Article: Alcohol-related deaths remain a ‘silent epidemic’ in Canada: expert

In this May 20, 2009 file photo a glass of white wine is swirled during a tasting in California.

In this May 20, 2009 file photo a glass of white wine is swirled during a tasting in California.

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

VANCOUVER — Heavy drinking landed Dawn Nickel in the emergency department four times — twice for alcohol poisoning and two more times when she took pills with alcohol to try and kill herself.

READ MORE: Harmful alcohol use is on the rise — and experts warn it’s not slowing down

“I had no recollection of either wanting to end my life or taking the pills to end my life,” the Victoria resident said nearly 32 years after she downed her last drink.

Binge drinking finally gave way to treatment as Nickel realized the impact of her addiction on her daughters, who were two and six at the time.

She later founded the support group She Recovers to help other women struggling with substance use, though one thing remains the same years later, there is a lack of treatment, even as alcohol-related hospitalizations are increasing.

Data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) show 10 Canadians die in hospital every day from harm caused by substance use, and 75 per cent of those deaths are related to alcohol. The agency did not have information on the number of deaths that occur outside of hospital, which is mostly the case for a greater number of opioid deaths among people who die alone.

Released earlier this month, the CIHI data also show alcohol contributes to more than half of all substance-use hospitalizations, which are 13 times more common than for opioid poisonings.

Nickel said the plight of a 65-year-old retired public servant who recently hired a sobriety coach through She Recovers to support her into recovery illustrates the struggles of people trying to stop their problematic drinking.

She said the woman, who did not want her name published, stopped drinking for three months after hiring the coach but then started downing a 26-ounce bottle of vodka and a case of beer every day while the coach was away for a week, during which time she had a serious fall, followed by a racing heartbeat that prompted her to go to a hospital in Victoria.

“Everybody in the emergency room was so compassionate and loving and kind,” said Nickel, who has a PhD in health policy.

“She wants to stop drinking more than anything because she believes with every fibre of her being that her body will not survive it,” Nickel said, adding the woman was advised by an emergency-room doctor to head to a liquor store after her release from the ER so she could drink moderately to avoid harrowing withdrawal symptoms while awaiting treatment, which wouldn’t be available for six to eight weeks.

READ MORE: France trying to get people to cut back to two drinks a day or less

The CIHI data say that between 2017 and 2018, British Columbia had 361 alcohol-related hospitalizations every day per 100,000 people, the highest of all the provinces, while the Northwest Territories saw the highest overall alcohol-related hospitalizations in the country, at 1,751 per 100,000 residents.

Nickel said some private British Columbia facilities charge up to $30,000 a month for treatment because a publicly funded system has failed to address the “silent epidemic” of alcohol dependence across Canada.

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