Alcohol by the Numbers – Thoughts on the Alcohol Harm in Canada Report
This headline made the news this summer: Alcohol leads to more hospitalizations than heart attacks do in Canada. The report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information outlines alcohol use across Canada and identifies population at risk of harm by alcohol. They released this infographic and the facts below:
- Canadians with the lowest incomes report less heavy drinking but are more than twice as likely to be hospitalized for conditions entirely caused by alcohol.
- Possible reasons for this are higher stress levels, limited social supports, and poor diet and physical inactivity.
- Among Canadians with the lowest incomes, 20% report heavy drinking and there are 411 hospitalizations per 100,000 people.
- Among Canadians with the highest incomes, 29% report heavy drinking and there are 166 hospitalizations per 100,000 people.
- Alcohol pricing policies and screening for heavy drinking are among the most effective strategies for reducing alcohol harm. For more information, see: Canadian Institute for Health Information. Alcohol Harm in Canada: Examining Hospitalizations Entirely Caused by Alcohol and Strategies to Reduce Alcohol Harm. Ottawa, ON: CIHI; 2017.
I thought I would take an FASD prevention lens to some of the report findings…
1. One of the questions addressed in the CIHI report was whether health practitioners are asking Canadians about their alcohol use. They reported “25% of males and 22% of females reported having talked about alcohol use with a health care provider in the past 2 years. For both males and females, Alberta had the highest reported rates of talking about alcohol use with a care provider.” These conversations are important because they can increase awareness among women of child-bearing age and their partners about the effects of drinking during pregnancy before they become pregnant. Our colleagues at the Girls, Women, Alcohol, and Pregnancy: Perspectives on FASD Prevention blog shared various resources and campaigns to promote conversations on alcohol between women and their healthcare professionals.
2. The report also noted hospitalizations caused entirely by alcohol among children and youth:
“The most common diagnoses for hospitalizations entirely caused by alcohol for children and youth age 10 to 19 were harmful alcohol use and alcohol intoxication (results not shown). Girls age 10 to 19 are more frequently hospitalized for alcohol than boys in this age group; this is the only period throughout the lifespan where hospitalizations entirely caused by alcohol among females outnumber those among males.”
In addition, they reference a study about binge drinking and associated health risk behaviours among high school students that suggests:
“Students who binge drank were more likely than both nondrinkers and current drinkers who did not binge to report poor school performance and involvement in other health risk behaviors such as riding with a driver who had been drinking, being currently sexually active, smoking cigarettes or cigars, being a victim of dating violence, attempting suicide, and using illicit drugs.”
Interventions for reducing alcohol-exposed pregnancies in youth include Project CHOICES. Support professionals can find information and training materials for this intervention here.
3. CanFASD believes that terms like low, moderate, and heavy can be confusing and subjective, and when we use them in messages about how much alcohol can be safely consumed by pregnant women they perpetuate controversy and confusion.
CIHI defined heavy drinking as having 5 or more drinks for men and 4 or more drinks for women on 1 occasion at least once a month over a 1-year period. Here’s a brochure by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse outlining Low-Risk Alcohol Guidelines. Also, Rethink Your Drinking created a video about the Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines. I’m pleased to see both of these resources use the language of Zero is the Limit for women who are pregnant or hoping to become pregnant.
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