Canada’s Appetite For Risky Alcohol Consumption
Education and Advocacy While many Canadians know the toll of alcohol on their wallets, there are also wider effects to health and mental wellness that they should be aware of.
Canadians love their alcohol. According to the Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey (CADUMS) 2012, 78.4 percent of Canadians have consumed alcohol in the past 12 months, compared to 24.1 percent who have used a pharmaceutical drug, 10.2 percent who have consumed cannabis, 1.1 percent who have consumed cocaine or crack and 0.6 percent who have consumed ecstasy.
Knowing the limit
There is a widespread belief that a glass of wine per day is good for one’s health. In actual fact, this effect only applies to middle-aged people. Evidence shows that consuming one drink per day can provide some protection against diabetes and certain forms of heart disease for those older than 45. However, as the amount of alcohol consumed in a day increases, so too does the risk of a wide range of physical and mental illnesses, including liver disease, depression and a number of cancers.
Recently, Canadian women have been increasing their alcohol consumption, closing the gap on men. While risky alcohol consumption is more common in underage youth, young adults, and males up to age 54, research shows that risky drinking is increasing among underaged women, women aged 24 to 34, and women aged 45 to 64. Risky alcohol consumption is defined as three or more drinks on a single occasion for women and four or more drinks for men.
"Excessive alcohol consumption is important to address because the most recent cost study estimated that the total price tag of alcohol-related harm to Canadians is $14.6 billion per year."
The disturbing thing about this trend is that alcohol carries more adverse effects for women. Research shows that alcohol puts women at greater risk of breast cancer, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure and liver disease than men. For example, when consuming one drink per day on average, it is estimated that a woman’s risk of getting liver cirrhosis increases by 139 percent, compared to 26 percent for a man. Additionally, the risk of stroke for women is at least double the risk for men when exceeding the limits set in Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines.
These gender differences occur for several reasons. Women typically weigh less than men, and have less water in their bodies, so they reach higher blood-alcohol levels when consuming the same amount of alcohol as men. Further, women have less alcohol-metabolizing enzymes, so they digest alcohol more slowly than men.
Youth are another population of concern, as alcohol is the number one substance used by youth in Canada. The good news is that in the past year alcohol use has decreased among youth aged 15 to 24 years, down from 82.9 percent in 2004 to 70 percent in 2012, when comparing the results of the 2004 Canadian Addiction Survey to CADUMS 2012 data. However, binge drinking among youth is a big concern, especially on campuses. The last Canadian Campus Survey noted that one-third of students reported a heavy drinking pattern of consuming more than five drinks on the days they drink.
Excessive alcohol consumption is important to address because the most recent cost study estimated that the total price tag of alcohol-related harm to Canadians is $14.6 billion per year. This accounts for direct health care costs ($3.3 billion), direct enforcement costs ($3.1 billion), and lost productivity owing to disability and premature death ($7.1 billion).
"Youth are another population of concern, as alcohol is the number one substance used by youth in Canada."
So what can be done?
At the national level, Canada has a National Alcohol Strategy to implement the 41 recommendations introduced in the 2007 report, Reducing Alcohol-Related Harm in Canada: Toward a Culture of Moderation. The recommendations focus on four areas: health promotion, prevention and education; health impacts and treatment; availability of alcohol; and safer communities.
Spearheaded by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, 36 of the recommendations are being addressed by partnerships among various sectors, including all levels of government, non-governmental and public health organizations, and the alcohol industry.
On a personal level, people can reduce alcohol-related harms by following Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines. The guidelines advise women to have no more than two drinks per day with a maximum of 10 per week, and men no more than three drinks per day with a maximum of 15 per week.
Canadians should also consult their doctors about their drinking, if they have questions or concerns. Screening, intervention, and referral tools are available to guide healthcare professionals in detecting and addressing problematic alcohol consumption among their patients.