Monthly Archives: February 2016

‘Thanks Alcohol’ campaign highlights poor decisions that can lead to binge drinking

‘Thanks Alcohol’ campaign highlights poor decisions that can lead to binge drinking

This image from the province's new ad campaign is called 'The Party Puker.'

This image from the province’s new ad campaign is called ‘The Party Puker.’ (Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission)

The Alberta government has launched an edgy new campaign it hopes will encourage young people to think twice about binge drinking.

It likely comes as no surprise that some university students have difficulty knowing where to draw the line when it comes to a night out.

“I think it’s a really big problem, because there’s not enough information about it and it’s still considered the cool thing to do,” third-year student Kathleen Degeer said Friday.

Ted Hansen

Third-year student Ted Hansen, dressed up for Halloween, says many students don’t know the meaning of moderation. (CBC)


“Kids don’t quite know moderation, so they end up overdoing it and could find themselves in a dangerous situation,” said third-year student Ted Hansen.

To help, the Alberta Liquor and Gaming Commission has invested $200,000 into its “Thanks Alcohol” campaign, which aims to encourage students to think about the choices they make when drinking.

“Thanks Alcohol” was designed to pick up where more earnest campaigns, such as those produced by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), leave off, making the message more relatible for students.

“It’s edgy and it’s fun,” said Bill Robinson, the CEO of the ALGC. “What we really wanted to do was get a really serious message across, but we wanted to catch the attention of that age group between 18 and 24 years of age.”

Bill Robinson

Bill Robinson, CEO of the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, at Friday’s launch of the new ‘Thanks Alcohol’ ad campaign. (CBC)


To do that, the ads draw attention to some of most common drunk personality types — such as the “Party Puker,” the “Frequent Fighter” and “The Waterworks.”

Visitors to the campaign website can take a quiz to find out what kind of drinking personality they have.

“We hope you’ll see yourself in that and maybe you won’t find yourself in that [role] again and you’ll change some of your attitudes towards drinking” said Robinson.

“If you haven’t, it’s a good wake-up call for people to see the types of things that can happen if you over-consume.”

And some students say the different take on a familiar message may make all the difference.

“I think a lot of students are sarcastic and they are able to relate to it better,” said Hanna Wicks.

“And it’s also a way of taking the onus off of alcohol and saying ‘Hey, I made that decision to drink, I made that decision to keep drinking. I can’t just blame it on the alcohol –  I did this myself.’”

The $400,000 ad campaign will run for two weeks on the radio and online. Ads will also be posted in bars around the province.


Disclaimer:  The views and opinions in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the FASD Prevention Conversation Project.

Number of female binge drinkers on rise in Alberta while young men continue to party to excess

alcohol2Number of female binge drinkers on rise in Alberta while young men continue to party to excess

Canada’s own infant health emergency

Canada’s own infant health emergency

Brazil Zika Abortion Backlash

Canadians have watched with dismay and compassion as the Zika virus takes its toll in South America. The vivid images of totally unprepared young mothers cuddling newborns afflicted with microcephaly — abnormally small heads indicative of brain damage — are heart-wrenching. It’s not difficult to imagine the future suffering of these children and families.

The virus is present in more than 20 southern countries, especially Brazil, and both regional and international responses have been swift and dramatic. Thousands of soldiers have been dispatched door-to-door in areas where infectious mosquitoes breed, dispensing sleeping nets and information about the apparent links between the virus and birth defects. Both the World Health Organization and World Bank have offered help. The Zika virus is now an official global health emergency.

 So far, it’s estimated that immediate Zika costs in affected areas will exceed $3 billion, much of this in lost trade and tourism opportunities. The Public Health Agency of Canada has rated the risk of the Zika virus in Canada as “very low.”

The rapid response to the Zika crisis is a bitter and ironic tableau for Canadians engaged in a long, thankless struggle with a far more insidious enemy: FASD — fetal alcohol syndrome disorder.

About 3,000 Canadian babies are born every year with prenatal, alcohol-related brain injuries at a cost of about $8 billion annually. FASD is Canada’s leading cause of preventable birth disabilities.

FASD is a global affliction, the result of drinking during pregnancy. It is known to occur in every class and culture, but emerges especially in isolated communities living in conditions of extreme poverty. It has ravaged Canada’s indigenous population, particularly in northern remote areas where unemployment, poor health care, and inadequate and overcrowded housing prevail.

Unlike children with microencephaly, FASD in children is rarely detectable or diagnosed at birth. Children with FASD may have average or above-average intelligence. Complications often may not appear until school age. The handicaps it imposes are various and complex; they include faulty reasoning, depression, poor emotional and impulse control, exaggerated susceptibility to the influence of others, violence, and drug and alcohol addiction.

As the newborn victims of the Zika virus are likely to be, Canada’s FASD children are innocents facing a life sentence with no known cure. Only the country’s health-care professionals are aware of the urgency surrounding supports for today’s kids and preventing FASD altogether.

But the national conversation about alcohol-induced birth injuries has been botched. Earlier and misplaced condemnation of desperate drinking mothers overwhelmed by their circumstances may have given way to a more supportive approach, but otherwise, simple avoidance of the reality of FASD prevails. In heartfelt public discussions of the issues aboriginal leaders are tackling, the role of FASD is rarely mentioned. Those include homelessness, the number of children in care, runaways, high levels of youth suicide and the disproportionate number of indigenous men and women in Canada’s prisons.

One point frequently made in private is the sardonic idea that the white man is the aboriginal person’s most challenging burden. FASD fuels employment for everyone — in health care, in law enforcement, in the courts, in social work, in jails — jobs for everyone, except for aboriginal peoples.

The federal government has proclaimed its intention to rebuild Canada’s relationship with First Nations peoples into one that can be described as “nation to nation,” a partnership of genuine equals. Its priorities so far appear to be involving indigenous peoples in environmental decisions, and getting to the truth behind Canada’s missing and murdered aboriginal women, both of which are long overdue.

The prevention of FASD and the abject poverty it produces need to be added to the prime minster’s list.

Lesley Hughes is a Winnipeg writer.

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Alcohol exposure during pregnancy affects multiple generations

Alcohol exposure during pregnancy affects multiple generations


When a mother drinks alcohol during pregnancy, even a small dose, she can increase the chances that the next three generations may develop alcoholism, according to a new study from Binghamton University.

A research team led by Nicole Cameron, assistant professor of psychology at Binghamton University, was the first to investigate the effects of alcohol consumption during on alcohol-related behavior (consumption and sensitivity to the effect of alcohol) on generations that were not directly exposed to alcohol in the uterus during the pregnancy.

Pregnant rats received the equivalent of one glass of wine, four days in a row, at gestational days 17-20, the equivalent of the second trimester in humans. Juvenile male and female offspring were then tested for water or alcohol consumption. Adolescent males were tested for sensitivity to alcohol by injecting them with a high-alcohol dose, which made them unresponsive (drunk on their back), and measuring the time it took them to recover their senses (back on their four paws). The results suggest that if a mother drinks during pregnancy, even just a little bit, she increases the risk that her progeny will become alcoholic.

“Our findings show that in the rat, when a mother consumes the equivalent of one glass of wine four times during the pregnancy, her offspring and grand-offspring, up to the third generation, show increased alcohol preference and less sensitivity to alcohol,” said Cameron. “Thus, the offspring are more likely to develop alcoholism. This paper is the first to demonstrate trans-generational effects of during pregnancy on alcohol-related behavior in offspring.”

To date, no study has shown a transgenerational effect of prenatal ethanol exposure on in the second or third generation. Other research investigated the effects of alcohol exposure during pregnancy studied the effects only on the fetuses directly exposed or the effects on cellular activity over multiple generations, but never alcohol-related behaviors over multiple generations.

Cameron and her team recently received a National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism grant to continue the research on the transgenerational effects of gestational alcohol exposure.

“We now need to identify how this effect is pass through multiple generations by investigating the effects  has on the genome and epigenome (molecules that control gene translation),” said Cameron.

This research was conducted in collaboration with Michael Nizhnikov from South Connecticut University.

The study, “Trans-generational transmission of the effect of gestational ethanol exposure on ethanol use-related behavior,” was published Feb. 15 in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

More information: Michael E. Nizhnikov et al. Transgenerational Transmission of the Effect of Gestational Ethanol Exposure on Ethanol Use-Related Behavior, Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research (2016).DOI: 10.1111/acer.12978

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CBC News: More detox beds promised as NDP accepts mental health review

imageMore detox beds promised as NDP accepts mental health review

The provincial government says it will boost the number of addiction treatment beds available in Alberta in response to a review of mental health services.

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman made the pledge as the review’s findings were revealed this morning in Calgary.

The Valuing Mental Health report contains 32 recommendations aimed at supporting mental health by strengthening services for Albertans with mental illness and addictions.

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said the province plans to act on all of the recommendations, however six of them have been singled out for priority action at an estimated cost of $4.5 million.

“It’s going to take time — 32 recommendations are not a small feat,” she said.

The six priority actions:

  • Eight new medical detox beds for adults will be created in Lethbridge, and 20 beds will be converted in Red Deer.
  • Access to addiction treatment in Calgary will be expanded with the addition of three new detox beds for children and youth.
  • An opiate addiction action plan will be developed in co-operation with First Nations communities.
  • Technology-based solutions will be made a priority with the development of a child and youth mental health website this spring.
  • Develop a performance-monitoring framework to track results.
  • Establish an Addiction and Mental Health Implementation team to work with community and health partners to c-oordinate implementation of the report.

Hoffman said implementation of the remaining 26 recommendations will have to happen over time given the province’s tight fiscal situation.

“Some of these have very significant monetary requirements attached to them,” she said. “Obviously I wish oil was at $100 a barrel and not hovering around $30.”

‘We can and must do better’

The review was led by Liberal Leader Dr. David Swann​ and submitted to Health Minister Sarah Hoffman just before Christmas.

“The current mental health system is not meeting the needs of an increasing number of Albertans. We can and must do better. Unfortunately, this is not the first time Albertans have heard this,” he said in a release.

“Successful implementation of the mental health review will require a higher level of leadership from Alberta Health, and the new AHS board, than that provided by previous governments. Today’s six priority recommendations are an excellent start.”

Sheldon Kennedy, whose child advocacy centre works with victims of child abuse, praised the report for singling out what he views as the biggest problem with Alberta’s system of mental health care service — a lack of co-ordination among partner agencies. 

“If we look at the available systems out there, I think there’s plenty,” he said. “But the reality is they don’t work together and they don’t talk to each other, and we’re not efficient and we’re not effective.”

Suicide rates on the rise 

Late last year, CBC News reported that suicide rates in Alberta had gone up dramatically in the wake of mounting job losses across the province.

There were 252 suicides in Alberta from January to June 2014. During the same period in 2015 there were 327 — a 30 per cent increase. 

Swann’s committee heard from about 400 stakeholders, received more than 100 written submissions and presentations and reviewed about 2,900 online questionnaires.

The review focused on increasing access to addiction and mental health services, addressing geographic challenges, and “ensuring services are inclusive of, and culturally appropriate for, Alberta’s diverse population,” the province says on its website. 

Alberta’s mounting fentanyl crisis was also included in the review. 

Read the full report here.

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Report of the Alberta Mental Health Review Committee: Valuing Mental Health

The Alberta Mental Health Review Committee has presented their report Valuing Mental Health to the Minister of Health. The report if the culmination of six months of study and analysis, deliberation, and consultation with thousands of Albertans. The recommendations respond to a wide range of needs in both urban and rural communities, among culturally diverse groups including First Nations, Metis, and Inuit people and communities, and among other stakeholders.


The Case for Change

One in five Albertans experience an addiction or a mental illness, sometimes both, and the impact can be devastating.  This can take a toll not only on the individual, but also on the broader community – family, friends, and colleagues at work and at school.

While we have come a long way from the days of institutionalizing the mentally ill, our attempts to address these issues over the past 20 to 30 years have fallen short. Over the years, many reports and recommendations have come and gone. There have been many talented professionals and caregivers, and a range of programs and partnerships that held real promise. Yet gaps remain in our system, and Albertans often encounter a system that is overwhelmed, fragmented, and reacting mostly to those in crisis.

Consider this:

  • Almost half of Albertans have indicated at least one of their needs was not met when they tried to get help for addiction or mental health issues. The most common complaint was that they could not get counselling.
  • Over half of the programs delivered or contracted by Alberta Health Services reported using one or more criteria to refuse client entry, and less than 30 per cent said they connected clients with another appropriate service on refusal.
  • More than 60 per cent of people with addiction and mental health issues will not seek the help they need. Stigma is one of the main reasons for this,but the complexity of the system and lack of navigation support are also factors.
  • Mental health promotion and addiction prevention – critical to reducing the incidence and severity of addiction and mental illness – accounts for only 0.1 per cent10 of costs related to the health care system.


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Click to download full report



Alcohol in pregnancy may put kids at neurological problems risk

Alcohol in pregnancy may put kids at neurological problems risk

51077758Mothers who consume alcohol during pregnancy put their children at the risk of impairment in kidney blood flow in adulthood and heightened neurological problems caused by a stroke, warns a study.

In the study conducted on mice, the blood flow analysis showed evidence for increased arterial resistance within the kidneys, a sign of possible early onset renal hypertension in the male offspring that were exposed to alcohol before birth.

“The finding indicates that in mice exposed to alcohol before birth, sex appears to play some role in whether the volume of damaged tissue in the brain correlates with functional and neurological impairment,” said lead researcher Shameena Bake, assistant professor at Texas A & M Health Science Centre in the US.

Assessing neurological damage caused by stroke, the researchers found greater levels of impairment in the six female and six male mice that had fetal alcohol exposure, compared with the dozen that were not exposed to alcohol.

 Moreover, the measurements of the stroke-damaged area of the brain were linked to scores on neurological testing in the females, but not the males, with fetal alcohol exposure, the researchers maintained.
Researchers administered ethanol to six pregnant mice twice daily for four days, from gestational day 12 through 15, and administered water to six other pregnant mice.

Using ultrasound testing, the team measured blood flow in both male and female offspring of the mice at three months of age.

The study was presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2016.

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