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What are Managed Alcohol Programs?

Recently, a CBC News article described a fairly unknown harm reduction method called a Managed Alcohol Program (MAP). While this article highlighted an initiative operating in Amsterdam, there are a few of these programs taking place in Canada. With more municipalities incorporating harm reduction strategies like these into their addiction prevention and treatment campaigns, making sure communities are educated on such programs is important.

What is Harm Reduction?

To refresh your minds, harm reduction refers to any tactic or method involved in minimizing the effects and consequences of drinking alcohol or using substances. Methadone maintenance, safe injection sites, and needle exchanges are some well-known examples of harm reduction tactics in British Columbia and the lower mainland Vancouver area. Technically, abstinence is a harm reduction method since it attempts to reduce harm, but programs offering this approach are generally considered part of a different treatment sphere since it forbids regulated, tapered use of substances or alcohol.

Managed Alcohol Programs

Managed alcohol programs provide regulated doses of alcohol to program participants as a way to address problems associated with severe alcohol abuse. In studies evaluating MAP effectiveness, some participant improvements and benefits include:

  • Maintained housing
  • Improved well-being and quality of life
  • Reduced frequency and quantity in alcohol use
  • Reduced use of non-beverage alcohol (e.g. mouthwash and shoe polish)
  • Decreased alcohol-related harms (social, financial, physical, mental, etc.)

How are MAPs Different?

From a health perspective, abstinence and detox is the most ideal option. However, sometimes conventional addiction treatment programs are less suitable and effective for certain demographics. Many MAP participants struggle with homelessness, mental health issues, and other factors that inhibit successful abstinence. Harm reduction practices, like managed alcohol programs, help shift us away from conventional understandings of addiction treatment where abstinence is the primary goal.

Rather than focusing on the removal of alcohol, MAPS focuses on finding ways to raise a person’s social functioning as a means for improving each individual’s quality of life. Providing controlled amounts of alcohol can allow these groups of people to experience similar benefits to those in recovery until they’re capable of fully stopping alcohol-consumption.


Despite their effectiveness, MAPs need further research and evaluation. In some research studies, alcohol use remained the same or increased causing some to believe MAPs should be reserved for individuals with severe alcohol dependency who fulfill specific eligibility requirements.

For MAPs and other harm reduction strategies, it’s important for organizations to provide sufficient and necessary information to surrounding communities and its residents in order to gain support. Providing several different options to treat addiction and substance abuse will increase peoples ability to seek help and live with improved quality of life.

News Articles & Sources

  1. Alcohol abuse programs in B.C., Amsterdam use moderation
  2. Chronic alcoholics given free booze in Vancouver: Managed alcohol program shows promising results
  3. Managed-alcohol program helps battle addiction
  4. Evaluation of Managed Alcohol Programs in Vancouver, BC


Casey oversees all marketing for Sunshine Coast Health Center. She explores new ways to reach and engage with people online, coordinates content marketing, and develops ways to help SCHC maintain a visible and helpful online presence. Casey recently completed a Masters’ Degree in Professional Communication.

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When I left SCHC this past fall, I felt as though I could tackle the world, let go of the demons, love myself, and was ready to begin a new life. Well, life throws many curve balls and after 6 months of sobriety, even though I was close to the best spiritual and physical shape in my life, I gave into boredom and loneliness because I forgot about my support system and aftercare. I returned back to SCHC for an alumni stay to get my head back in the game. Thank you, SCHC for an amazing alumni program for returnees.

- Will

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