Alcohol addiction can have devasting impacts on people and families across B.C. No one knows this better than Jennifer.

“I’ve lived the devastation that is untreated alcohol addiction,” said Jennifer, whose last name is not being used for privacy reasons. “It tore my family apart.”

For years, Jennifer’s now ex-husband struggled with his alcohol use, as have other members of her family.

Her ex-husband’s alcohol addiction began several years ago. He would have a few drinks to wind down after a long day at work. But over time, that increased to having several drinks every night.

He often lied about his use, replacing empty vodka bottles with water to hide the amount he drank, and Jennifer would find empty liquor bottles hidden around their home. At one point, he totalled his truck. 

When Jennifer confronted him, he admitted he had a problem and said he would get help – a cycle that continued over and over again – but he never did. Even after speaking to her ex-husband’s doctor, he still did not receive the treatment he needed.

As his drinking continued to escalate, so did his behaviour. Her husband became emotionally and verbally abusive, and Jennifer began to fear for her safety and the safety of her children.

“I was struggling and dealing with anxiety and was pretty close to having a nervous breakdown because of all the lies, deceit and the denial,” Jennifer said, adding her kids’ relationship with their father suffered as a result. They struggled in school, and were often scared and had nightmares. 

“I was so concerned, you could see the children breaking down. It was an extremely toxic and volatile environment. It was a matter of mental health and safety.”

Jennifer’s husband soon lost his job because of his drinking and became so sick he was eventually hospitalized.

After nearly two years of trying to help him overcome his addiction, Jennifer left in June 2018. While she admits she still feels guilty thinking about how she could have left him sooner or how she couldn’t get him the help he needed, she has channelled that energy into something positive.

Jennifer is one of many with lived experience who lent their voices to help with the creation of a new made-in-B.C. guideline that physicians and clinicians can use to connect British Columbians who are dealing with high-risk drinking and alcohol-use disorder to services that meet their needs.

Contributing to the new guideline, which was developed by the BC Centre on Substance Use, was an experience Jennifer believes has been therapeutic on her own pathway to recovery. The guideline is one she wishes had been around when her ex-husband was in the early stages of his addiction. 

“I really think that it (the guideline) can offer families an opportunity to get the help that they need before it reaches a devastating point. The earlier the interception, the earlier the chance of recovery,” Jennifer said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to sit on the board. It has helped me work through things – to grieve and to grow. It’s been a healing process.”

The new guideline is a crucial step to help bridge the gap between research and practice. It will be used by physicians and clinicians to manage and treat high-risk drinking and alcohol-use disorder, resulting in more people accessing better, quality care. People, like Jennifer’s ex-husband.