Category Archives: General Information

PCAP – Newsletter April 2018

About the Alberta PCAP Council


The Alberta Parent-Child Assistance Program (PCAP) Council evolved from the Targeted & Indicated Prevention Training Sub-Committee reporting to the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder – Cross-Ministry Committee (FASD-CMC).  Alberta PCAP programs were in need of program-specific supports, and funders such as FASD‑CMC were in need of policy information.

The Parent-Child Assistance Program started as a federally funded research demonstration project developed by Dr Therese Grant at the University of Washington.  The primary goal of PCAP is to prevent future births of alcohol and drug-exposed children. We do this by addressing the needs of mothers and getting them stabilized in a whole host of ways.

Vision Statement

We envision a province where women with substance use issues are well supported in their communities to have healthy pregnancies and healthy families.

Mission Statement

The Alberta PCAP Council will support programs to operate throughout the province in an educated, culturally safe, thoughtful, and efficient manner that is consistent with the Alberta PCAP model.


The PCAP model has been chosen in Alberta to provide services for targeted and indicated prevention of FASD. This Level 3/4 Prevention offers a specialized and holistic support of pregnant women with alcohol and other health/social problems. The purpose of the Council is to assist programs to adhere to this research-based, validated model to promote program fidelity and quality assurance.

For more information about the Council please visit 

Check out their April 2018 newsletter! Just click to download!

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Becoming addicted is gradual process involving the interplay of genetic factors, early experiences, and the effects of potentially addictive substances and experiences on specific brain systems over time.


Compounds and experiences with addictive potential activate the brain’s reward circuitry. These triggers are also called reinforcers because the pleasurable feeling we get from them makes us more likely to engage in them again. Both alcohol and illicit drugs are powerful reinforcers, as are food, sex, and gambling. These substances and experiences cause the release of large amounts of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain’s reward system. Heightened levels of dopamine over long periods of time produce structural and chemical adaptations in these circuits as the brain tries to regain a state of balance. These adaptations ultimately underlie behaviours like bingeing, escalating use, and symptoms of withdrawal when the drugs or experiences are taken away.


Another brain system changed by addictive behaviours is the air traffic control system (also called the “executive function” system) in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain. The ability to resist strong urges or to follow through on decisions to stop an addictive behaviour may be impaired in the addicted brain. Thus, although a person may be sincere about intending to stop a behaviour, he or she may find that a weakened air traffic control system saying “stop” is overpowered by an altered reward-and-motivation system that causes powerful cravings for the addictive substance or activity. Appropriate treatment can help improve functioning of the air traffic control circuits, thus helping a person regain control.


Research has now shown that children with poor impulse control, such as those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), may also be at risk for addiction. These children may engage in risky behaviours at earlier ages and more frequently than other children. From a prevention perspective, understanding the factors that contribute to developing an addiction is crucial so that we can monitor and mitigate risk appropriately. Read more about childhood ADHD and future addiction (third-party research).


Research shows that substance and behavioural addictions can occur within the same individual and that multiple variants of substance or process addiction can be expressed at the same time. Thus, people can have multiple addictions, with each addiction being active to differing degrees of severity. Additionally, depression and anxiety frequently accompany addiction as co-morbid factors.

For more information please visit

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Teaching Tuesday: Dr. Bruce Perry, The Human Brain

A brief introduction to core concepts regarding brain structure and function that provide the basis for developmentally sensitive and trauma-informed caregiving, education and therapy.

Produced by The ChildTrauma Academy & Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D.

Alcohol and your body

Alcohol and your body

Everyone can benefit from understanding that alcohol is not like any other drink: it’s absorbed differently, it’s eliminated differently, and it affects us differently.

The following will help you better understand what happens to our bodies when we drink.

Effects of alcohol on your body

How does it all work?

  1. Alcohol enters your blood through your stomach and intestines
  2. Once absorbed, it is carried to other parts of the body very quickly
  3. Though it might not feel this way, it reaches your brain almost as soon
    as you take a drink
  4. Alcohol stays in your body until your hard-working liver breaks it down

To reduce long-term health risks, follow
Canada’s Low-Risk Drinking GuidelinesYour brain controls your body so alcohol has a big effect on the way you behave. Simply, the more alcohol in your blood, the more effects it will have. Things like: judgment, inhibitions, reaction time, coordination, vision, speech, balance can be impacted by alcohol consumption.

  • No more than 10 drinks a week for women, with no more than 2 drinks a day most days and 3 for special occasions
  • No more than 15 drinks a week for men, with no more than 3 drinks a day most days and 4 for special occasions
  • Not drinking on some days each week

Drinking above these limits results in increasing risk. Other ways to improve and maintain heart health include regular exercise, and by following Canada’s Food Guide and not smoking.

For Women
Canada’s Low-Risk Drinking Guide for Women

For Men
Canada’s Low-Risk Drinking Guide for Men

Alcohol Dependence

Regular drinking can lead to tolerance (a need for more alcohol to achieve the same effect) and to habit formation. These can lead to alcohol dependence (a condition where alcohol takes a dominant role in one’s life).

What about my personality?

Every beer advertisement makes it seem like alcohol is the key to feeling great. The truth is that it really depends on you and how you’re feeling that day. Maybe you’re the life of the party one night and the drunk crier the next.

If you’re worried about being the “ex texter” or the “frequent fighter” it’s best just to slow down and grab a water. You and your supportive pals will be glad you did.

It might make you chubby (no, seriously)

If you’re trying to lose weight, booze can be a big bummer. A single glass of wine or beer can add major calories to your diet and none of them are good calories. Wine, beer and mixed drinks are all filled with sugar, sugar and more sugar.

One bottle of wine has an average of 750 calories (that’s like having a cheeseburger, fries and a drink), a six-pack of beer averages 900 calories (or a large movie theatre popcorn without the butter).

Concerned about your drinking?

Students are key influencers in changing attitudes toward alcohol, research finds

Their involvement is critical to reducing alcohol harm on campus

April 10, 2018
Laura Henderson, health promotion specialist at Mount Royal University, with student volunteers Madeleine McCracken, Shayla Breen and Samantha Beck of the Peer to Peer Mental Health Educators team. Photos by Chenwei Lian, University of Calgary

Laura Henderson, health promotion specialist at Mount Royal University, with student volunteers Madeleine McCracken, Shayla Breen and Samantha Beck of the Peer to Peer Mental Health Educators team. Photos by Chenwei Lian, University of Calgary

Kyle Guild and Renee Nutini of the Student Medical Response team.

Kyle Guild and Renee Nutini of the Student Medical Response team.

Susan Barker, vice-provost (student experience).

Susan Barker, vice-provost (student experience).

Initiatives to reduce alcohol harm on campus are more successful when students are involved. But what are the best ways to engage students in these initiatives? That’s one of the key questions examined at the Post-Secondary Education Partnership – Alcohol Harms (PEP-AH) western regional symposium, hosted at the University of Calgary last week.

PEP-AH is a partnership between the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction and universities and colleges across Canada. Post-secondary institutions in the PEP-AH network are working toward implementing evidence-based practices to reduce alcohol harms.

Debbie Bruckner, senior director, Student Wellness, Access and Support says student involvement is critical in promoting harm reduction on campus. “Students are key influencers in changing culture. Student-to-student work is very impactful; it raises dialogue to a more relational level, normalizing help-seeking and setting the tone to influence cultural change,” she says.

Student leadership shown to reduce alcohol harms

Presenters from Toronto, University of Victoria, Mount Royal University and University of Calgary spoke to the 60 attendees about their research or experience reducing alcohol harms on campuses.

John Cunningham, from the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health in Toronto, discussed how two online tools, Check Your Drinking and Alcohol Help Centre, were shown to help decrease drinking in post-secondary students over time. Cunningham shared the importance of meeting students where they are, including personalized interventions and understanding student issues during peak times in the academic year.

Two presenters from the University of Victoria, Tim Dyck and Catriona Remocker, Canadian Institute of Substance Use Research, shared ways on how open dialogue and student influencers can change attitudes toward alcohol and shape health behaviours on campuses. Dyck and Remocker also discussed how students respond better to conversations initiated by their peers than attempts to influence them with dramatic stories.

Laura Henderson, health promotion specialist at Mount Royal University, presented on student-led alcohol harm reduction initiatives with student volunteers Madeleine McCracken, Shayla Breen and Samantha Beck of the Peer to Peer Mental Health Educators team. The peer supporters initiate conversations with other students about alcohol use at orientation and other events. Informal settings for these discussions, sometimes interactive games like giant flip-cup, help normalize help-seeking behaviours and demonstrate fun alternatives to alcohol.

Alcohol harm reduction at UCalgary

One harm reduction program at the University of Calgary is the Post-Alcohol Support Space (PASS). Opened in January, the PASS is a medically supervised and judgment-free space on campus where UCalgary members can sleep off the effects of alcohol. Anyone who uses the PASS can do so without fear of consequences, academic or otherwise. The PASS can be accessed by escort from Student Medical Response (SMR) or Safewalk by calling 403-220-5333.

Kyle Guild and Renee Nutini of the SMR team spoke about the PASS at the symposium. The SMR team is a group of 30 student volunteers with a variety of backgrounds such as first responders, paramedics, firefighters, and nursing and medical students who provide pre-hospital emergency medical care during many UCalgary events. The SMR team was instrumental in developing the PASS pilot project to be a supportive, non-judgmental and consequence-free service on campus.

The PASS was developed with PEP-AH’s key principle in mind — that student involvement is key to the success of initiatives to reduce alcohol harms.

Renee Nutini of the SMR has found the peer-to-peer relationship between student medical responders and students in need of medical attention increases trust and openness between first responder and patient.

“Student-led harm reduction efforts are more effective because, as current students in the same university community, we genuinely understand the challenges that one another are going through. At the end of the day, we are simply peers looking out for one another,” Nutini explained.

The PASS initiative was developed with input from Risk, Student Experience, Campus Security, Residence Services, the SU Wellness Centre, and the SMR.

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What should be communicated about the risks of alcohol consumption during pregnancy in public health communications?

wdyt-bannerWomen’s alcohol consumption during pregnancy is a significant health and social issue in Canada. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is the medical diagnosis used to describe the full range of cognitive, behavioral, and physical disabilities that may result from prenatal alcohol exposure, and it is estimated that 500 babies a year in Alberta are born with this preventable birth defect (Government of Alberta, 2015, para. 3). At an assessed provincial cost of $927.5 million annually to health, social, educational, and correctional services, the economic burden of FASD to society requires that communities and all levels of government within Canada work together to prioritize its prevention (Government of Alberta, 2015, para. 4). A key component of this is building broad awareness and health promotion through public health communications.

In theory, FASD prevention is straightforward, if a woman does not consume any alcohol when pregnant then the child will not be at-risk for having FASD. In reality prevention is complex and women continue to consume alcohol despite the Government of Canada’s official health recommendation that “alcohol and pregnancy don’t mix; there is no safe amount or safe time to drink alcohol during pregnancy or when planning to be pregnant” (PHAC, 2012, para. 1), indicating that current health dialogues have missed an important ingredient in their mockatil strategy.

In analyzing current prevention efforts Poole (2016) and associates suggest that while public awareness campaigns may increase knowledge this does not always translate to a change in attitudes and behavior. They indicate that a “coordinated, compassionate, evidence-informed, and [a] systematic approach to prevention tailored to the needs of women at differing levels of risk” (2016, p. 9) was needed.

Which leads us to ask you:

What should be communicated about the risks of alcohol consumption during pregnancy in public health communications?

We are looking forward to hearing your thoughts!


Government of Alberta (2015, August 26). FASD In Alberta. Available from Accessed March 10, 2018

Public Health Agency of Canada (2012, January 8). The Sensible Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy. Available from Accessed January 24, 2018.

Poole, N., Schmidt, R., Green, C., & Hemsing, N. (2016). Prevention of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: Current Canadian Efforts and Analysis of Gaps. Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment, 10, 1 – 11.

How compassion can triumph over toxic childhood trauma

In a recent piece on the television show 60 Minutes, Oprah Winfrey discussed childhood trauma — shining a public spotlight on the lasting effects of abuse and adversity in childhood. Oprah herself is a survivor of childhood abuse.

Adverse childhood experiences, commonly called ACEs, include witnessing verbal or physical conflict between parents and having a parent with a mental illness or substance-abuse issue. They also include parent separation, divorce and incarceration and the experience of neglect or abuse (sexual, physical or emotional) as a child.

ACEs are common. Approximately 60 per cent of the general population report experiencing at least one before the age of 18. More than eight per cent of the population report experiencing four or more ACEs.

Research has consistently found that the more adverse childhood experiences a person has, the greater their risk for later health problems.

Our research group investigates how ACEs affect women’s physical and psychological health in pregnancy. We study how adversities are “inherited” or passed from parent to child, as well as how the risks of ACEs in pregnant women can be reduced.

Our latest finding suggests that when mothers who have experienced ACEs feel supported by the people around them, their risk of having pregnancy complications is substantially reduced. In essence, feeling supported by friends and family can counteract the negative effects of having ACEs.

From liver disease to early death

Adverse childhood experiences increase the risks of many health challenges later in life. These include mental health problems like depressionalcohol and drug abuse and suicide attempts.

They also include health risk behaviours, such as smoking, sexually transmitted diseases and obesity, as well as diseases like heart, lung and liver disease.

Caring teachers helped Oprah Winfrey heal the emotional wounds of abuse. In this November 2013 photo, she listens in the White House in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

For example, an individual who has experienced four or more ACEs is four times more likely to experience a mental health problem than someone who has not.

People with a high number of ACEs may even be at risk for early death.

Toxic stress and the body

When children are exposed to abuse and adversity, they experience heightened levels of stress without a strong support system to help them through these difficult experiences. This is often referred to as “toxic stress.”

This stress is different from the tolerable types of stress that can help with development — such as learning to make new friends, going to a new school or taking a test.

Experiencing high levels of toxic stress during abusive or traumatic experiences can alter how our brain and body process future experiences and stressful events. Toxic stress impacts how we think and learn.

How does this happen? Toxic stress can cause excessive “wear and tear” on the body. It primes our system to be hyper-sensitive to stressors. This wear and tear builds up over time and can lead to both physical and mental health problems throughout our life.

When adults become parents, the effects that ACEs have had on their own body, mind and behaviour can influence how they experience their pregnancy and their pregnancy health. It can affect how they are able to interact with, and care for, their children.

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