Article by Colin McPhail
Photo by Ryan Remiorz
Saint John • There were more hospitalizations in Canada caused by alcohol than by heart attacks last year, according to alarming statistics in a new report examining the impact of alcohol on Canadians and health care.
The Canadian Institute for Health Information report, released Thursday, concluded 212 people were hospitalized daily for reasons entirely caused by alcohol – a figure that doesn’t include people treated in emergency departments without being admitted. The report further breaks down the statistic into subgroups, such as age, gender and jurisdiction.
“Our report shows that alcohol harm is a serious issue in Canada,” Kathleen Morris, vice-president of research and analysis at the institute, in the report.
“There is wide variation across the provinces and territories in the number of hospitalizations for conditions entirely caused by alcohol. Many people may be surprised that there are more hospitalizations for conditions due to alcohol than for heart attacks.”
Last year, 77,000 hospitalizations were caused entirely by alcohol – about 2,000 more than heart attacks. Common conditions for patients include alcohol poisoning, alcohol withdrawal and liver disease, the institute stated, and three quarters of hospitalizations are related to mental health and addiction.
Overall, men have higher heavy drinking and hospitalization rates than women, the institute suggested, though girls aged 10-19 have higher hospitalization rates than boys. The report stated as many as six Canadian teens a day are hospitalized.
New Brunswick has the lowest hospitalization rate of the Canadian provinces and territories at 172 per 100,000 people aged 10 and up. The national rate was 239, and the territories showed the highest rates.
A 2015 study by the provincial government indicated the average length of alcohol-related hospital stays has increased from 10 days to two weeks since 2003. The study also reported the two-week average was the second highest among provinces and territories.
Low-risk alcohol guidelines, developed by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, stated women should not exceed 10 drinks a week and men should not exceed 15 drinks a week to reduce long-term health risks.
Stacey Doyle, executive director of the Sophia Recover Centre for Women in Saint John said alcohol addiction can be one of the more difficult addictions to break because the substance is so widely accepted in our society.
Doyle said being around the substance that was the source of an addiction can be a relapse trigger for addicts of any substance, but because alcohol is consumed socially it is difficult to stay away from.
“There is a sometimes a stigma around telling people you don’t drink because they will often ask questions you don’t want to answer. It can be really awkward for some people so we always try to have people leave here with a strategy like bringing something non-alcoholic to drink or saying they’re not drinking tonight instead of that they don’t drink,” she said.
Doyle said a lot of recovering addicts want to try drinking a reasonable amount so they can fit in with friends but it often leads to a relapse.
According to a statement from the New Brunswick Medical Society, doctors are concerned but not surprised about the high rate of alcohol-related hospitalizations.
There is a financial impact to the health system, as the costs of the harm of alcohol greatly exceeds Government profits from the sale of alcohol product, according to medical society.
According to the most recent data obtained by the medical society, the estimated cost to New Brunswick associated with alcohol misuse in 2002, was about $597 per capita, amounting to a total of $448 million. In 2012-13, NB Liquor reported a net income of $164 million from liquor sales.