Sober (or sober-er) for October: Some treatment ideas for people with alcohol use disorder


Dr-Nel-Wieman.jpgA message from Dr. Nel Wieman, FNHA Office of the Chief Medical Officer

Boozhoo! I hope everyone participating in the FNHA's Sober for October challenge is feeling fantastic after a few weeks of no or low alcohol consumption! I've been following your replies and comments on our various social media messages, and am so pleased to hear that many of you are experiencing benefits related to going sober – or "sober-er" this October! It's great to hear that some people are being more mindful about how much they are drinking, some are in recovery and are so proud of their sobriety, and others are considering keeping up the changes they have made this month as part of their lifestyle.

For those of you who are experiencing difficulty in this area, please don't get discouraged. Instead, reach out and get help. It really is there! Timing is everything, and if you haven't been ready before, you may be now – meaning that what hasn't worked in the past may work now. Whatever you choose to do with respect to managing your alcohol use, it is critical to keep trying – don't lose sight of or give up on your goal. Whether it's an overall reduction in amount or frequency of alcohol use (harm reduction) or eliminating alcohol altogether (abstinence). Here are several tried-and-true ideas for you: 

• Treatment centres. Treatment for alcohol use disorder is available on an out-patient or in-patient basis; for info on FNHA-funded treatment centres, click here.  

• Peer-based support groupsAlcoholics Anonymous (AA) or SMART recovery groups. For those worried about people with alcohol use disorder, e.g., family members, there is Al-Anon.

• Health care providers. If you believe your alcohol use may be worrisome or problematic, speak to your primary health care provider: family physician, nurse practitioner, or local nursing station nurse.

• Medications. In order to prevent relapses (maintain abstinence) and/or reduce cravings, certain medications (naltrexone or acamprosate) can be prescribed.  If for some reason, these medications are not accessible or not tolerated, there are other options available. 

• Therapy. Medication can also be supplemented by various forms of psychotherapy (talk therapy) including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or family-based therapy. Like certain medications, some therapies may be covered by your health benefits. See for FNHA Health Benefits contact information.

• Self-evaluation. There are numerous self-evaluations regarding alcohol use available on-line, including this one.  Doing a survey may help you think more about your alcohol use and its effect on you and others around you.  This may lead you to consult with your health care provider and/or help you identify aspects of your alcohol use that can be addressed.

• Information. Be informed. Learn about the recommended limits and note there are differences for males and females. Canada's low-risk alcohol drinking guidelines can be found here. And check out the FNHA webpages on substance use.

• Traditional healing/cultural activities. Participation in these, including land-based programs, counselling with Elders or Knowledge Keepers, and so on, has been found to be very beneficial for those with alcohol use disorder. Culture really does save lives.

• Withdrawal management services. If you think there is a risk of your going into withdrawal due to heavy drinking or stopping "cold turkey," seek medical assessment and possible treatment (there are medications available to help keep you comfortable and out of medical danger, e.g., to control risk of seizures, psychotic symptoms); use the 24/7 KU-UUS Crisis Line as necessary. They have information about many different resources, programs and services.

• Support/Persistence/Determination. It's really important to surround yourself with people who are supportive of your efforts – these are the people you can reach out to if you find yourself craving a drink and/or questioning your decision to make a lifestyle change.  No one walks the path of recovery alone.  And remember, it is critical to keep trying and never give up. Many – if not most – people who are now sober made multiple attempts to reduce or stop their alcohol use for years before finally succeeding. You can do it too!  There is a famous saying, "Fall down seven times; get up eight."

Many congratulations to everyone who is walking this journey with our OCMO team this month to be Sober (or Sober-er) for October!

Find out more about the Sober for October challenge here.