The priciest drink on the menu

By Nick Adams

Published July 23 2019

Alcohol is a part of our culture. One beer company’s slogan “I am Canadian” became a battle cry for our national pride a number of years ago. For most teenagers having the first alcoholic beverage with Mom and Dad is a rite of passage into adulthood that can happen well before they reach the legal drinking age. I still laugh when I think of the first beer that Clark Griswold shared with son Rusty in National Lampoon’s Vacation. But the harms associated with alcohol consumption are no laughing matter.
The chief public health officer’s 2015 Report on Alcohol Consumption in Canada said that 78 per cent of Canadians have had a drink in the last year and that 20 per cent of those who consume alcohol are at risk of either immediate health concerns or long-term chronic health effects as a result of their drinking. Alcohol accounts for more hospital visits each year than heart attacks. Alcohol consumption in any amount has been realized to be a potential cause of nearly 200 ailments diseases and injuries. With more and more research piling up indicating that alcohol poses a significant health risk to Canadians there needs to be a plan put in place to respond to what can only be described as a crisis. Furthermore a recent study looked at the “secondhand” harms of alcohol and found that over a 12-month period more than one in five (21 per cent) women and nearly one in four (23 per cent) men experienced some harm related to someone else’s drinking.

The risks posed to our health alone should give us pause to consider how we view alcohol as a positive part of our culture. Add in the financial cost and it becomes clearer that alcohol is exacting a tremendous cost on us in a number of ways. The public health officer’s report put the total financial cost of alcohol to Canadians at $14.6 billion in 2014. That number includes health care spending legal costs and lost productivity due to over consumption of alcohol. Statistics Canada reported that the total government revenue derived from the sale of alcohol in that same year was $10.9 billion. That is a shortfall of $3.7 billion. The only ones who really benefit are the producers of alcohol who tallied a whopping $22 billion in revenue that year.

In response to the nearly quarter of a trillion dollars ($250000000000) that the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) said that alcohol cost the U.S. economy in 2010 the CDC made recommendations to communities that want to prevent excessive drinking and the costs associated with it. They suggested implementing a strategy to increase the minimum price of alcohol and to reduce access to alcohol by limiting the number of retailers who can sell it. These two strategies alone have shown to be an effective method to curb over consumption stateside. Fast forward to today – what have we seen happen here in our own province? Organizations like the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and the Canadian Mental Health Association declare that Ontario needs an alcohol strategy that encompasses a “whole-of-government” approach. They also concur with the recommendations made in the CDC report from 2010 about effective government interventions. The decisions made by our newest provincial government to make “buck a beer” a reality and to increase access to alcohol by adding more retailers has not taken heed of that advice. It is one thing for the writing to be on the wall another to read it and still another to take heed of its warning. Only time will tell what impact these decisions will have on the health of Ontarians and the financial costs to our health and legal systems.

That all being said there are a few simple harm reduction strategies that you can do should you decide to consume alcohol. One that worked well for me in the past was replacing beer with non-alcoholic beer or “near beer.” I have spoken to many people who have also done this successfully. Drinking plenty of water in between alcoholic drinks and eating at regular intervals can help to reduce impairment. Also as a host this summer be sure to offer guests soft drinks in addition to serving alcoholic beverages. The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction also recommends no more than 10 drinks per week for women and 15 drinks per week for men in their “Low Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines.” They also recommend having “no drinking days” throughout the week to avoid alcohol dependence. Not only will these strategies help to reduce impairment and alcohol over-consumption but researchers from the University of Sussex found that abstaining from alcohol for a month was shown to keep more money in the pockets of participants and participants reported having more energy better sleep better skin and losing weight. They also report drinking less months later. Finally it should go without saying but if you do choose to drink do not drive or operate any motorized vehicle – this includes cars boats and ATVs.
Next week I will talk about what you can do if you think that you need to make changes around your own substance use.

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Nick Adams is the Media and Communications Worker for the Haliburton Kawartha Lakes Northumberland Drug Strategy. Through a series of weekly columns Nick will discuss how the Drug Strategy is reducing the harms and stigma around substance use in our communities and will offer a unique perspective to the various weekly topics by sharing his own personal experience.