Five Questions with Linnette Gratton from Pathways Addictions Centre

In 2018, Pathways Addictions Centre received a grant from CAI’s Promoting a Healthy Drinking Culture in BC initiative to host community dialogues that focus on moderate risk drinking. This funding initiative aims to increase the capacity of community-based organizations in the mental health and substance use sector, and their wider communities, to dedicate time and resources to focus on this issue through inclusive dialogue, bringing together key players to examine and understand the use and impact of alcohol in their communities.

Across BC, these dialogues took different forms including community events, a series of smaller conversations, or discussions with strategic collaborators taking a deeper dive into the issue.

Linnette Gratton, the Project Coordinator with Pathways Addiction Centre in Penticton is spearheading their local dialogues. This month, she answers five questions about her experience with the project.

1. Wineries are a large aspect of industry in the South Okanagan and very much a part of the Okanagan culture. How did this unique climate affect the way you planned and hosted the dialogues?

The South Okanagan, with a continuously growing wine industry and rapidly expanding craft beer market, provided a unique climate for dialogue. Because of the industry landscape of our region, we started with some informal dialogues with individuals in the industry to gauge the receptiveness of joining a larger community dialogue. These informal dialogues confirmed what we suspected: that a community dialogue targeting the industry wouldn’t be well attended and that we needed to figure out how to work together.

To try to reduce barriers to participation and create a welcoming approach, we planned a webinar presented by Dr. Gerald Thomas, the Director of Legal Substances and Problem Gambling Policy and Prevention for the Ministry of Health. During the planning process and the search for electronic addresses for those holding liquor licenses in the area, we became aware of an interactive platform for posing questions and getting feedback from stakeholders called Thought Exchange. Dr. Thomas and myself had a presentation from the Thought Exchange representatives and felt it would be an excellent way to engage the wine and craft beer industry as well as restaurateurs and the general public to get more information about how to have healthy dialogues about moderate alcohol use. The intention was gather diverse feedback on how educational campaigns could be more effective and to find middle ground on a topic that can be polarized.

Plans to move forward with the Thought Exchange event are underway, with the goal of engaging industry to help guide an effective webinar and subsequent larger campaign to shape future educational campaigns and community dialogues. The connections with the Ministry of Health and their keen desire to be part of this process is amazing. I believe we have set a strong foundation for the future of more web-based and uniquely interactive engagement between community, industry and government.

2. What are some approaches you used to reach diverse demographics (i.e. Young Adults, women etc.)?

We connected with high schools and colleges to provide presentations and experiential learning opportunities. We made the presentations FUN and engaging by using animated videos, such as this video produced in Ontario, which was a wonderful way to introduce the low risk drinking guidelines. The use of videos supported the presentation to be more dialogue-based, by providing additional information and by allowing participants to “unpack” what was presented in the video, further extending the conversation. All presentations were coupled with one or more experiential activities.

The community dialogue coordinator developed several fun experiential activities, which were a hit with the high school students, including:

  • Stack ‘Em Up– a colour cup stacking game with the impairment of “drunk goggles”.
  • Walk the Line – walking on a taped line on the floor with the “drunk goggles”.
  • Peer Ed. Pong– teams play “no beer” pong, with each cup having Low Risk Drinking Guidelines facts which students would read the facts out to their peers.
  • Roll it– a big foam dice roll and reading the corresponding number Q&A from the Alcohol Sense website.
  • Standard Drink Pour – Different sized glasses to compare what a standard drink looks like. We also used red Solo Cups to match with standard drink sizes.

As a legacy of the CAI Community Dialogue project on low risk drinking, the community of Penticton will continue to benefit as the activities and resources will be available at Pathways Addictions Resource Centre and can be used with many groups for years to come.

3. “Community Knowledge” is one of CAI’s core values. This means working with communities to leverage local knowledge to build a strong MH/SU sector. Do you have any examples of local knowledge from the Okanagan that you think would be beneficial to share more widely across BC?

The local knowledge in the sector definitely comes from Pathways Addictions Centre, who hosted, co-created and provided leadership for this initiative. Not only do Pathways staff have the case management experience of supporting individuals of all ages around the impact of alcohol on health and mental health, but we also have strong community leadership and are actively working on education and prevention with all ages and community stakeholders.

4. What has been the most surprising aspect of the dialogues so far?

We were surprised by the level of youth engagement with this project. Youth and young adults appeared to be more receptive to having dialogue related to Canada’s Low Risk Drinking Guidelines and the short- and long-term risks of alcohol consumption than older adults. This is a very general statement, but the engagement from our younger demographic was significant; throughout the dialogues, we observed many of the older adults as less flexible in their thinking about alcohol as they appeared to be entrenched in already established habits.

5. What are the next steps you believe your community needs to take to promote a healthy drinking culture?

One step our community might take to promote a healthy drinking culture includes creating more interactive educational campaigns on Canada’s Low Risk Drinking Guidelines. Currently, we have a static poster and tent card campaigns through the Liquor Control Board, however, these need to be boosted by community-based efforts. The AlcoholSenseBC website is not seeing as much traffic as anticipated.

Our hope is by having a Thought Exchange engagement, we will glean ideas from the public and the industry about how to make educational campaigns more meaningful, informational and interactive.