CBC: Family doctors should begin screening patients for alcohol addiction at age 12, B.C. guideline says

Russell Purdy, 33, suffered from addictions for years before going into treatment. The Surrey, B.C., man, who started drinking as a teenager, says new guidelines for doctors screening for alcohol addiction might encourage people to ask for help sooner. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Family doctors in British Columbia are being urged to annually screen every patient starting at age 12, in a move to prevent alcohol addiction, a leading cause of social and economic harms.

The guideline developed by the BC Centre on Substance Use and endorsed by the province encourages primary-care doctors to provide treatment and ongoing care themselves unless a complicated addiction has taken hold.

Dr. Keith Ahamad, an addiction specialist at St. Paul’s Hospital who helped write the guideline, said most alcohol-related issues including withdrawal management can be treated by family physicians but patients needing help are often not identified or treated.

“We’re not saying, ‘Oh, I think you have an alcohol addiction. Here’s a piece of paper, call this number,”’ Ahamad said in a recent interview.

“By putting the responsibility on the person with the health issue, you’re waiting for people to get really, really sick and then we’re forced to treat the downstream consequences of addiction, which for alcohol include liver disease, heart disease, various brain disorders and a whole host of cancers, not to mention the criminal justice and social fallout of alcohol addiction.”

Dr. Keith Ahamad, back left, an addiction medicine physician at St. Paul’s Hospital and a researcher a the B.C. Centre on Substance Use, is pictured while working at a new Overdose Emergency Response Centre opened by the provincial government at Vancouver General Hospital on Dec. 1, 2017. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)


There were 17,000 alcohol-related deaths across Canada in 2017, up by 2,000 fatalities from three years earlier, according to the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria.

Ahamad said B.C.’s guideline, announced Wednesday, is the first in the country. It provides family doctors with a screening tool and urges them to provide ongoing support for patients with chronic alcohol use, as well as offering physicians online training.

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The opinions expressed in this post are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the FASD Prevention Conversation Project, its stakeholders or funders.

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