In 2013, 30-year-old American Elliot Stone started his MBA in Europe and quickly learned that lots of alcohol and no sleep were a big part of the top business school social life. Partying and losing track of the amount of drinks was the norm and almost all students bonded over very large amounts of booze.
Post MBA, a friend introduced him to Jonathan Bixby, a serial entrepreneur and General Partner at Stanley Park Ventures Ltd. Bixby shared the article “The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous” published in The Atlantic by Gabrielle Glaser in early 2015. “That story really ignited me!” says Stone. “We were both struck by how misleading all of the ‘common knowledge’ is when it comes to alcohol addiction.” Stone is referring to the many adages that roll off of so many of our tongues when someone presents a problem with substance use: she has to hit rock bottom, once an alcoholic always an alcoholic, quitting completely is the only way, etc.
Addiction is something both Stone and Bixby had a basic knowledge about, but they quickly learned the paralyzing magnitude of the problem. According to NIAAA, in 2010, alcohol misuse cost the United States $249.0 billion and between 2001/2002 and 2012/2013 there was a 49.4% (8.5->12.7%) increase in Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) reports. Yet treatment hasn’t evolved much over time. A long running critique of conventional treatment is that it meets people who may be reaching out for treatment for the first time with a long list of hurdles such as detox, lifetime goal of abstinence, shame, or wait lists that keep people from successfully undergoing treatment, with very few exceptions. Which is why less than 8% of people with AUD receive treatment in any given year.
Stone began correspondence with ContrAl Clinics in Helsinki, Finland, an alcohol treatment clinic founded on the research discovery of Dr. David Sinclair in the 1980’s. His discovery of “pharmacological extinction”, a process of unlearning addiction through the use of medication, was carried from the lab into the clinic in 1996 by Dr. Hannu Alho. Drs. Sinclair and Alho started ContrAl Clinics and Dr. Alho began treating patients with a blend of pharmacological extinction and psychotherapy.
What the duo started as an investigation on one of North America’s largest public health problems, got its legs when two doctors joined the cause: Dr. Diane A. Rothon MD, former Chief Coroner of British Columbia who had been working in addiction medicine for over 25 years, and Terri-Lynn MacKay PhD, a licensed Clinical Psychologist who had just come from an assistant professorship position at UNLV and had specialized in the treatment and research of mental health and addictive disorders since 2003. In a matter of weeks, four people from wildly different backgrounds all came together around the common goal of expanding accessibility to this effective, evidence-based treatment for alcohol use disorder to a vastly greater proportion of the affected population. The team partnered with ContrAl and embarked on a journey. “We all knew it was time for a change.” says Dr. MacKay
The result was Alavida Health, a science-based company that combines medication and behavioral therapy to help people decrease or stop consumption of alcohol. Since 2016, the innovative Alavida treatment program has been combining behavioral therapy, prescribed non-addictive medications and digital technology to help clients reduce or stop alcohol consumption, and a goal of abstinence is not required. Alavida’s specialized and licensed physicians and therapists work one-on-one with patients to empower them to achieve their goals in relation to alcohol. The method has a 78 percent success rate based on a clinical study and 20 years of ongoing practice conducted in Finland. “By offering a path to controlled drinking, Alavida extends a lifeline to people missed by the traditional abstinence-only models of treatment. “There are many people who may wish to curb their drinking but don’t feel the need, desire or readiness to consider abstinence. We can help them achieve a healthier life that doesn’t have to come at large social and personal cost. We believe that people wanting to make positive change should be met with open arms and practical tools, not obstacles and conditions.” says Dr. Rothon.
The company is opening its doors in Santa Monica next month, and points out that problems with alcohol occur on a spectrum and there is no specific cutoff point that determines whether a person is an “alcoholic”. Alcohol Use Disorder is diagnosed based on the problems alcohol causes in someone’s life, in conjunction with other objective measures such as tolerance and withdrawal effects.
“Of course we can help people in crisis at the end of their rope, but the real goal is to reach them before all that pain and misery, when a healthier relationship with alcohol is still possible.” says Stone, CEO of Alavida.
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