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Chabad Lifeline blog

Feature focus: Medical Doctor & Addiction Specialist


"My relationship with Chabad Lifeline has evolved beyond collegiality into friendship," said Dr. Jean-Francois Boivin in a recent chat. "What I value most in terms of things you don't find too often is the teamwork. The fact that I can come here and share my views on patients and also receive the feedback from others and we work together as a team around the patient."

Often, in the field of addiction, whether substance or behavioural addictions, we find we call comorbidities, the simultaneous presence of two chronic diseases or conditions in a patient. For example, depression may be present, but there might be other problems such as hyperactivity which must be dealt with as part of an effective treatment plan.

With this in mind, Chabad Lifeline reached out to the Herzl Clinic years ago to collaborate and allow a physician and addiction expert to be consulted by our staff when we have a client we feel should be assessed for disorders such as depression, physical health and the like. They put us in touch with Dr. Boivin and a friendship was born.

Direct research on street kids 

When Jean Francois Boivin was a student looking to major in molecular biology, he discovered epidemiology and public health and its research piqued his interest. As time passed, Boivin moved toward statistical research of epidemiology, studying the causes of cancer and unwanted side effects of medication.

In 1981, he graduated Harvard with a doctoral degree in epidemiology and in 1990, he finished Chis studies at the Universite de Montreal as a physician and specialist in community medicine. In the mid-nineties, Dr. Boivin began researching street youth in Montreal, the health of homeless kids. This research led to an interest in substance abuse and addiction among the street kids.

"We worked with all of the key resources that offer services to street youth in Montreal," he recalled. "Through them, we accessed street kids and took blood samples as well as did various surveys on their health, filling in questionnaires on their habits and backgrounds."

"One of our findings was that there is a very high mortality rate among these kids. About 10 times higher than what you would find among youth of similar age in Quebec," he continued. "We felt that there were infections like HIV, overdoses, hepatitis, and higher suicide rates which brought about the huge mortality rate."

Returning to clinical practice

Dr. Boivin has served on various scientific and policy committees such as the Scientific Council of the Québec Research Institute for Health and Occupational Safety (1997-2001), the Scientific Council of France's Mutuelle générale de l’éducation nationale (1999-2002), and the Advisory Board of the CIHR Institute of Health Services and Policy Research (2004-2008).

He was a consultant and examiner for the Faculty of Medicine of Kuwait (1998-2002). He is currently a member of the Québec Regional Advisory Committee of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, the Fellowships Affairs of the Royal College, and the Board of Directors of the Canadian Center on Substance Abuse.

10 years ago, Dr. Boivin returned to clinical practice. "I wanted to see the people who were behind the numbers we were working on and I wanted to return to the clinical encounter," he explained. "Eventually it became something I felt I needed to do. Because I had been in research for so many years, I took a year off and had to relearn the clinical skills, so I spent one year at the St Luc Hospital which is a large addiction centre relearning how to be a doctor with a focus on addiction medicine due to my work with street youth."

Joining Lifeline's team 

Dr. Boivin joined the Herzl, where they have an addiction clinic, and joined Chabad Lifeline's team as our addiction specialist, making himself available for Lifeline clients who need assessment and treatment for clinical disorders. "We also have access at the Herzl Clinic to a psychiatrist who will conduct in depth assessments of our patients, and I can send patients from Lifeline to a psychiatrist for a one shot in depth assessment for more complicated cases," said Dr. Boivin. "With the information from the psychiatrist, we can guide the treatment plan for the patient."

Dr. Boivin regularly meets with Lifeline's clinical team to discuss cases they are working on together and to share different perspectives and update treatment plans accordingly.

In addition, Dr. Boivin advises on topical subjects such as the current harm reduction debate, and shares his expertise in physical medicine. "For example, I remember early on someone at Lifeline asked me to explain the distinction between Hepatitis A, B and C," he recalled. 

In addition to his duties at the Herzl Clinic and Chabad Lifeline, Dr. Boivin is a Professor in the Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics at McGill University. His expertise and guidance have helped save the lives of countless clients of Chabad Lifeline.

Support our team as we reach the end of our raffle campaign. Purchase a ticket here.

Lea's story: a shocking letter

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Partners of addicts can be in the dark for years. Sometimes, the opening of an envelope can turn your world upside down.

After 14 years of marriage to her high school sweetheart, Lea* came across a notice of foreclosure from the bank. She confronted her husband who confessed to a gambling addiction that led back to poker games in CEGEP. Their inheritance and life savings were gone.

Lea was distraught and moved into her mother's home together with their children. A friend recommended Chabad Lifeline and we made sure she wasn't alone and the children received support during this crisis. We also met with her husband and set out a treatment plan for him to follow.

The family is back together, building their life again on a foundation based on honesty and good values. Lea now helps other women deal with the catastrophic shock of codependency.

"My family was torn apart and thanks to Chabad Lifeline and good friends, we've made it through the crisis," admitted Lea. "We're still working on paying back my husband's debts but more importantly we are dealing with the addiction together."

In next month's newsletter, we will address and define codependency, and discuss the enabling of addicts and the importance of setting boundaries.

Please note that Lea is a pseudonym and certain details were changed to protect the privacy of the family.

We are in middle of a raffle campaign. Click here to support Chabad Lifeline and allow us to continue helping families like Lea's.

Feature Focus: Family Counselling

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Karen Bresinger MSW from Rutger's University in New Jersey, is Clinical Director and Family Counsellor at Chabad Lifeline. She has extensive experience counselling family members dealing with addiction, working with co-dependency, and she directs the treatment program for addicts and families.

“Family members of addicts are usually the first ones to call us seeking help for someone with addiction issues, being that addiction includes a lot of denial,” explained Karen. “They are the first ones to see the problem and call in crisis, asking how they can help their family member.”

Karen’s work involves educating the family members on what’s helpful. And based on research, what’s most helpful is for them to get help for themselves.

One of the best forms of help is to join a group of people facing similar challenges, which has been proven to be the most effective way to help with dealing with addiction for both the addict and the family members, being that they see that they are not alone. “There’s a sense of connection when someone is with other people, and that’s really helpful,” said Karen. “We offer individual counselling and therapies for the parents, spouses, children, even grandparents of the addict, as well as groups they all can join.”

Counselling family members of addicts often involves advising them to look at their own behaviour and see if anything may be enabling the addict. “The three C’s are very important,” Karen explained. “Family members need to know that they didn’t Cause it, they can’t Control is, and they can’t Cure it. Many family members come in thinking they can do all of the three.”

Family members are guided through psychoeducation and group support in learning the many aspects of addiction and healing.

“What makes Chabad Lifeline unique in this area is that regardless if the addict is coming for help or not, or if they’re getting help with Chabad Lifeline or elsewhere,” said Rabbi Benyamin Bresinger, Director at Chabad Lifeline. “We see support for the family as essential because they are also suffering.”

Chabad Lifeline also tries to give family members tools to support the addict in reaching out for help as well, and with Lifeline's team working together, can offer a complete service where the addiction counsellors, family therapies, and youth coordinator can get together under the same roof on a regular basis to aid the family on a path of complete recovery.


Feature focus: intake

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It can take years for someone affected by addiction to finally come for help. We see how important creating a warm, welcoming and non-judgmental environment is.

This lifesaving atmosphere is embodied by Ruth. “It’s Ruth’s smile and love that saved my life,” said Donna K.

Ruth is an Internationally Certified Alcohol and Drug Counsellor and Certified Canadian Addiction Counsellor. She has been an Addictions Counsellor at Chabad Lifeline since 2002.

Ruth had been counselling addicts independently for many years. “Fifteen years ago, I walked into the centre and offered to help,” she recalled. “This was always a passion for me and it evolved into a career. I love this place.”

Ruth is responsible for the intake, screening and assessment. “I will usually see a client the same day or maximum within 48 hours,” she said. “That’s for an intake, but a person can come in immediately and tap into our vast resources and never have to be alone again.” 

Intake involves filling out paperwork which includes a confidentiality form, the client’s contact information and a brief history. The client then fills out a questionnaire that screens for multiple addictions. “Very often someone comes in for an alcohol problem and the screening and intake will reveal that they also have other issues that have never been addressed.”

After the initial meeting, she meets with the eight members of our clinical team to come up with the best treatment plan possible.

Ruth also leads an open speaker’s group, coordinates volunteers, and serves as a liaison with the recovery community. “I love watching people get better,” she said warmly. “Seeing them show up and then go from darkness to light is very rewarding. I love our clients.”

Ruth’s non-judgmental, hospitable manner is vital to the healing process of everyone who has been helped by Chabad Lifeline. It actually saves lives.

Emma's story

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Emma* came to Chabad Lifeline six years ago to deal with her alcohol abuse. A close friend working on her gambling addiction referred Emma to us and when we met with the 17-year-old, she had hit rock bottom.

We set out to understand what was the underlying cause of her alcohol abuse, and during a one on one therapy session at Lifeline, Emma opened up and shared her horrifying backstory. Her father had been using her as part of a prostitution ring, and she was being forced to recruit friends as well.

To escape the miserable realities of her life, Emma had started drinking heavily. Thanks to Lifeline's staff, she was able to get away from her father, the prostitution, and has been living in sobriety.

Recently, she called Lifeline to thank us and share the good news that she had been accepted into Concordia and will be starting in the fall.

"Chabad Lifeline saved my life," she said. "I was taught to reframe my story and deal with my issues. It's still a struggle sometimes, but I'm proud to be sober and have referred some friends who fell into the same trap I did to Lifeline where they are being helped."

*Names and and certain details were changed to protect the privacy of the young woman in the story.

Emma was helped thanks to support from people like you. We are in middle of a raffle campaign. Please open your heart and purchase a ticket or two by clicking here

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