The rate of women who died from causes linked directly to alcohol has increased by 26 per cent between 2001 and 2015., The rate for men only increased by about five per cent during that same period. These numbers only include conditions like chronic alcohol use disorder, withdrawal delirium, cirrhosis, acute pancreatitis and extreme intoxication – not conditions that alcohol is a risk factor for.
Fewer women die from strictly alcohol-related causes than men: 794 compared to 2,285 in 2015. But women are catching up, said Tim Stockwell, director of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research.
“Women are drinking more like men,” he said. As women’s incomes went up and they developed more independence – not to mention as alcohol got relatively less expensive – women began to drink more.
And although they consume less, alcohol affects women more. Each dose of alcohol is more damaging in terms of things like liver damage as well as simple intoxication, he said.
Dr. Eddy Lang, department head for emergency medicine in the Calgary zone, sees the effects in his emergency room. Young adults are “getting into trouble” at parties, he said.
“They’re coming in comatose.”
Older people form the majority of his alcohol-related patients though, he said, coming in with alcohol withdrawal, which causes “the shakes,” vomiting and hallucinations. “They see ants on the wall. They become very confused.”
When he adds in patients who have been in fights at bars or car accidents, alcohol’s impact in the emergency room is pronounced.
“I’m sad to say it, but I’ve had shifts at the hospital here in Calgary where I look over my patient list at the end of the shift and if it wasn’t for alcohol, I’d have no patients.”
“We have to take alcohol more seriously,” said Jurgen Rehm, senior director of the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research.
Alcohol consumption can lead to liver cirrhosis, dependence, withdrawal, acute pancreatitis, as well as chronic diseases like cancer, he said, and Canada is a heavy-drinking country.
“We have to actually be clear that alcohol is the second-biggest risk factor for cancer.”
“It is one of the top-five risk factors for premature mortality, for life expectancy, for burden of disease and hospitalizations and we should do something.”
There are more hospitalizations related to alcohol than heart attacks, according to CIHI: 77,000 compared to 75,000 in 2015.
Making alcohol less-advertised, less affordable and less available would help to cut down on the burden of disease, Rehm said, but so far, “our political system doesn’t want to do that.”
— With a file from Christa Dao, Global News