British Columbia

'Made in Canada solution' for severe alcoholism comes out from under the radar

Managed alcohol programs that dole out measured drinks at regular intervals are the focus of the first nationwide study and a special edition of a peer-reviewed journal.

Managed alcohol programs that dole out drinks throughout the day are focus of nationwide study

Clients at Toronto's Art Manuel House managed alcohol program get a pre-measured amount of alcohol at regular intervals. (Ashley Wettlaufer)

A harm-reduction approach that gives measured doses of wine to people with severe alcohol dependency is coming out from under the radar in a new publication featuring University of Victoria researchers. 

The upcoming issue of the Drug and Alcohol Review will feature a collection of peer-reviewed articles including several based on the first Canada-wide study of managed alcohol programs involving nearly 400  participants. 

Bernie Pauly and Tim Stockwell, scientists with UVic's Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research and co-editors of the special issue, said they hope the publication will stimulate debate and focus future research on the "under-serviced" population with severe alcohol dependency.

"We were invited by Drug and Alcohol Review to do the special issue because prior to our national study there wasn't a lot of research that had been done on managed alcohol programs," Pauly said.

"To our knowledge, prior to the national study there was only one published article."

Measured alcohol programs, known as MAPs, provide tailored doses of alcohol on a regular schedule through the day to individuals with severe alcohol addiction. Most programs also provide housing.

UVic researcher Bernie Pauly's study was part of research that looked at nearly 400 participants in managed alcohol programs across Canada. (Deborah Wilson/CBC)

Pauly, who is also an associate professor in the UVic school of nursing, said the effectiveness of MAPs programs is clear. 

"It reduces harms of being outside, reduces harms of overconsumption, or binge drinking, and also provides an opportunity for connection with social and health services," she said.

However, she said, there are still unanswered questions such as its long-term impact and the potential of MAPs for women.

Pauly said there are more than 20 measured alcohol programs officially operating in Canada, though she believes many more operate quietly providing scheduled alcohol doses for a small number of clients. 

International interest

"We often talk about managed alcohol programs as a made-in-Canada solution," Pauly said.

As she and Stockwell conducted the MAPs study, they heard from a number of other countries that are interested in developing managed alcohol programs.

Pauly said she will soon meet with service providers in Scotland who are interested in the program. Australia has also conducted feasibility studies on the concept. 

With files from Sarah Towle.