After LifeSpeak completed its IPO in July 2021, we strategically acquired several wellbeing companies that aligned with our growth plans. One of them was ALAViDA, a confidential substance use support platform that employees and plan members can access on any device.
ALAViDA’s mission is to make no-barrier addiction treatment accessible to individuals through employers and member organizations. Through its platform, organizations can take an early intervention approach to supporting their people. That way, individuals can successfully navigate important changes without disrupting work or their personal lives.
“If you get carpal tunnel, you don’t go groveling to your manager and worry about all the shame that’s going to come from it,” company president and founder Elliot Stone says. “You just go to the healthcare provider and get help. And that’s the way it should be with substance use.”
Stone started his career in consulting. He worked overseas for three years, traveling constantly. The resulting burnout led him to go back to school to do an MBA at the IE Business School. He became interested in early-stage business but wanted to find work that fueled the altruistic side of his personality. Stone grew up in the southern United States, in a community riddled with addiction problems, and that experience is part of what inspired him to start ALAViDA.
“When you look at the southern states and the opioid crisis, we hear a lot about it now, but I think the real peak was 15 years ago in some ways,” Stone says. “Now we’re seeing the fallout, but when I was growing up, the pervasiveness of people using addictive prescription medication recreationally was kind of crazy.”
While living in Europe, Stone saw substance use treated differently than it was in North America. Individuals struggling with substance use were encouraged to see doctors and therapists. He decided to bring a similar model to Canada, with a twist: empower it with technology.
In North America, getting help for substance use challenges has traditionally meant taking time away from work, family and friends in a facility. As Stone says, when you say addiction treatment most people still think of a smoke-filled church basement and group therapy. And a lot of shame.
“We’re trying to change the binary situation of either you have a problem with substances, and you need to become abstinent and change your whole life or you don’t have a problem and everything’s fine.
“We’ve made it much easier for individuals to take the step of learning how much alcohol or drugs are consumed, what the impacts are and learn a bit about what treatment looks like. Confidentiality is key. By reframing addiction treatment to specialists on their phone, they get the care they need without compromising their personal or professional life. That’s the core of it.”
One of ALAViDA’s main goals is to bring substance use and addiction terminology into the workplace lexicon. It’s trying to change the conversation around substance use into one that is simultaneously more honest and palatable for organizations and individuals to engage with together. The focus isn’t necessarily about quitting a substance—it’s about reducing consumption and increasing control.
“More than 80% of people in North America consume alcohol, and the majority don’t know that there’s no healthy amount of alcohol consumption. So, if you want to be healthier, drinking less alcohol is something that’s applicable to the vast majority of people in most organizations. We’re changing the conversation to, hey, you count calories, you count steps, why wouldn’t you count drinks.”
When Stone started to build ALAViDA, most of the tools he needed already existed. He and his team just had to take them from other areas of care and apply them to substance use treatment, which was relatively behind the times. The platform itself started as a simple diary. It tracked alcohol and included video software for virtual sessions between a client and their ALAViDA care team. Eventually, the company went beyond alcohol to include all substances, created a more sophisticated journal, added questionnaires and internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy modules; it added free and client-only resources, asynchronous messages with experts and reminders.
ALAViDA helped its first few clients in person. After a couple months, it had built its online platform and was doing visits with its care team virtually. It kept an office to see local clients for their first few visits, but often even those living near the office would prefer the convenience of virtual support. Within 6 months it had clients across Canada and by early 2020 it had moved to a fully virtual model.
The company initially operated under a B2C model to build up the requisite credibility and know-how. It created a category in group benefits for substance use support—and that’s one of the things Stone is most proud of. While the goal was always to evolve into employee benefits and insurance, ALAViDA really began focusing on B2B sales in January 2019.
The pandemic helped push the growing need for ALAViDA’s services to another level. The company started to work with insurance providers just before the pandemic, and as Stone says, the move turned out to be very fortuitous. Without the pandemic, he doesn’t know if the timing would have been right. Virtual medicine wasn’t widely accepted before, and overnight it was.
And then it entered discussions with LifeSpeak.
After growing rapidly over several years, ALAViDA joined the LifeSpeak family in fall 2021. Stone says the two companies clicked immediately, and are only getting more excited about the work they can do together.
He says the biggest reason the two companies pair so well is because of the alignment in values and mission of removing barriers for individuals to take the first step toward addressing challenging life situations.
“It’s like this: you are dealing with a personal issue, and you work at a company—what’s a natural first door for you to explore? Is it a doctor’s office or virtual medicine? No. Is it an EAP? No, not really. It’s low barrier education that gets people the right answer to the question ‘Do I need to do something about my life challenge and if so, what’s the next step?’”
Learn more about how ALAViDA and the entire LifeSpeak family of companies can help your organization support your people through the full range of family caregiving, mental health and wellbeing challenges.
LifeSpeak provides a premier suite of education-based wellbeing platforms for organizations to support their employees and clients. Our mental health, physical wellness, substance-use and family caregiving solutions serve millions worldwide
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