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With Heavy Drinking On The Rise, How Much Is Too Much?


Binge-drinking sounds like an all-night bender, but here’s a reality check: Many social drinkers may “binge” without knowing it. Women who drink four or more drinks on an occasion are binge-drinking.

If one glass of wine takes the edge off, why not drink a few more?

This thinking may help explain the findings of a new study that points to an increase in drinking among adults in the U.S., especially women.

“We found that both alcohol use and high-risk drinking, which is sometimes called binge-drinking, increased over time,” says Deborah Hasin, a professor of epidemiology at the Columbia University Medical Center and an author of the study.

To assess drinking trends, researchers conducted face-to-face interviews with thousands of adults. Researchers asked a series of questions, such as: Did you ever drink four or more drinks on an occasion, and if so, how often? The study compares the findings from two surveys. One was carried out in 2001-2002; the other was from 2012-2013.

So what’s behind the increase? The study wasn’t designed to answer this question, but Hasin says there could be a combination of factors.

“Increasing numbers of people feel pessimistic about their economic chances,” she says. So this might help explain the increase in drinking among low-income Americans. As we’ve reported, economists have linked the economy to so-called deaths of despair from causes including opioid overdoses and alcohol abuse.

When it comes to explaining the increase found among women, the way alcohol is marketed may play a role, too. Hasin says she is speculating here, “but just looking at display windows in liquor stores,” they seem designed to appeal to women. “Everything is pink, it’s all rose,” she says.

And beer-makers have sharpened their pitch to female drinkers too, as this Advertising Age article points out. A recent campaign for Coors Light features women competing in races and climbing mountains. “Every climb deserves a refreshing finish,” the ad’s narrator intones.

So if the makers of wine, beer and spirits are enticing us to drink, are some of us ignoring the risks of excessive drinking? Or maybe many women don’t realize when they’re drinking too much?

Not all national surveys have pointed to an increase in drinking. In fact, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found a slight decline in alcohol use disorders between 2002 and 2013. But even if there’s been no increase, public health experts say excessive alcohol consumption has long been a problem in the U.S.

“Excessive alcohol use is a huge public health problem in the United States,” says physician Bob Brewer, who leads the alcohol program at the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC estimates that there are about 88,000 deaths due to excessive alcohol use in the U.S. each year.

“Ninety percent of people in the U.S. who drink to excess are binge-drinking,” Brewer says.

Binge-drinking, to me, always sounds like a term for an all-night bender. But here’s the reality check: It’s easier to “binge” than you might think.

The definition of binge-drinking is “four or more drinks for a woman on an occasion, five or more for a man,” Brewer explains.

So think of an evening out: Perhaps you start with a cocktail, then add beer or wine with dinner. The drinks can add up faster than you think.

“It can be tricky sometimes for people to really keep track of the number of drinks they’re consuming,” Brewer says.

A 5-ounce serving of wine counts as one drink. And a 1.5-ounce shot of spirits (such as vodka, gin, or bourbon) counts as a drink, too. But often, cocktails contain more than one shot. (Exactly what counts as “a drink” is detailed here.)

“A lot of beers now, particularly craft beers, may have higher alcohol content,” Brewer says. “So, if you have a 12-ounce beer that [contains] 9 percent alcohol, you’re really drinking the equivalent of close to two drinks,” Brewer says.

There are tips to help you guard against drinking too much, especially at a festive event or social gathering, such as an office party. One tip: Make a pact with yourself or with somebody else to take a break before each drink. And another: Alternate between glasses of water and alcohol.

Brewer says it’s worth reminding everyone that the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that women limit alcohol to one drink per day, two for men.

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Provincial grant aims to empower women in Calgary


Hazel Kikot plays with her 11-month-old son Haiden during an event at Sunalta Community Centre. Kikot is part of Connections Counselling and Consulting Foundation, which received a $34,000 grant from the province. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Life hasn’t always been easy for single mom Hazel Kikot, who suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome.

But the Connections Counselling and Consulting Foundation in Calgary has given her something she was missing.

“I just felt a part of something which I’ve never really had before,” Kikot told CBC News Sunday.

That feeling made her eager to participate in the foundation’s Brand New Me workshop series, designed to aid women with disabilities who have experienced violence, lack personal confidence or need help with life skills.

The workshops help women develop social and boundary-setting skills, build self-confidence and also include sexual health education, employment preparation and tools to address abusive relationships.

“In school I’ve always struggled so with Connections, it’s more hands-on and they’ve shown me and walked me through it and always are positive, they give positive vibes,” Kikot said.

$34K grant from province

On Sunday, the Alberta Ministry of Status of Women announced a $34,000 grant for the foundation during a gathering at the Sunalta Community Centre.

For foundation director Erin Waite, the money means being able to offer the program to more who need it.

Connections Counselling and Consulting Foundation Hazel Kikot

Hazel Kikot credits the foundation with improving her own self-esteem. (Mike Symington/CBC)

“A big factor in their lives is isolation,” she said. “And so what happens is, they’ve faced the stigma of disability all their lives and because of that they don’t participate in community events, even when it’s made available to them.”

Some of the money will be used to fund transportation and daycare services, which Waite said are often barriers to participation.

“This kind of programming really ensures that portions of our population that are being left out get to participate, which makes a big difference,” Waite said.

The workshops run until January 2018.

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Australia: Call to Combat Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder


Rates of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder among Australian Aboriginal children are up to 12 times higher than a newly-determined universal average that has triggered concern among experts.

Almost one in every 100 children worldwide suffer from the condition, which is caused by consumption of alcohol during pregnancy, according to research published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

The findings have sparked calls for greater intervention to cut the rates across the globe.

“The findings highlight the need to establish a universal public health message about the potential harm of prenatal alcohol exposure and a routine screening protocol. Brief interventions should be provided, where appropriate,” the authors conclude.

Addiction and mental health researchers in Canada conducted a meta-analysis of 24 studies including 1416 children and youth diagnosed with FASD.

Several Australian studies were included, among them a 2015 examination of an Indigenous Australian population which found 12 of every hundred children had the disorder.

One of every 13 women who consumed alcohol while pregnant was estimated to deliver a child with FASD, according to the analysis.

Meanwhile, a University of Sydney study initiated by concerned Aboriginal community leaders earlier this year revealed children with FASD are more likely to fail at school, have attention problems and talk about suicide.

The findings, reported in the Journal of Development and Behavioural Pediatrics, were based on surveys of parents and teachers of primary school Aboriginal Australian children living in remote communities in Fitzroy Valley, Western Australia.

Within the Fitzroy Valley study population, 55 per cent of mothers reported drinking alcohol during pregnancy and of these, 87 per cent drank at high levels. All but two of the assessed children were Aboriginal.

“These findings highlight the need for support for families, carers, and teachers to handle the behavioural and mental health problems in children with FASD,” said the study’s lead author, Dr Tracey Tsang of the University of Sydney.

“This is particularly challenging in remote and disadvantaged communities,” said Dr Tsang.

Sydney University’s Professor Elizabeth Elliott said in addition to difficult behaviours, children with FASD have learning, developmental and physical problems.

“FASD is preventable and we must educate young women about the harms of alcohol use in pregnancy,” Prof Elliott urged.

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Housing is a key component to women’s recovery

1cyrqyw0ccktv906f9sp_400x400Sheway is well-known in Canada for its success in providing wrap-around services for pregnant and newly parenting women who are dealing with complex personal and social circumstances. It is trauma-informed, women-centred, culturally responsive and uses a harm reduction approach with a focus on connection with self and others. Women and their children can remain in the program up to 18 months post-partum. Last December, Lenora Marcellus, University of Victoria, and Sheway published findings to their study on how women make the transition from Sheway to living on their own – Supporting Families at Sheway and Beyond. Additionally, Dr. Marcellus has published a journal article:

Marcellus, L. (2017). A grounded theory of mothering in the early years for women recovering from substance use. Journal of Family Nursing. E-print ahead of press. 

In order to learn what elements of a positive transition could be identified and built upon, they followed 18 women for 3 years after leaving Sheway. These women faced multiple obstacles in this transition process with the overarching theme being “holding it together.” Their daily efforts are explored in these 3 ways:

Restoring Self: gaining recovery and taking care of self, reconnecting with self and others, and rebuilding trust and credibility.

Centering Family: parenting their children, preserving a routine, dealing with partners, and handling custody issues.

Creating  Home: “chasing housing”, having to take whatever housing is available even if inadequate, and maintaining not only a physical space but a feeling of home for the family

While acknowledging the value for pregnancy and postpartum support as most often provided in maternity programs, their findings underscore that secure housing is a key component to a successful transition for women and their families. Yet, although housing is important to the overall health of women and their families, the choices they must make often result in a double bind. For example, women often are faced with choosing between affordable housing that is far from supports versus more expensive housing that is near supports. Some women must choose between staying in an unsafe relationship or losing housing. As well, some women must accept inadequate housing because of their substance use history, which serves to undermine their recovery and their maintaining custody of their children.

“Poor housing was identified by women as a potential trigger to relapse in their recovery.” – [1] p. 39

Complete findings are detailed within the report and recommendations are framed within the Levels of Prevention model developed by this prevention network.  Among the research team recommendations is to extend the time women can stay in the program in order to solidify recovery, supports and resources. As well, they stress that housing needs to be a core component of intensive, integrated maternity programs.

For more on these topics, see earlier posts:


  1. Marcellus, L., Supporting families at Sheway and beyond: Self, recovery, family home. 2016, Sheway: Vancouver, BC.

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The Best Alcoholism Apps of the Year

Healthline has selected these apps based on their quality, user reviews, and overall reliability as a source of support for people living with alcoholism. If you want to nominate an app for this list, email Healthline at

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 15.1 million adults ages 18 and older have alcoholism.

Staying sober requires a tremendous amount of personal strength, psychological treatment, and reliable support along the way. Addiction is a complex disease and affects people in different ways. While not a substitute for treatment, these apps can serve as tools for additional positive reinforcement and accountability.

Stop Drinking with Andrew Johnson

iPhone rating:

4 stars$2.99

Android rating:

4.5 stars$2.99

Andrew Johnson’s app is designed for heavy drinkers who are trying to either cut back or stop drinking altogether. It uses hypnotherapy, positive suggestions, and visualization to help you achieve your goal. You can set reminders throughout the day for times when you may need some help relaxing and refocusing.

Twenty-Four Hours a Day

iPhone rating:

5 stars$5.99

Android rating:

5 stars$5.99

This app is based on the best-selling book of the same name. It’s been helping people with sobriety for years. The app offers 366 daily meditations from the book at your fingertips, making it easier for people to have help between meetings or anytime it’s needed. Many of the meditations include prayer and religious teachings. The newest update gives phone users the ability to share its daily messages by text.

AlcoDroid Alcohol Tracker

Android rating:

4.5 starsFree

AlcoDroid tracks your alcohol consumption, making it a good possible starting point if you suspect you misuse alcohol. Use it to log your drinks and see how often you’re drinking. The app will also give an estimated blood alcohol content based on your log. It can be set to track how much you spend on drinks as well.

12 Steps AA Companion

iPhone rating:

3.5 stars$2.99

Android rating:

4.5 stars$1.99

This app is based on the 12-step program from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Each step represents part of the healing and recovery process. You get the Big Book of AA at your fingertips, with prayers, promises, and the ability to highlight and share text. A sobriety calculator keeps track of how many years, months, days, and hours you’ve been sober.

I Am Sober

iPhone rating:

4 stars$1.99

Every day of sobriety is a victory. Reminding yourself of how much you’ve accomplished can help you stay on track. This app keeps track of these victories, including how long you’ve been sober and how much money you’ve saved by not buying alcohol. It notifies you when you reach new milestones and lets you set times to get daily notifications on your progress.


iPhone rating:

4 starsFree

Anxiety and depression are often closely linked to alcoholism. Happify is designed to help you learn positive ways to cope with these moods instead of engaging in unhealthy behaviors. The app includes over 30 audio recordings. They’ll guide you toward positive thoughts. The recordings use evidence-based techniques shown to work in positive psychology, mindfulness, and cognitive behavioral therapy.

iPhone rating:

4 starsFree

Android rating:

3.5 starsFree

This app wasn’t specifically designed for addiction, but it’s made to help you set a goal and work toward it. You can use it to help limit or quit drinking, track sober days, or as a way to practice new healthy habits, like getting regular exercise. uses the power of positive reinforcement to help you achieve your goals and feel good about it.


iPhone rating:

4 starsFree

SoberTool is designed specifically for people with alcoholism. It combines several features seen in the other apps we’ve mentioned. It tracks both days sober and money saved. There’s also a community forum where you can share messages as well as daily motivational messages and reminders to read them. One of its most unique tools is the ability to help you develop the best personalized relapse prevention based on a few questions in the app.

nomo – Sobriety Clocks

iPhone rating:

4.5 starsFree

Android rating:

4.5 starsFree

This app was actually created by someone in recovery to help himself keep on track and motivated. Set sobriety clocks to track how long it’s been since your last drink in this app. You can also find accountability partners and share your information with them. Earn chips for recovery milestones, too. The app even has little distraction exercises to help your mind refocus during intense cravings.


iPhone rating:

3.5 starsFree

Android rating:

4 starsFree

Whether you’re stopping drinking altogether or trying to cut back, a good support system can be a big help. Daybreak is designed to help you connect with a supportive community as well as health and well-being coaches. You can track your progress with weekly check-ins or set notifications for when you think you’ll need check-ins.

Sober Grid

iPhone rating:

5 starsFree

Android rating:

4 starsFree

Making new connections during recovery can be important. Sober Grid is a social network for sobriety. In addition to tracking your days sober, the app helps you find other sober people both near you and around the world to share and chat with. Choose to remain anonymous and share as much or as little as you like.


Android rating:

4 starsFree

Flipd is another app that’s not made specifically for addiction, but it does help you focus and practice productivity. Use it to block distractions and help yourself refocus on important tasks. The app primarily focuses on stepping away from your phone to unwind, engaging in other activities, and avoiding procrastination. It actually locks you out of your phone during designated times, except for making outbound emergency calls and receiving incoming calls.


iPhone rating:

4.5 stars$1.99

There isn’t just one approach to recovery. It often requires several tools to keep you on course. This app is designed to keep you accountable for your own behavior by logging your “lights” — red for “acting out,” yellow for “warning,” and green for “way to go.” The idea behind this is that you can’t change your behavior until you recognize it. This app aims to help you do both.

Field Guide to Life

iPhone rating:

4 stars$7.99

Android rating:

4 stars$7.99

The first steps are often the hardest. While Field Guide was designed for people new to addiction recovery, it can be used at any stage. The app focuses on taking things one day at a time with daily inspiring messages and activities, a sobriety counter that can be seen every time you open the app, and videos featuring recovery experts. You can also store up to five images of people or things that keep you motivated to stay sober.



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Training: Understanding Addiction


Promoting Healthy Relationships and Supportive Environments


Understanding Addiction is an online learning program that seeks to equip non-specialist workers and volunteers with the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to confidently help people who face challenges with substance use and addiction. The goal of this course is to ensure that anyone in a “helping role” will be able to foster healthy relationships and build supportive environments.

Participants will engage in eight interactive online lessons that feature opportunities for personal reflection, downloadable resources, and a facilitated forum. They will learn about topics such as: the factors behind addiction and control, the dynamics involved in helping people change their behaviour, and what to do in difficult situations. Participants will also have opportunities to practice skills that enhance client engagement while promoting safety.

This program has been developed by the Canadian Mental Health Association BC Division (CMHA BC) in partnership with BC Non-Profit Housing Association, BC Government and Service Employees’ Union, Centre for Addictions Research BC (University of Victoria), 7th Floor Media (Simon Fraser University) and Walden Media Group. CMHA BC exists to promote the mental health of British Columbians and support the resilience and recovery of people experiencing mental illness.

Course Registration

Understanding Addiction is available twice throughout the year and the cost per person is $100. To sign up for the course, please follow these three steps:

1. Register for the training until September 30, 2017

2. Create an account

Once your payment has been processed, you will be re-directed to create an account.  Create a unique username and password to sign in.

*Please note: Your account will only be activated once your payment is received and the course begins.

3. Login and begin the course

The Course Facilitator will grant you access to the course once your cohort becomes available. On the first day of the learning cohort you registered for, you will be able to log into the course and start the first lesson. You will have a four-month period from the first day of the learning cohort to complete it.

Screen Shot 2017-08-17 at 10.55.27 AM

For more information please visit:

Partnership aims to reduce alcohol harms on Canadian campuses


Thirty-six universities and colleges have teamed up with the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction and Universities Canada in an effort to curb high-risk drinking. The Postsecondary Partnership – Alcohol Harms (PEP-AH), as it’s called, is connecting students and administrators with health experts to create campus programs to reduce harms related to binge drinking.

While Canadian universities have individually been grappling with the issue for decades, this partnership represents a more collaborative approach, said Scott Duguay, co-chair of PEP-AH and associate vice-president, enrolment management, at St. Thomas University. “We’re offering resources and ideas and best practices but allowing a lot of space for individual members to build their own plans,” Mr. Duguay said. “We strongly encourage institutions that are partners to have a campus team that oversees alcohol harm reduction programming.”

A 2016 survey of 43,780 students from 41 Canadian campuses affirmed the challenges institutions face with the prevalence of binge drinking. More than a third of students surveyed reported having five or more drinks the last time they partied or socialized, and many reported physically injuring themselves (18 percent), having unprotected sex (24 percent), forgetting where they were or what they did (29 percent) and doing something they later regretted (38 percent) due to alcohol.

“PEP-AH is not concerned with the drinking per se, but the harms associated with it,” said Catherine Paradis, co-chair of PEP-AH and senior research and policy analyst with the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, which has received funding from Health Canada for this initiative. Ms. Paradis led the creation of a framework for campus programs to reduce alcohol harms. She recommends that institutions adopt at least one recommendation in each of five strategic areas, depending on the needs and structure of their campus. “Drinking is a social behaviour that happens in a larger context,” she said. “Each university or college has its own history and its own culture and policies.”

PEP-AH grew out of discussions since 2013, when former Acadia University president Ray Ivany rallied the support of university presidents to look at campus drinking culture. Mr. Ivany became passionate about the issue after having to deliver news of 19-year-old Acadia student Jonathan Andrews’ death following a night of binge drinking in residence. It was an event after which “our campus changed forever,” Mr. Ivany had said.

This past June, student affairs staff, administrators and students met for a one-day conference during CACUSS, the national conference of student affairs professionals across Canada, to share best practices and challenges. The dialogue will continue into 2018 and includes four student symposia in Western Canada, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada in advance of the national meeting. It was recognized that “students were at the heart of this if it was going to work, but we needed presidential level approval and support,” Mr. Duguay said. “At the end of the day, students are the experts in the experience itself.”

Cam Yung, PEP-AH’s student representative for Ontario and rector at Queen’s University, echoed that sentiment (the rector position at Queen’s is held by a student and is elected by students). Queen’s has had an alcohol working group for almost 20 years and recently hosted PEP-AH’s Ontario student symposium. “Students react better when they have peers there to lead and provide guidance,” Mr. Yung said. “When we have students educating students, and not a top-down approach of administration trying to educate students about alcohol harms, that is a way more effective solution.”

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