Alcohol misuse common and costly

Did you know that after tobacco, alcohol is the number one problem substance in Canada for both men and women?

Advertising depicting the allure and attractiveness of drinking will try to convince us otherwise, but alcohol abuse takes a heavy toll on our communities.

The Canadian economy loses billions of dollars each year due to lost productivity from sickness and premature death, health care, patrols for impaired drivers and other law enforcement costs.

More importantly, alcohol abuse costs lives. Alcohol is among the top three risk factors contributing to disease, disability and death in Canada. Forty-two percent of all violent injuries in Canada have alcohol involved.

In 2005 there were more than 25,000 alcohol related injuries and illnesses needing hospitalization in BC alone. Staggering, considering there were less than 5,000 hospitalizations for illicit drug use.

Although awareness campaigns have rightly focused on drug use such as the proliferation of crystal meth among our young people, alcohol use has also been on the rise in Canada in recent years.

Consumption has gone up more than 11 percent in the past decade with people drinking more frequently and more heavily than ever. Further, while it used to be primarily men who engaged in regular heavy drinking, Canadian women are starting to drink in the same way.

Drinking to escape worries or troubles, drinking to raise self confidence, and drinking alone are all considered warning signs that alcohol is a problem for you. According to a well-recognized test for alcoholism, if you answer yes to each of those three items, you are an alcoholic.

Binge drinking is also risky behaviour – defined for men as drinking five or more drinks in a single sitting at least once a month and four or more drinks for women – it is the single largest predictor that alcohol will become a problem for an individual.

More than three million Canadians are considered high risk drinkers and almost half of all youth are drinking heavily at least once a month.

Meanwhile, there are no national drinking guidelines and the only warning consumers are given is to drink responsibly. With no real instruction as to what ‘responsible’ drinking entails, many over-indulge on a regular basis.

Alcohol-related harm can include impaired motor skills and judgment from a single heavy use to dependence, chronic illnesses and death.

Health Canada is expected to issue some responsible drinking guidelines soon and a new national alcohol strategy makes 41 recommendations to help Canadians think about alcohol in new ways.

The strategy calls for better labeling on alcohol containers, better screening by health care professionals for risky drinking behaviour, improved access to addiction services, minimum retail prices for alcohol and public awareness campaigns about responsible alcohol use.

If you would like more information about responsible alcohol use or the national alcohol strategy visit http://www.nationalframework-cadrenational.ca or speak to your family doctor.

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About the Author

Paul Latimer has over 25 years experience in clinical practice, research, and administration.

After obtaining his medical degree from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, he did psychiatric training at Queen's, Oxford and Temple Universities. After his residency he did a doctorate in medical science at McMaster University where he was also a Medical Research Council of Canada Scholar.

Since 1983 he has been practicing psychiatry in Kelowna, BC, where he has held many administrative positions and conducted numerous clinical trials.

He has published many scientific papers and one book on the psychophysiology of the functional bowel disorders.

He is an avid photographer, skier and outdoorsman.

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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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