Summer is almost over, and for many Canadians it’s difficult to imagine a long weekend without alcohol.

For many young Canadians starting college and university this month, their experience will start with partying during Frosh Week. The risks associated with overdrinking can come with serious consequences. To gain an understanding of some of these risks, the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) released a report that examines hospitalizations entirely caused by alcohol.

Alcohol Harm in Canada: Examining Hospitalizations Entirely Caused by Alcohol and Strategies to Reduce Alcohol Harm found that last year there were more than 77,000 hospitalizations for harms entirely caused by alcohol, such as alcohol poisoning, alcohol withdrawal, or liver disease.

Hospitalization rates varied across Canada

Hospitalization rates varied considerably across Canada in 2015-2016. The eastern provinces generally had lower rates of hospitalization than those in the west, while the territories had higher hospitalization rates than the provinces on average. There were substantial variations within provinces, with higher rates in several northern and remote regions.
British Columbia had the highest provincial rate at 349 hospitalizations per 100,000 population, compared to the average of 239 per 100,000 across Canada. BC also saw strong variations across the Health Authorities. 

There were also significant differences in alcohol sales and heavy drinking rates across the country. Heavy drinking means five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women at one time, at least once a month over a one-year period.

Overall, males had higher heavy drinking and hospitalization rates than females. However, among children and youth ages 10 to 19, girls had higher rates of hospitalization than boys.
Almost three out of four alcohol-related hospitalizations were linked to conditions related to mental health and addictions. Examples include chronic alcohol use disorder, alcohol withdrawal, and alcohol intoxication.

A complicated issue

“The sheer complexity of the issue of alcohol harm, along with the magnitude of harm, is surprising,” says Dana Riley, program lead for the Canadian Population Health Initiative at CIHI. “For example, there are more hospitalizations for harms entirely caused by alcohol than for heart attacks in Canada, and this is really only the tip of the iceberg.”
The new indicator is focused on hospitalizations entirely caused by alcohol and does not include people who visit the emergency department who are not admitted to the hospital. The whole picture of alcohol harm is likely much larger than the numbers found in the report.

CIHI develops reports to draw attention to health issues that affect all Canadians. By exploring the complexities behind alcohol harm and the regional variations, this report aims to help reduce hospitalizations entirely caused by alcohol and encourage Canadians to make informed decisions about consuming alcohol.