimization incidents are reported to the police

Just under one-third (31%) of victimization incidents were brought to the attention of the police, a slightly smaller proportion than 10 years earlier (34%). Specifically, 28% of violent crimes, 36% of household crimes and 29% of thefts of personal property were reported to the police.

Overall, the more serious the incident or the greater the resulting loss, the more likely the police were notified. For example, incidents resulting in injury (45%), those involving a weapon (53%) or those resulting in a financial loss of $1,000 or more (70%) were more likely to be reported to the police.

Sexual assault was an exception, however. Although it was the most serious crime measured by the survey, only 5% of sexual assaults were reported to the police, a proportion relatively similar to that posted in 2004.

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The 2nd Floor Women’s Recovery Centre Puts Addiction Issues on the Spotlight

Edmonton and area Fetal Alcohol Network Society reports that The 2nd Floor Women’s Recovery Centre and the Lakeland Centre for FASD hosted an indoor BBQ and had a presentation that highlighted the purpose of National Addiction Week (NAAW).  The 2nd Floor is was founded in June 2012 and they provide supports and services for women affected by addiction.  To date, they have served 77 women from across Alberta who have sought treatment for a drug or alcohol-related problems.

On Nov. 18, the 2nd Floor Women’s Recovery Centre put the spotlight on addiction.

Each year for a week in November, the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA) joins organizations across the country in honouring National Addictions Awareness Week (NAAW).

During NAAW, organizations host free events and presentations to bring attention to addiction.

It provides an opportunity for Canadians to learn more about substance abuse prevention, talk about treatment and recovery and work towards positive change.

According to the CCSA…

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Women and alcohol: Montreal panel sounds alarm

Women and alcohol: Montreal panel sounds alarm

A sommelier serves wine at the wine spa in the Hakone Yunessun spa resort near Tokyo.


Pinky Vodka. Tequila Rose. Snow Queen Vodka. Skinnygirl cocktails.

Is gender-targeted marketing driving women and girls to drink?

Data on alcohol sales suggest it does, author Ann Dowsett Johnston said Wednesday in Montreal at a National Roundtable on Girls, Women and Alcohol.

Women’s rate of alcohol use is directly related to marketing, what Dowsett Johnston calls “the pinking of the market,” starting in mid-1990s with Alcopops, or sweet alcoholic coolers, and bottles with such names as Girls Night Out Wine, Happy Bitch Wine and Skinny Girl Vodka.

Women are catching up to the men when it comes to drinking, and that’s a global trend in much of the developing world, said Dowsett Johnston, auth​or of Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol, at the panel discussion that was part of a conference by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

“The richer the country, the narrower the gap,” said Dowsett Johnston, who was the vice-principal of McGill University when she began wrestling with her own drinking problem, as did her mother while she was a child.

“We outnumber men in post-secondary institutions, we go toe to toe in the workforce, we’re half the cabinet in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government. We’re doing well as women. But the one big thing, especially for young women, it’s the one big thing that’s going sideways for girls and women — risky drinking.”

It’s not the rare drunk driver or the homeless man sitting on a park bench with a brown paper bag, she said. “We don’t think it’s our sister or our mother, ourselves, because it’s the highly functioning, well-educated professional woman who is in trouble.”

Wine is the modern woman’s steroid that enables her to do “heavy lifting in a really complex world,” Dowsett Johnston wrote in Drink, it’s “a way to de-stress fast.” One or two glasses of wine become three, four and five.

Dowsett Johnston was recovering from her own battle with alcohol when she published a series of stories that eventually led to her book Drink. The data then showed a heavy spike in drinking among two age groups, 18-24 and 24 to 35, and current data is pointing to teens and preteen youths.

Young girls are drinking more than underage boys, according to a fact sheet prepared by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Binge drinking among teenagers, downing five or more drinks in a couple of hours, is a major public health issue, and recent University of Toronto research shows alcohol consumption among middle school youths, ages 12 to 14, is also spiking.

“Usually he’s drinking beer and she’s drinking vodka or shots. She’s two-thirds his size and she probably didn’t eat before she went out on the date,” Dowsett Johnston

However, extreme drinking in the era of social media is a different beast. “You black out and you’re on Facebook. You get into trouble with guys, as we know from the Rehtaeh Parsons story, and you’re outed.”

Dowsett Johnston co-founded the national roundtable to open a discussion on “our alcogenic culture” that feels very comfortable with the most common drug: booze. She hopes to drive change by pressing on three levers, pricing, accessibility and marketing.

Alcohol use is linked with more than 200 diseases and binge drinking in women is linked to breast cancer, rising cases of liver failure, heart attack and stroke. Also, violence, date rape and sexual assault.

For youth and women the effects of drinking are exacerbated, said Catherine Paradis, senior research and policy analyst on alcohol for the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

“We know in youth that the brain is underdeveloped and is extremely susceptible to toxic substances,” she said. “And women are more vulnerable to drinking for biological reasons.”

Women and Addiction: The silent victims

MONTRÉAL, Nov. 16 2015 /CNW Telbec/ – During National Addictions Awareness Week, which runs from November 15 to 21, Portage is putting the spotlight on the challenges that women face with regards to getting help with drug addiction.

Many women who suffer from drug or alcohol dependency have been victims of abuse, violence, or unhealthy relationships and their drug use is often closely tied with these struggles. Women, and more particularly mothers, face discrimination, prejudice, and stigmatisation with regards to their drug problems, and often hesitate to ask for help as a consequence.


The UN World Drug Report 2015 states the unfortunate reality that although one in three drug users are women, they represent only one in five people in drug treatment.

In addition to a general lack of appropriate rehabilitation services for women, poverty, prostitution, violence, stigma, and, in some cases, the fear of losing custody of their children are among the obstacles discouraging women from seeking help with drug abuse. This issue is even more pressing among First Nations women.

Sad woman's face“Guilt and shame are stopping many women from reaching out for help,” states Peter Howlett, President of Portage, a non-profit organisation with nine addiction rehabilitation service centres in Québec and two others in Ontario and New Brunswick. “We must do everything possible to facilitate access to treatment.”

Because drug abuse is often intertwined with unhealthy relationships and poor self-image, all of Portage’s treatment programs are gender-specific, with two distinct communities – one for men and the other for women.

“Without the pressure of being around members of the opposite sex, women are better able to identify the root causes of their drug problems and work through them,” says Peter Vamos, Executive Director of Portage. “They feel more comfortable and can make better progress in their therapy.”


Portage’s Mother and Child Program, which has helped more than 1,300 women and their children, responds to the specific needs of drug addicted mothers, by offering them the opportunity to seek treatment while maintaining custody of their child.

“If my son would’ve been taken away from me, I wouldn’t have come to treatment,” explains a resident. “Having him here with me is everything.”

During the day, while the mothers are in treatment, the children attend the centre’s on-site daycare, where specialised educators help them work through any developmental delays or behavioural problems that may have arisen because of the mother’s past drug abuse. After daycare, the mothers spend all their time with their child, strengthening their bond and learning how to better manage the stresses of parenting.

A recent study done by consulting firm Sogémap shows that as a result of living in the community setting at Portage, the children learn how to better express their feelings, better manage their emotions, and trust others. Their ability to solve problems, their gross and fine motor skills, as well as personal and social skills also improve.


In addition to the therapy provided in its drug addiction rehabilitation centres, Portage provides social reintegration and aftercare services to its graduates. These programs help clients apply the tools and competencies acquired in therapy to the outside world, while providing the necessary support during this very vulnerable transition period.


“We may not see them or hear them, but these women need our help,” states Peter Howlett.  “As a society, we must reach out to these silent victims and get them into treatment.”

At Portage, they can work through their drug addiction issues in a safe and secure environment, surrounded by other women who are working through similar struggles, with a treatment plan based on their specific needs.


Over nearly 45 years, Portage has helped tens of thousands of people overcome their drug addiction issues. Portage’s services, provided free of charge to youth, adults, pregnant women and mothers with young children, and people with mental illness, are accredited with exemplary standing by Accreditation Canada. Portage operates nine service centres in Québec: in Montéal, Prévost, Québec City, and Saint-Malachie. Two other centres serve youth in Ontario and Atlantic Canada.

For more information, please visit

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Check it out: Complex Service Needs Newsletter

Hot off the presses, Alberta Health Services and the Alberta Government have just released their ‘Complex Service Needs’ Newsletter. Take a peak!

Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 11.38.23 AM

Click to download!

Planning a Safe Holiday Party: Ways to Keep the Celebrations Joyous

Due to the dangers and liabilities involved, companies and individuals alike are coming to the realization that alcohol should not be the main attraction at holiday parties, and there are ways to organize fun, yet safe, festivities that will prevent family and friends from becoming the next alcohol- or drug-related statistic.

Traditionally, alcohol has been a big part of holiday celebrations, but today we know there is danger involved in providing “open bars” to anyone and everyone.


The percentage of alcohol- and drug-related traffic incidents increase dramatically during this time of the year.

In recent years, lawsuits have been successfully brought against employers, restaurants, bars and even friends of those who have died or been injured after leaving a holiday party or gathering, placing the liability for those deaths in the hands of those who serve the victims too much alcohol.

Consequently, communities, families, offices and students across the country are challenging the alcohol-based holiday party, according to The National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information. The NCADI offers the following information in hopes of encouraging safer holiday gatherings.

Get the Party Started

  • Encourage lively conversation and group activities, such as games that keep the focus on fun – not on alcohol.
  • Prepare plenty of foods so guests will not drink on an empty stomach, and avoid too many salty foods which tend to make people thirsty.
  • Never serve alcohol to someone under the legal drinking age, and never ask children to serve alcohol.
  • Make it clear that no drug use will be tolerated.

If You Choose to Serve Alcohol

  • Offer a variety of non-alcoholic beverages for those who prefer not to drink alcohol. You could even have a contest to create non-alcoholic drink recipes.
  • If you prepare an alcoholic punch, use a non-carbonated base, like fruit juice. Alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream faster with a carbonated base.
  • Don’t let guests mix their own drinks. Choose a reliable bartender, who abstains from alcohol while working and keeps track of the size and number of drinks that guests consume.

Before Your Guests Depart

  • Stop serving alcohol one hour before the party ends, because only time sobers an individual who has been drinking.
  • If some guests have too much to drink, drive them home or arrange for alternate transportation.
  • Keep the phone numbers of several cab companies handy.
  • Don’t let anyone who is obviously intoxicated drive. If they insist, take their keys, ask for help from other guests, or temporarily disable the car. If all else fails, call the police. Remember, you can be held responsible!

Facts to Remember

  • More than half of Americans are not current drinkers, so not everyone at your party will want to drink alcohol.
  • Impaired driving can occur with very low blood alcohol percentages. For most people,even one drink can affect driving skills.
  • Almost 40 percent of all holiday traffic fatalities involve alcohol.
  • Holidays are especially dangerous because more people celebrate by over-drinking, making themselves susceptible to alcohol-related troubles.
  • Coffee cannot sober up someone who has had too much to drink. Only time can do that. It takes one hour to metabolize one drink.

For more information on organizing alcohol-safe and drug-free parties, contact SAMHSA’s National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information at 1-800-729-6686.

Source: NCADI. “Party Planning Tips.” Healthy Holidays November 2001.

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