May 15, 2015 - HOW WE DRINK: HERE'S EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CANADIANS' OVERALL BOOZY HABITS - part one

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Victoria Day long weekend — a.k.a. May 2-4, — marks the unofficial start of summer, and the official kick-off of cottage and patio seasons. We’re taking advantage of this traditionally beer-infused holiday to examine Canadians’ overall boozy habits.

 LESSON 1: THE VAST MAJORITY OF US DRINK

Roughly 80% of Canadians drink alcohol, the boozing majority swelling in size over the better part of a decade. Nearly 22 million Canadians reported throwing back booze in the year 2013, whether it be a tipple or a ton of Tanqueray. Studies show we’re also drinking more than we should: The percentage of Canadians exceeding the low-risk drinking guidelines set out by Canadian health agencies was 18.8% in 2013 compared to 17.6% a decade earlier.

In the year 2014, Canadians over age 15 downed 8 litres of pure booze, or 469 standard drinks. But while ubiquitous beer commercials and these kinds of stats make it seem like we’re on the bottle more than ever, drinkers in the 1989 and the mid-to late 80s actually drank more than we do now: about 8.8 litres per person in a year, or 502 drinks a year. That was the historical peak for our drinking — at least according to the best available data, says Gerald Thomas, a collaborating scientist with the Centre for Addiction Research of British Columbia.

We dried out a little in the 1990s. “I think it has to do with drinking and driving laws — during that period there was a big shift on how we relate to alcohol and driving.” People also became far more health conscious through that decade, he says. But by the turn of the century, we started steadily drinking more, with a bit of a dip in 2012, following the financial downturn. There’s been an increase since, but then a drop in sales in 2013-2014.

LESSON 2: WE LIE ABOUT HOW MUCH WE DRINK

How much did you drink last Saturday night? Come on, tell the truth. It turns out we’re very bad at assessing how much alcohol we throw down our gullets. Researchers — grappling with self-reported data they know doesn’t quite reflect reality — are now trying to fix that. A United Kingdom study which explored the discrepancy between survey responses about how much people say they drink and the amount of alcohol sold found 75% of men and 80% of women were drinking above the daily limit. That was 19% and 26% more, respectively, than what they claimed.

A forthcoming Canadian study on the same discrepancy found that only a third of Canadians accurately reported their consumption to interviewers. “The great majority of alcohol sold in Canada is drunk in a way that exceeds national low-risk drinking guidelines,” study co-author and University of Victoria psychology professor Tim Stockwell told the National Post. “[F]urther, the number of people exceeding these guidelines is almost double previous estimates,” When researchers controlled for under-reported data, they estimate more than 40% of Canadians are “higher risk” drinkers.

We aren’t always intentionally misleading those who ask about how many drinks we drink. Part of the problem is we just can’t remember — at least over the long term, says Thomas. Doctors and researchers can take some of the responsibility for that: Instead of asking how many drinks a person has in a year or an average week, they could ask, “How many did you drink last night?” and then work it out from there (more studies are now taking that approach). On top of that, people don’t know what a standard drink looks like. The big glass of wine your sister-in-law pours at the family barbeque is probably more like 10 oz rather than the standard drink of 5. A pint of beer at a pub? That’s one and a half standard drinks. At the end of the day, stigma’s also to blame for our bad counting: No one wants to be painted a drunk. When Thomas gives talks, he’ll ask how many people have been impacted by alcoholism. A wave of hands always goes up. And yet there’s real trouble discussing alcohol. “People are not comfortable talking about these things,” he says.

LESSON 3: WE DRINK AT HOME

A whole lot of Canadians prefer to swill their spirits and sip their wine in the comfort of their own homes. “Looking at the data, we see the vast majority of drinking is going on behind closed doors,” says John Mohler, a vice-president at Ipsos Reid, one of Canada’s leading polling agencies, which has run the robust Alcohol Consumption Tracker, a market research tool, since 2011. The 2015 ACT, which has more than 1,000 Canadians keep a monthly online diary of their drinking behaviours, found a full 58% of drinks are consumed in one’s own home and 16% of drinks consumed in the home of another person. This is the case across regions and generations. “It’s cheaper to drink at home, it’s easier, it’s more accessible — you don’t have to go anywhere — you have greater selection, typically,” adds Mohler. “Going somewhere has implications…[this way] you don’t have to drive.” While 80% of drinks are consumed in the presence of somebody else – 29% in the presence of only a spouse and 20% in a large group — 19.6% of drinks are being swallowed alone. Gabor Forgacs, a professor of hospitality at Ryerson University, connects this with the rise in single person households noted in the most recent Census. “I suppose if someone has a meal alone … isn’t it natural to make it less unhappy by adding a glass or two? Who is going to say “Honey, that’s enough for now…?”


PART TWO

PART THREE


 

Last updated on: 2015-06-01 | Link to this post