Many people don’t think twice about drinking alcohol in Canada. From craft beer, to cocktails and wine — booze is aplenty in the true north strong and free.
“It is so ingrained in our culture,” said Lee-Anne Richardson, a Nova Scotia woman who gave up alcohol six-years ago.
“All of the advertisements we see are trying to show that it’s a very positive thing. It’s healthy, it’s beneficial, you’ll have a better social life, it’s a social lubricant.”
Like many people, Richardson says alcohol was a mainstay part of her life. From friends, to outings, to just sitting at home — it wasn’t uncommon to have a bottle containing some type of liquor involved.
“My whole identity was wrapped up in it,” she said. “So I was like, ‘OK, my identity will be gone, all my friends will be gone.’
“It’s so overwhelming and so terrifying, and while that is true in a way, it’s just a change. It’s not a complete death of self, you’re just changing.”
Richardson recently created an online platform called Sober City Halifax. The website aims to connect people exploring sobriety, or just looking to find other ways to enjoy activities in Halifax that don’t involve alcohol as the main attraction.
“I felt almost alone in my sobriety, even though I know there are so many people who go through it but there wasn’t really any resources here that I found that really jive well with me. So, that was the starting point,” she said.
Canada drinking rates on the rise
Richardson cut alcohol out of her life because she says it didn’t make her healthy or happy. Her anxiety disorder worsened when she was intoxicated and sobering up afterwards, and she says she wasted a lot of time on hangovers.
For her, the reasons not to drink began outweighing the reasons to keep alcohol in her life.
“Quitting alcohol was a huge benefit for the anxiety and for the rest of my life too because I had stopped putting poison in my body,” Richardson said.
Alcohol consumption across the country is rising, according to a 2018 report published by the Canadian Institute for Health Information. The report examined drinking trends and data in Canada and outlined how people and the health-care system are being impacted by incidents attributed to liquor.
The report found that between 2016-17, there were almost 80,000 hospitalizations due to conditions wholly caused by alcohol. That number is higher than the rate of heart attack hospitalizations at 77,000.
The report also found that rates of excessive drinking in women is rising faster than men.
The report aims to put research in the hands of policy makers so they can spearhead health changes that will help decrease the risks associated with consuming too much alcohol.
“The conclusion is that problematic, or harmful consumption of alcohol has an impact on the health status of Canadians and it is increasing among women compared to men,” Amuah said.
Binge drinking is described as having several drinks in a short period of time. It’s a trend health-care professionals are witnessing the negative effects of countrywide.
“There just seems to be a general trend to consuming more alcohol, when there should be a general trend to consuming less alcohol,” Dr. Eric Yoshida said, a liver specialist in British Columbia and the medical advisory chair fro the Canadian Liver Foundation.
Dr. Yoshida says he’s noticed a significant increase in the rates of liver transplants over the past decade, and the age at which people are needing them is getting younger.
“There’s not enough organs and they pass away and a lucky few with just prolonged absence just get better on their own and don’t need a transplant and that’s the kind of awful situation we face, and it’s tough when the person we’re asked to consider is in their twenties and thirties and the trend just seem to be growing,” he said.
In recent years, alcohol abstinence trends have taken social media by storm. From “Sober October” to “Dry January,” people pledge their promise to go “booze free” for 31 days.
While Richardson decided to restrict her alcohol intake for personal reasons, she encourages anyone thinking of re-examining their relationship with liquor and the impact it’s having on their lives to explore different drinking alternatives, such as 30-day abstinence, or moderation.
“It forces you to re-evaluate your relationship with alcohol, which is a fantastic thing because it could spill into the rest of the year,” she said.