There is an elephant in the room and it is called alcohol.

This is a tough topic, especially in the midst of a beautiful Nova Scotia summer.

I don’t want to be the buzzkill and full disclosure here: I enjoy a nice glass of wine on a beautiful Nova Scotia summer evening as much as anyone.

I’m not alone.

About 80 per cent of Canadians drink alcohol to varying degrees.

But we have a problem with alcohol — here in Nova Scotia and across Canada.

And it seems we’re really having trouble facing up to it.

According to a recent study by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, there were an estimated 77,000 hospitalizations caused by alcohol in Canada in 2015-2016.

That is 2,000 more than the number of admissions for heart attacks.

Here in Nova Scotia, the number of people hospitalized due to alcohol exceeds the national average.

Here we have 309 hospitalizations per 100,000 people. The national average is 239.

These numbers are based on hospitalization entirely caused by alcohol — things like cirrhosis of liver, pancreatitis and hepatitis.

There are also mental conditions such as alcohol intoxication, alcohol withdrawal and chronic alcohol use disorder.

But this is just the tip of the alcohol-harm iceberg because there are the hospitalizations and conditions for which alcohol is partially attributable.

And this is the real monster in the room.

Then there are the broken bones or sprains when occur when people are drunk.

Beyond that is the social harm done to children and families when a family member has a problem with alcohol.

These are things like domestic violence, fights in bars and other crimes.

Economically, alcohol affects unemployment, workplace productivity and rates of absenteeism.

The report by the CIHI does not include these broader implications of alcohol harm.

I looked at statistics on overall alcohol related harm in Nova Scotia. One study estimated 230 deaths related to alcohol.

One in five Nova Scotians reported binge drinking at least once per month.

The total cost associated with alcohol misuse is $242.9 million in Nova Scotia alone.

Of course, these are estimates. Alcohol-related harm is a complex web involving physical health, family history, socio-economic factors and gender.

Then there are the consequences we don’t necessarily know about.

For example, did you know that alcohol consumption is a factor in breast cancer, even when alcohol is consumed at low levels?

This has been known for at least 20 years. And yet, who knew?

Certainly not me. And why would I? I don’t see warning signs on bottles of wine in the liquor store. Advertising for wine and other alcohol emphasizes fun, friends, barbecues on the back deck and good times.

We have dire warnings and awful pictures of sick people on cigarette packages. But no such thing on alcohol bottles.

If you factor in cancer and other chronic diseases like heart disease caused by alcohol, you can be sure that the cost is more that $242.9 million for Nova Scotia and the $14 billion number in Canada estimated by the CIHI study.

These costs include things like healthcare, law enforcement, traffic accidents, fires and prevention programs.

These numbers are an educated stab in the dark. It’s hard to know for sure.

The headlines grab our attention with other drug addictions — things like opioids such a fentanyl and it’s variants. Of course these are scary and very real problems, but the biggest harm is still done by alcohol.

Ask a cop, an emergency-room nurse, a social worker or a provincial-court judge who presides over criminal cases. They see the carnage and they will tell you in graphic detail what alcohol does to people and society.

The CIHI study says that pricing and availability have a direct influence on the amount of alcohol consumed.

I would say that education is a huge component.

If Canadians and Nova Scotians know the consequences, it may change their relationship with booze.

Source: The Chronicle Herald


Last updated on: 2017-08-31 | Link to this post