Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility What to expect when getting care – Help With Drinking

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What to expect when getting care

On your journey to wellness, you will meet different health care providers who will support you in different ways. The steps in your treatment journey might not look like someone else’s, and that’s okay. What matters is that you get the help you need for your alcohol use and feel respected and supported throughout the process.


When you see a doctor, it’s a good idea to write down their name and important things they tell you during your visit. This way, you can remember what was discussed and refer to it later. It can help you when talking to other doctors or keeping track of your progress.

Visualizing the phases of your care

When you are looking for help for alcohol use, you might hear or read the expression “continuum of care”. In medicine, this expression describes the delivery of health care over a period of time—think of it as your journey to wellness.


Here is a high-level overview of what your journey might look like. Keep in mind that each person’s experience is unique: steps might be skipped or done in a different order, and you may move back and forth between the different steps.


Visualize the phases of your care


When you go to your health care provider for help with alcohol use, they will ask you questions about your drinking habits. This is called “screening”. It’s completely normal to feel uncomfortable while answering screening questions. These questions touch on personal and sensitive topics.


Health care providers ask these questions not to judge you or your decisions, but to understand how much you drink and how it might be affecting your health and other parts of your life. It’s important to be honest when you answer screening questions, because it allows them to provide the best care for you and your situation.


An example of a screening question you might be asked is: How many times in the past year have you had 4 (for women) / 5 (for men) or more drinks in one sitting?


If your answer is anything other than “zero times” or “never”, your health care provider will want to know more about your drinking and health. They will ask you a few more questions about how much you drink and how often. This helps them understand how concerned they should be about your health.


If there’s not too much to worry about, the doctor or nurse might just give you some advice on reducing your drinking or keeping up with your healthy habits. But if they think your drinking could seriously harm your health, or if you already have health issues, they will ask more questions and have a detailed conversation with you about how drinking affects your life.


Sometimes a health care provider might talk about your drinking in a way that comes across as judgmental or disrespectful. If you feel uncomfortable or judged, you have the right to advocate for yourself and seek care from providers who treat you with compassion and respect.


If your health care provider thinks you might have a serious problem with alcohol, they will ask you more questions to give you an official diagnosis. This diagnosis helps them understand if you have what’s called an “alcohol use disorder”, which means you have a dependency or addiction to alcohol.
This diagnosis is not about judging or labelling you. It’s a way for you and your health care provider to work together and figure out the best treatment plan for you. They may classify the disorder as “mild”, “moderate” or “severe” to understand how much help you need. The goal is to provide the right support and care to help you overcome the challenges you’re facing.

Treatment planning

Your treatment plan is unique to you, your situation, location and goals. Some questions that a health care provider might ask when helping you come up with a plan include:

  • What are your goals?
  • Have you tried treatment before? If so, what have you tried?
  • What kind of treatment would you be willing to try next?
  • Can you make some commitments to reaching your goals? If so, what kind of support do you need to help you?


Depending on whether your goal is to cut back on drinking or to get treatment and stop drinking, these are some options you may want to explore:

Harm reduction

If you want to continue drinking, you might be interested in learning how to reduce the chance you’ll get hurt or experience poor health from drinking.

Withdrawal management (also known as “detoxification” or "detox") to stop drinking

  • If you’re likely to get severe withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking and you have access to detox facilities near you, you might be able to stay for a few days at a detox centre where you can get support to go through withdrawal safely.
  • If you’re not likely to get severe withdrawal symptoms or you don’t have access to detox facilities, your health care provider might send you home with a prescription and instructions to check in every day for a few days.


  • A health care provider can prescribe you medication to treat alcohol withdrawal.
  • A health care provider can prescribe medications for long-term wellness.

Counselling or social supports

  • Most people who go to counselling pay for it themselves or they have employment benefits that help cover the cost. Some counsellors offer sliding-scale fees based on your income, and student counsellors often offer low-cost counselling. There are also some short-term free and low-cost substance use counselling services that are paid for by health authorities and require a referral from a health care provider.
  • If counselling is not the right fit for you, you might prefer peer support groups or cultural support groups where you can be in community with people who have similar experiences to yours and maybe take part in cultural activities that can help you on your journey.

You may try a few different options and even experience relapse before you find the approach that works best for you and helps you achieve your goals.

You might also get support from other types of service or care providers. This could include help with finding a place to live or getting a job, as well as getting care for other health issues you might have.


The insights I garnered while ‘relapsing’ were invaluable, and they have shaped my path forward in the intervening years.

Nicole, person in recovery from alcohol use disorder