Last year we launched the CanFASD Trainee Program. Lead by Dr. Kelly Harding, the goals of this program are to build research capacity in the field of FASD, foster mentorship, networking, and collaboration among Trainees and leading Canadian researchers, and to encourage the next generation of up-and-coming FASD researchers to self-identify with the field of FASD.
This year, over the past several months, ten trainees have participated in the program. Nominated by Network members, the Trainees represent a pan-Canadian group of interested students and research support staff from a wide range of disciplines and levels of training. Trainees have had the opportunity to advance their skill sets by having the opportunity to learn from CanFASD staff, research leads, the prevention network action team (pNAT), members of the CanFASD Family Advisory Committee (FAC) and the CanFASD Adults FASD Expert Collaboration Team (AFECT).
Split across two webinars, the ten trainees will now present on a research project that has recently been completed or is under way. This is a chance for webinar attendees to learn what the next generation of Canadian FASD researchers are accomplishing, to hear new research findings, and to look forward to forthcoming study results. Please join us to support our trainees and learn about emerging Canadian FASD research!
The webinars will be held June 9th and 16th. Register now to attend one or both. Each webinar will be 1.5 hours long, to allow for presentations from 5 trainees. You will also get the opportunity to read about their work in an upcoming blog series.
Three years sober, Sen. Patrick Brazeau is on a mission to curb alcohol abuse
John Paul Tasker · CBC News · Posted: May 22, 2023 2:00 AM MDT | Last Updated: May 22
Senator pushes for mandatory health warnings on alcohol
14 hours ago
Duration2:09Sen. Patrick Brazeau, a recovering alcoholic, has put his support behind a bill for mandatory warning labels on alcohol. He says the public deserves to know the dangers, but the industry is pushing back.
The federal government pitched a sizeable increase to the alcohol excise tax earlier this year — only to walk back that commitment in response to backlash from some MPs, lobby groups and cost-conscious Canadian drinkers.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s budget kept the annual tax increase much lower than inflation — it’ll grow by just 2 per cent this year — after a well-organized letter-writing campaign convinced the government that the political repercussions of such a hike weren’t worth the relatively modest revenue bump.
There was similar blowback when the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) recently issued new drinking guidelines that claimed no amount of alcohol is safe.
The recommendation prompted derision from some who said the health professionals behind the research are fun-averse teetotalers bent on needlessly worrying people about the risks of wine, beer and spirits. The government-funded data still hasn’t been posted publicly by Health Canada.
These incidents reveal just how deeply entrenched alcohol is in Canadian life — and how reluctant the government is to crack down on drinking.
“You know, alcohol is the favourite substance of many policymakers and indeed for a lot of us. It has sort of an iconic cultural status. Politicians — they don’t want to do much about it,” said Dr. Tim Naimi, the director of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria.
“It’s the leading cause of preventable death in Canada. It’s the government’s job to protect Canadians from the tremendous harms caused by alcohol. For some reason, they feel threatened by the facts.”
At least one politician wants to do something to curb consumption.
Sober for three years, Brazeau now wants other Canadians to avoid the potentially life-altering effects of alcohol abuse.
“If you had told me 10 years ago I’d be sober and introducing a bill to label alcohol products, I would’ve told you you’re crazy,” Brazeau told CBC News. “I was drinking way too much because I was hurting inside. I was trying to kill the pain.”
Brazeau said alcohol is the only known carcinogen that comes without warning labels.
He’s introduced Bill S-254, which would mandate health labels on all alcohol bottles alerting consumers to the possibility of cancer.
Tobacco, vape and cannabis packages are already plastered with dire warnings, he said, and alcohol shouldn’t get a pass.
“There’s still a lot of taboo around alcohol — it’s so widely accepted in our society,” he said.
“But alcohol is not good for us and we have to stop pretending that it is. [It] doesn’t seem there are too many people on Parliament Hill, elected officials, who are willing to take the bull by the horns and do something.”
According to data collected by Naimi’s institute, about 25 per cent of Canadian drinkers have no idea that alcohol can cause seven fatal cancers.
Other jurisdictions have tried to publicize these risks.
Researchers in Yukon placed warnings on liquor bottles in 2017.
The results were immediate — sales dropped by 6.6 per cent at a Whitehorse store as more consumers saw the prominently placed red labels. The project was scrapped amid pressure from some industry groups.
A spokesperson for Spirits Canada, a lobby group that represents the distilled spirits industry, did not respond to a request for comment on Brazeau’s bill. Beer Canada has said the industry can regulate itself.
A cash cow for governments
Governments depend on liquor sales to generate billions of dollars in revenue to fund public programs.
Drinkers — about 76 per cent of all Canadians consume alcohol in a given year — are understandably reluctant to pay more for a product that, statistics show, many regularly enjoy.
Some drinkers also bristle at the suggestion that moderate consumption is a problem, and defend alcohol as one of life’s little pleasures.
While much attention has been paid to the ongoing opioid epidemic — a tragic health event that has claimed the lives of thousands of Canadian drug users — publicly available data reveals there’s a parallel crisis underway.
“The opioid epidemic is a massive public health problem, but we have a very serious problem with alcohol, too,” said Naimi.
“It’s just that alcohol has been with us for a long time. We’ve essentially learned to live with a high rate of problems from many, many years.”
Canada recorded 3,875 alcohol-induced deaths in 2021, according to the latest data from Statistics Canada — a 21 per cent increase over 2019 that likely was driven by a pandemic-related spike in consumption.
Other Canadian research suggests alcohol is even more deadly than those numbers suggest.
A peer-reviewed study published by the Public Health Agency of Canada suggests alcohol consumption in Canada is associated with approximately 15,000 preventable deaths (including 7,000 cancer deaths) and 90,000 preventable hospital admissions every year.
(Preventable deaths from alcohol are defined as alcohol-related cancers, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, unintentional injuries and violence.)
Those numbers closely track what’s been reported in the U.S., a country with a population almost ten times that of Canada. The United States reports about 140,000 alcohol-related deaths each year.
While the government has rolled out a suite of policy measures to curb opioid-related deaths — there are more safe-consumption sites now and naloxone kits are ubiquitous — it’s said comparatively little about what can be done to reduce alcohol-related death and disease.
Data shows that about 20 per cent of Canadians reported alcohol consumption that classified them as “heavy drinkers,” according to Statistics Canada.
The numbers are higher in Newfoundland and Labrador (27.7 per cent) and Quebec (21.2 per cent) and lower in Manitoba (16 per cent) and Ontario (17.3 per cent).
Over the past decade, about 600,000 Canadians have become physically dependent on alcohol — a condition that can lead to injuries, violence, alcohol poisoning, risky sexual behaviour, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, cancer and mental health problems.
While alcohol is a cash cow for all levels of government, researchers say that profit is dwarfed by other costs.
The provincially owned Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), the world’s largest alcohol importer, generated an annual dividend of roughly $2.4 billion in 2020-21.
I have 26 years left in the Senate so I’m in it for the long haul.- Sen. Patrick Brazeau
By comparison, the collective impact of alcohol use on health care, crime and lost productivity has been pegged at an estimated $22.4 billion a year — a figure higher than the costs of tobacco use and the costs of all other psychoactive substances combined, including opioids and cannabis — according to research by Naimi’s institute in Victoria.
“This is a big ticket item. Taxpayers are footing the bill for what amounts to … a subsidy on alcohol and heavy drinking in particular,” Naimi said.
A spokesperson for federal Mental Health and Addictions Minister Carolyn Bennett said the government will “continue to monitor” Brazeau’s bill as it makes its way through Parliament.
As for the charge that it hasn’t done enough to curb problem drinking, the spokesperson said “alcohol use is a serious and complex public health and safety issue.”
Government won’t support bill, Brazeau says
The government is investing in programs to prevent alcohol use during pregnancy, funding substance use and addiction support programs, restricting alcohol content in some beverages and financing research, the spokesperson said.
Brazeau knows he’s facing an uphill battle.
In a meeting with Bennett, the minister told Brazeau the government likely won’t support his bill, he said.
He’s also routinely approached by lobbyists who are intent on killing the legislation, he added.
Brazeau said he’s getting some support from other senators to push the legislation to committee — but he’s not naive about the challenges that lie ahead in taking on such a popular vice.
“I have 26 years left in the Senate so I’m in it for the long haul,” he said.
Referring back to his now infamous boxing match with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Brazeau said, “I’m not afraid of getting in a fight or getting knocked around.”
There’s a lot on the go right now in the realm of FASD research. Many studies are looking for people to share their ideas and experiences. There’s also new resources and articles being published every day. Read on to find out what’s happening in FASD research right now!
CHoOSE: Co-Creating Housing Solutions
People with FASD can struggle to find and maintain safe and secure housing. The CHoOSE project seeks to better understand housing and FASD and find innovative, research-based solutions.
The project team just released a new resource for housing providers. The Service Provider Human-Centred Design Toolkit is a tool you can use to get a better understanding of the needs, goals, and experiences of those who are engaging with your service.
Members of the project team are hosting an information session on May 17th to help you better understand the toolkit and apply it to your work. If you’re interested in participating, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our newest research project is focused on substance use treatment, specifically in youth with FASD. We are looking for youth with FASD (between 12 and 24), caregivers, and service providers to talk about your experiences in a short interview. The interview will take about 30-45 minutes of your time. If you’re interested in participating, please contact email@example.com.
Strengths in Adults with FASD
People with FASD have many strengths and abilities. When we understand these strengths and successes, we can leverage them to support health and wellbeing.
Last year, Drs. Katy Flannigan and Jacquie Pei, and the AFECT Committee at CanFASD came together to create a research project on Strengths in Adults with FASD. They are looking for adults with FASD to share their experiences as part of this study. Adults can share their ideas by completing a survey, by sending us your artwork, or you can do both. Anyone with FASD (18 years or older) from anywhere in the world can take part in this project.
We are closing the survey at the end of June, so if you want to participate in this project but haven’t yet, be sure to complete the survey soon! Click here to learn more about the project and fill out the survey.
Understanding the Brain
Prenatal alcohol exposure can impact how brains and bodies are formed. When we have a better understanding of how brains develop in children and youth with prenatal alcohol exposure, we can make sure we’re targeting treatments to the right place.
Researchers in Alberta are doing a study to better understand the brain. They are looking for children and youth between 7-18 years old, with and without prenatal alcohol exposure, to come to Calgary or Edmonton for a cognitive and behavioural assessment and MRI scan. Visit the project website to learn more and participate.
Dr. Kaitlyn McLachlan, our Justice Research Lead, and her team at the PLAN Lab are looking for people to participate in two studies about FASD.
The first is research on legal decision making. They need people with FASD who are between 18 and 26 years old to participate in one or two online sessions. You will be asked to read a legal case, make decisions, and do problem-solving activities. You can have a caregiver or support person there with you. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to participate.
The second is a study for professionals working in criminal, legal, and forensic contexts. All you have to do is complete a 30–45 minute survey about FASD identification and screening. You don’t need to have experience in identification and screening to participate. Follow this link to complete the survey.
Substance use by individuals with FASD is becoming an increasing concern. Data from the National FASD Database shows that nearly half of individuals with FASD are using substances with alcohol and cannabis being the most common. One study reported that 38% of people with FASD were misusing alcohol and 46% were misusing other substances.
In 2016, CanFASD hosted a workshop called Learning Together. This workshop brought together individuals with FASD, caregivers, and researchers for a two-day discussion about FASD research in Canada. Among the many issues that attendees identified, high dropout rates from addiction treatment programs were a huge concern.
Substance Use and Addictions Research
In 2020, CanFASD received funding to study substance use and addictions treatment in people with FASD. From the research, we created a best practice guide for professionals treating adults with FASD and an accompanying online course. These are ground-breaking resources that help to fill a long-existing gap in knowledge and information to support people with FASD who are using substances.
However, through our research, we found that youth with FASD continue to be a population that goes under-supported and under-recognized in substance use treatment.
Substance Use in Youth with FASD
Data from the National FASD Database show 34% of youth with FASD use cannabis compared to 10% of youth in the general population and 5% use crack/cocaine compared to 1% in the general population. Youth with FASD need intervention programs designed specifically to meet their needs, and designed with their input, in order for treatment to be successful.
Last year we successfully applied for increased funding to continue our study. This time we’re focusing on supporting youth with FASD in substance use treatment. However, we need input and insight from our community to make sure the information we’re collecting and the recommendations we provide at the end of this project really help support individuals with FASD.
Participate in our research on youth substance use
We’re looking for youth with FASD and their caregivers to participate in a short interview to help us collect data for this study. People with FASD who are 12 to 24 years old and have done substance use treatment, or caregivers who have supported someone through treatment, are eligible for this study. All you have to do is join us for a 30-45 minute zoom interview to talk about your experiences. Your participation will inform resources that will help substance use practitioners better support youth with FASD who are using substances.
Email Elizabeth Carlson at email@example.com if you’re interested in joining this study and please pass this information on to your networks and anyone else who may be interested!
WHY MINDFULNESS? Mindfulness approaches can support reducing substance use and compulsive behaviours, managing cravings, preventing relapse, improving mood, and increasing engagement in treatment among people with substance use concerns . There is evidence that mindfulness interventions address the neurobiological underpinnings of addiction and reward processing .
Click on the link below to read the entire document:
Studies have shown that consuming alcohol during pregnancy can alter the brain and behavioral development of gestating offspring. Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises against maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy and state that there is no known safe level of consumption. What are the consequences, however, of mothers consuming alcohol while breastfeeding?
A research team at the University of California, Riverside, performed a mouse study to find out.
Led by Kelly Huffman, a professor of psychology, the team found that infants’ exposure to alcohol through breastmilk can have long-lasting effects on their development. Specifically, young mice that were exposed to alcohol during early development show smaller body and braingrowth, as well as decreased cortical lengths—a measure of brain size. The study appears in Frontiers in Neuroscience.
Research shows approximately 36% of breastfeeding mothers in the United States consume alcohol. In Canada and Australia, the numbers are 20% and 60%, respectively. Women who consume alcohol during pregnancy are more likely to drink while breastfeeding. Also, many women who choose to abstain from drinking during pregnancy report beginning to drink again shortly after giving birth.
The researchers focused on lactational ethanol exposure, or LEE, and developed a novel postnatal alcohol exposure model in breastfeeding mice. In this mouse model, offspring were exposed to ethanol via nursing from postnatal day (P) 6 through P20 (weaning), a period equivalent to infancy in humans.
Compared to controls, LEE mice had reduced body and brain weights, as well as decreased neocortical lengths at wean continuing through to early puberty (age P30). Brain weights were reduced in both ages for males, and at P20 for females; however, P30 female brain weights recovered to control levels. This discovery provides evidence towards sex-specific differences due to LEE.
“The reduced body weights in both males and females at P20 and P30 are reflected in human studies in which children exposed to ethanol through contaminated breast milk have lower body weights and growth trajectories,” Huffman said. According to her, the reduction of body and brain weights may be explained by the gut’s inability to efficiently extract nutrients when alcohol is ingested. A decrease in protein synthesis in the small intestine may block absorption of micro- and macronutrients.
The FASD Instructional Coach and Community Resource Advocate are travelling in the region today….Can you guess which community they stopped in….you are correct if you guessed Beaverlodge. No visit to Beaverlodge is complete without the quintessential photo op with the world famous Beaver.
There are limited travel awards available to help people with FASD, lived experience with FASD, and caregivers attend the Canada FASD Conference in November 2023. These funds will be awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis. The deadline to apply is June 30, 2023.
If you are picked to receive an award (or subsidies), you will get a certain amount of money to help you come to Saskatoon for the Canada FASD Conference. The chart below outlines the amount of money for each province/territory.
Maximum Travel Award Amount
These awards are for people FASD, lived experience with FASD, and caregivers. If you are coming to the conference on behalf of an organization, you are not eligible for a travel award.
Criteria for Lived Experience Travel Awards
The goal of these awards is to provide accessibility to people with FASD, lived experience with FASD, and caregivers from the jurisdictions from the Canada Northwest FASD Partnership.
To make the awards fair and equitable, the Governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan, on behalf of the Canada Northwest FASD Partnership, created the following criteria for travel award applicants:
Is the applicant from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, British Columbia, Yukon, Northwest Territories, or Nunavut?
Is the applicant either a person with FASD, lived experience with FASD, and or a caregiver?
Does the applicant have any other funding to attend the Conference? If the applicant advises yes, then the total award may be reduced by the value of what the applicant declares.
Did the applicant apply prior to the deadline for application?
Depending on interest, applications received after the deadline may still be considered.
In order to be eligible for these awards, you must:
Have FASD, lived experience with FASD, or care for someone with FASD (i.e. in-home or in-body experience with FASD);
Have your tickets for the Canada FASD Conference;
Be located in one of the jurisdictions listed above;
Not be attending the conference on behalf of an organization;
Apply before June 30, 2023.
These awards are funded by the Canada Northwest FASD Partnership and supported by the partnering jurisdictions.
Please be aware of internet scams. We will not ask you for your financial information. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you receive a suspicious email about the Canada FASD Conference. Information about travel subsidies for student presenters will be available soon.
CanFASD recently released a new issue paper, Neurodiversity and FASD. Below is a short summary. You can find the full issue paper here.
The term ‘neurodiversity’ – representing a wide variety of differences among humanity – dates back to the late 1990’s. The goal of introducing this new term and concept was to promote equity and inclusion of individuals with disabilities who wanted to be viewed as different, rather than disabled. While the concept has grown in popularity over the decades, there is no clear shared understanding of what ‘neurodiversity’ means or who can (or cannot) be considered neurodivergent.
There are several different ways of thinking about neurodiversity, including:
Individual-Level Perspective – An individual-level perspective of neurodiversity focuses on the “value of variety”
Systems-Level Perspective – A systems-level perspective of neurodiversity sees it as a means to challenge what is considered “normal”
Both the individual and systems-level perspectives of neurodiversity are critical in the context of FASD
Individual concepts must be considered when exploring identity, autonomy, and healthy outcomes
The social framework is important to ensure all members of society have what they need to grow and thrive
The terms FASD and neurodiversity aren’t interchangeable but each term is valuable
Although there are tensions around neurodiversity and FASD, conversations about it are starting to happen
There isn’t much we formally know about FASD and neurodiversity but people with FASD want a voice and want to be recognized in these spaces
Take Home Message
Neurodiversity may be a complex concept, but at the core, individuals should be appreciated for who they are, differences and all. As a society, we have a responsibility to create equitable access to opportunity for all. Moving forward, it is critical to understand how individuals with FASD interact with neurodiverse labels and within communities as these individuals want to have a voice, be recognized, and be supported in their uniqueness.
For more information, including recommendations, please read the full issue paper here.
Authors: Kelly Harding, Jacqueline Pei, & Lauren Richardson
Its Neurodiversity Celebration Week! We had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Katy Flannigan to talk about a new study we’re doing on strengths in adults with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Here are a few highlights from that conversation.
What do you mean when you’re talking about “strengths”? How would you define it?
Oh, good question, very good question…In one of the studies that we did a couple of years ago, we actually defined strengths in this context as ‘a person’s talents, abilities, or characteristics that can be leveraged to promote their wellbeing and quality of life.
What do we know about strengths with people with FASD? Has any research been done before this strengths project?
A little bit, for sure. So in 2018 I think it was we, CanFASD, decided to do a literature review to figure out that exact question… we did a search of all the FASD articles that have ever been published and we found 19 studies that included some data on strengths… We kind of wanted to pick apart these studies to figure out exactly how researchers are looking at strengths in FASD. We found that almost none were specifically focused on it… It was more often tangential findings, so it was in the greater context of challenges and difficulties…
After that lit review there were maybe a handful of studies that have been published in the last five years that were specifically focused on strengths, so… we’re not the only FASD researchers having this conversation and wanting to shift this momentum.
So what’s this strengths study? How did it come about?
Our current project on strengths was inspired by that lit review because when we were looking at the data we realized how sparse it is and how important it is that this gap is filled… So a couple of years ago we met with the Family Advisory Committee and the Adults with FASD Expert Collaboration Team. From the very beginning stages we wanted to be very collaborative so that it would be meaningful and applicable to folks with lived experience… Over these conversations we designed a research study… focusing on identity and strengths, and how those intersect with wellbeing for people with FASD.
What do you think this research will do for the FASD community? How will it actually help people with FASD?
So that’s really the most important question… I think it will help the people with FASD who participate, just the experience of being asked ‘what are you good at, what is important to you?’ I think that’s a pretty validating and empowering experience just in and of itself… More indirectly the results will help to shift that momentum in the narrative that we were talking about earlier around how there is a lot of… opportunity for growth and success and resilience and healthy outcomes for people with FASD.
I also think that in terms of policy, the more data we collect and the more numbers that we can compile and use to make our case that there is hope and there is opportunity here, then I think that can, slowly – because nothing moves quickly in research or policy – add that consistent momentum we need to balance our conversations around FASD.
The strengths study is open to adults with FASD worldwide. You don’t have to have a formal diagnosis of FASD, if you think you have FASD or identify with having FASD you can be a part of this study.
You can participate by completing an online survey, sharing a piece of artwork, or doing both. The survey will probably take you between 30 and 60 minutes to finish. Click here to learn more and participate.
We are excited to announce that our newest online course just launched! Substance Use and Treatment in FASD is a Level II online training course designed to support substance use and addictions professionals when treating individuals with FASD. However, anyone supporting an individual with FASD who uses substances will benefit from this training.
The course shares evidence-based knowledge and best practices on how to support individuals with FASD with substance use treatment. The following modules are included: