Alcohol is no ordinary commodity. It is a legal psychoactive drug that enjoys enormous popularity and special social and cultural significance in Canada, as it does in other societies around the world. Alcohol serves a variety of functions – relaxation, socialization and celebration – often accompanying meals or incorporated into religious rituals and celebrations of holidays and events such as births and weddings. On the positive side, evidence also suggests that alcohol, consumed at low to moderate levels, can benefit the health of some individuals, for example, by reducing the risk of coronary heart disease.
Alcohol also plays an important role in the Canadian economy, generating jobs, retail activity, export income and tax revenue for governments. In 2004, the value of sales of alcoholic beverages in Canada totalled approximately $16 billion, compared with $13 billion in 2000. Total revenue and profits to all governments equalled approximately $7.7 billion.
However, alcohol use is also a public health issue, as it can cause harm. For example, it can impair motor skills and judgment, lead to intoxication and dependence, cause illness and death, and have other negative effects on our daily social, economic and living environments. Alcohol-related harm includes both chronic diseases, such as cirrhosis of the liver and some cancers, and acute events, such as road crashes, injury, verbal abuse, violence, disability, death and …
Alcohol-related death and disability account for four percent of the overall toll on life and longevity globally. This figure rises to nine percent in Canada, where alcohol is among the top three risk factors contributing to the burden of disease, disability and death (compared with tobacco at 12 percent and high blood pressure at 11 percent).
According to the 2004 Canadian Addiction Survey (CAS), approximately 80 percent of Canadians aged 15 and older reported having used alcohol in the 12 months before the survey. Just over seven percent reported having never consumed alcohol, and approximately 13 percent reported not drinking in the year before the survey.
Approximately 14 percent of Canadians (i.e., 3.3 million) are high-risk drinkers, meaning that their pattern of drinking is either currently harmful or significantly increases the likelihood of future harm. Among youth, 13.8 percent of past-year drinkers reported heavy drinking at least once a week, and 46 percent reported heavy drinking at least once a month.
The CAS also revealed that heavy drinking (i.e., five or more drinks on a single occasion for men and four or more drinks on a single occasion for women) on a monthly or more frequent basis is the strongest predictor that someone will experience alcohol-related harm. These drinkers are almost twice as likely to experience harm as those who never engage in heavy drinking.
Altogether, nearly one quarter of former or current drinkers reported that their drinking had caused harm to themselves and to others at sometime in their lives. Overall, consumption levels have increased in Canada, from 7.2 litres of absolute alcohol per person aged 15 years and older in 1997, to 7.9 litres per capita in 2004. This ranks Canada 43rd of 185 countries in total adult per-capita alcohol consumption.
Many people identify alcoholism, characterized by chronic, excessive drinking with symptoms of physical dependence on alcohol, as the most serious alcohol-related problem. However, heavy, single-occasion and episodic binge drinking by the much larger population of nondependent drinkers produces far greater and wider-reaching impacts on the health, safety and well-being of individuals and communities.
In order to reduce alcohol-related harm in Canada, a comprehensive National Alcohol Strategy is needed, with investments in health promotion, prevention, treatment, enforcement and harm reduction.
Take a peak at the recommendations from the National Alcohol Strategy Working Group!
Excerpt retrieved from: National Alcohol Strategy Working Group (2007). Reducing Alcohol Related Harm in Canada: Toward a Culture of Moderation. http://www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/ccsa-023876-2007.pdf#search=%2A