e-Textbook Primer

AFMC and the Palix Foundation have partnered to provide funding and support for the development of a suite of e-learning tools on early brain and biological development and addictions for undergraduate medical education. The suite of resources includes virtual patients, a primer (e-textbook), and podcast series. Topics that are addressed include core concepts of early child development, epigenetics, intervention and treatment strategies, and system responses to addiction.

In 2010 an environmental scan of pedagogical resources on undergraduate materials on addiction was conducted by the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada with funding from the Palix Foundation.

The AFMC Primer on Biopsychosocial Approach to Addiction provides core concepts related to the basic and social science of addiction including key concepts, science and research. It also addresses Addiction Medicine including reflective practice, basic principles of clinical management and elements of quality care and treatment.

This Primer is tailored for medical students and medical educators but will be beneficial to medical residents, students of other health professions and healthcare professionals interested in improving their knowledge of addiction. Concepts discussed in the Primer are linked to the Medical Council of Canada Objectives for the Qualifying Examination.

Read the Primer from the beginning or jump ahead to a chapter of interest. In addition to providing core concepts on addiction, each chapter includes supplementary text including definitions to explain terms which may be new to readers. "Nerd’s corner" boxes contain material of interest to readers afflicted with an enquiring mind and there are links to supplementary reading resources. Many chapters include case studies or links to interactive virtual patients. A glossary of definitions is available as a quick revision tool.

Edited by:

Dr. Nancy Brager – Department of Psychiatry & Department of Internal Medicine, University of Calgary

Dr. Peter Butt – Department of Family Medicine, University of Saskatchewan

Nicole Sherren, PhD, Scientific Director, Palix Foundation

Sponsored by
Palix Foundation logo

Download Addictions e-Textbook PDF format
(PDF Download)
QR code for AFMC Addiction Primer PDF


About the Primer

AFMC, with medical educators and addiction experts, has developed a suite of e-learning tools on addiction and its foundations in early brain and biological development.  The Suite includes a podcast series, 18 virtual patient cases and this AFMC Primer on Biopsychosocial Approach to Addiction.

The Primer is designed to provide undergraduate medical students and educators with resources that help build base domain knowledge including new research that has changed the way we think about the biological, psychological and social underpinnings and factors of addiction. In addition to the basic and social science of addiction medicine, it is the hope of all of the contributors to this Primer, that the learners and educators will find value in the section on Clinical Practice. This section answers the question of why all physicians should be involved in addiction medicine.  It encourages the medical students to address bias and stigma associated with addiction, and provides basic principles for clinical management including history taking, screening, detection and physical examinations. It addresses concurrent disorders and a treatment and continuum of care for individuals and their families. There is information on pharmacological interventions, the chronic disease management model and recovery.


The rational for the project was born of two environmental scans related to addictions curricula and resources in undergraduate medical education in Canada commissioned by the Palix Foundation. These scans, in 2009 and 2010, revealed little dedicated curriculum content related to addictions. It also revealed a gap between the knowledge from new and emerging research on addictions and the existing curricula.

At the time of the study, identified curriculum-based activities were often limited to substance- related addictions (alcohol, tobacco, etc.). Training and information related to behavioural addictions is extremely limited, with gambling addictions more likely to be addressed than any other behavioral or process addictions such as food, sex, internet, video game or work addictions. In addition, the underlying developmental processes involved in the ontology of addiction such as strategies for prevention, screening, comprehensive treatment, and case monitoring were not significantly addressed in undergraduate medical education curricula. As a consequence, the Palix Foundation, in partnership with the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada (AFMC), initiated the Addictions- E-learning Medical Education Resource Development Project.

The objectives of the project were to:

  • Align medical education competencies with emerging research on experience-based brain and biological development as it relates to early childhood development and its lifelong impact on addiction
  • Support subject matter experts in Canada
  • Build connections among researchers, subject matter experts, and e-learning experts at Canadian faculties of medicine
  • Create a new, innovative resource relevant to undergraduate medical educators and learners in Canada.


George Koob, PhD
Mark Gold, MD
Mahdi Razafsha, MD
Benjamin Srivastava, MD
Robin Gibb, MD
Nicole Letourneau, PhD
Judy Cameron, PhD
Ruth Lanius, MD, PhD
Mischa Tursich, PhD
Doris Payer, PhD
Glenda MacQueen, MD, PhD
Thomas McLellan, PhD
Peter Butt, MD
David Topps, MD
Sonya Lee, MD
Nancy Brager, MD
Peter Selby, MD
Nadia Minian, PhD
Hillary Connolly, CAMH
Dennis Pusch, PhD
Keith Dobson, PhD
Laurie Zawertailo, PhD
Anna Ivanova, BSc, MA, MPH
Derek Puddester, MD, PhD
Ralph Earle, PhD
Amy Hesler, RN, LMFT
Brenda Garrett, RN, MC, LPC
Nicole Burma, PhD candidate
Erik Fraunberger, MSc candidate
Heather Leduc-Pessah, PhD candidate

Project Team
Matt Raegele, AMFC, Project Coordinator
Brenda Du Plessis, AFMC, Web Developer
Irving Gold, AFMC, Former VP – Government Relations and External Affairs
Barbie Shore, AFMC, Former Project Manager
Catherine Peirce, AFMC, Former Project Manager

Stylistic Editing
Eva Radford