ALCOHOL DWARFS DRUG ABUSE AS CAUSE OF DEATH, STUDY FINDS
Consumption Up By 13 Per Cent Since 1997
VANCOUVER - Canadians are drinking more and dying from alcohol-related causes at a far greater rate than from drug abuse, says a new study from the University of Victoria's Centre for Addictions Research.
Statistics suggest alcohol consumption in Canada has risen by 13 per cent since 1997, a co-author of an addiction research survey said yesterday.
"Nearly 5,000 Canadians die each year prematurely from the effects of alcohol, which is five times greater than all the illicit drug deaths put together," said Tim Stockwell, director of the research centre and co-author of the report, Patterns of Risky Alcohol Use in B.C. and Canada.
"Alcohol consumption in Canada is rising," he told a news conference, citing figures between 1997 and 2004 compiled by Statistics Canada. "It's a serious issue that gets little attention compared to illicit drug issues."
The centre used questions posed in the 2004 Canadian Addiction Survey and focused on trying to answer the question: To what extent is increasing drinking happening within low-risk guidelines, as defined by Canadian health authorities?
The survey covered almost 14,000 Canadians, including 3,000 British Columbians.
The guidelines the centre used were developed by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Ontario, but the B.C. centre said that, by international standards, those guidelines are conservative.
Low-risk drinking is considered to be no more than two standard drinks a day for men and women; no more than nine per week for women and 14 for men.
A standard drink is defined as a bottle of beer, or a medium glass of wine.
"The majority of alcohol consumed in Canada, as self-reported in the survey . . . the great majority is not consumed in a way that's consistent with health and safety guidelines," said Dr. Stockwell.
He called alcohol "our favourite drug which we take for granted" and said the way it is used "in general is mostly putting people's health and safety at some degree of risk."
The figures suggest 73 per cent of all reported alcohol consumption was in excess of Canadian low-risk drinking guidelines.
More than 90 per cent of the alcohol consumption reported by males aged 15 to 24 was consumed in excess of Canadian low-risk guidelines; more than 85 per cent consumed by females exceeded the guidelines.
While the survey focused mostly on the ill effects of alcohol consumption, Dr. Stockwell also noted that "low-risk drinking can also provide health benefits. It can be part of a very healthy and enjoyable lifestyle."
He cited as benefits of low-risk drinking the prevention of heart disease.
To get that benefit, Dr. Stockwell said a woman should have no more than half a drink a day; a man, no more than two.
If Canadians drink too much, he said, one reason is because there is little incentive for consumers to choose lower-strength drinks.
"The tax does not relate to alcohol content," Dr. Stockwell said.
There are no current figures for the socio-economic costs of excessive drinking.
But the Victoria-based centre said 1992 figures pegged the cost to the economy at about $10-billion through lost productivity and health costs.
Dr. Stockwell also had some comments on the drinking habits and repercussions of rich and poor people drinking.
"One pattern in common is that poorer people can't afford to drink they way rich people do," he said. "Rich people tend to buy expensive wine and spirits and drink every day. Poorer people save their money and get drunk once or twice a week."
That means a rich person is more likely to get liver disease and cancer while a poorer person more likely to be involved in violent incidents or crash their car, he said.