Tens of thousands of Canadians were hospitalized because of alcohol in 2016, according to a new report from the Canadian Institute of Health Information.
That’s more than the number of people hospitalized for heart attacks.
It’s a growing concern for Canadians, since almost 80 per cent of us drink and the amount of harm alcohol causes is growing.
“Alcohol was the third-leading risk factor for death and disability globally in 2010, up from sixth in 1990,” the report states.
According to CIHI, over 77,000 Canadians were hospitalized as a direct result of alcohol. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, Tom Stockwell, a consultant on the study, explained.
“That omits the great majority that are partially caused by alcohol,” he said. “If you add up the fractions of the people injured in alcohol-related road crashes, or alcohol related violence … the figure of 77,000 is really just the tip of the iceberg.”
The effects of these high numbers are widespread; harmful drinking can have a negative effect on unemployment and crime for example.
The report says the cost to the hospital is significant: “the average cost per hospitalization entirely caused by alcohol was estimated to be $8,100 — higher than the cost of the average hospital stay ($5,800)”
The number of hospitalizations from alcohol varied from province to province, but there was a clear trend of East vs. West.
Western provinces had higher numbers per capita than the national average, and the highest numbers were recorded in B.C.
The report says that on average, the provinces and territories with greater alcohol sales also had higher prevalence of heavy drinking.
That could be because alcohol is regulated by province, Stockwell explained.
“Alberta and B.C. have done a pretty good job of loosening restrictions on alcohol,” he said. “Alberta, famously, abolished its retail alcohol monopoly and B.C. is really making inroads – the private sector is really outstripping the government sector.”
“Consumption in B.C. is going up three-times faster than the rest of Canada at the moment.”
If regulations are loosened, the extra convenience and affordability comes at a price, and inevitably means more consumption.
Stockwell said it’s just like any other commodity that way, but “the only difference is the more we use it the more health and safety problems there are in the community.”
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Heavy drinking – which is defined as five drinks for males and four drinks for females at one occasion – was more common for men, according to the report.
But when you split the numbers by age group, an outlier appears: hospitalizations of teenage girls due to alcohol are more prevalent than teenage boys.
Jean Harvey, director of the Canadian Population Health Initiative in CIHI, offered a few reasons for this.
“It could be because we have found that girls choose higher alcohol content beverages, where boys may choose beer,” she said. “There’s different physiology between boys and girls so it may be because of that, or there may be some self-esteem issues going on there.”
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