It is often easy to overlook the damage alcohol causes in our society. Unlike other drugs like cocaine, it is legal. Alcohol continues to be encouraged as a social “lubricant” in our busy world as a way to unwind or to have fun. As summer events (such as music festivals) begin to rev up, perhaps it is time to review some important statistics about the alcohol-related health and social harms in BC and Canada.
Types of Harms Related to Alcohol
According to the BC Provincial Health Officer, alcohol-related health and social harms derive largely from 4 properties or effects of consumption:
1. Toxicity – Alcohol Poisoning (Overdose)
Death from acute cardiac arrhythmia or acute pancreatitis. More often than not, alcohol overdoses usually affect the inexperienced drinkers who tend to be underage.
2. Intoxication – Injury or Crime
Death or injury resulting from violence, sexual assault, crime, alcohol-involved traffic casualties, etc.
3. Dependence – Alcoholism
Long-term excessive use of alcohol is directly linked to cirrhosis of the liver, some types of cancers, diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), brain damage, and wasting of the limb and heart muscles. There is also a strong correlation between heavy alcohol use and mental health conditions.
4. The Intergenerational Effect of Alcohol – Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)
A fourth source of harm that involves alcohol is alcohol consumption by pregnant women. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is the leading cause of preventable mental disability in Canada. FASD is unique in that the harm inflicted is to the unborn fetus rather than to the alcohol-consuming individual or other members of society. It is estimated that up to 3 out of every 1,000 babies born will have the full features of FASD, while an additional 5 or 6 will have significant long-term disabilities.
The ripple effect of alcohol in Canadian society is seen in the statistics. According to a 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey, 25% percent of Canadians (ages 15+) risky alcohol use in the past year.
At our treatment center, alcohol is still the drug of choice for over half of our clients. For those whose drug of choice is cocaine, alcohol is often their second drug of choice. Even though we don’t treat for date-rape drugs since few develop a dependence to them, our date-rape drug section is one of our most highly visited pages our website. This has led us to believe that there is a need for more public education on alcohol as a factor in sexual-related assaults.
Hopefully, Canadians will begin to appreciate that there are many ways to get hurt, directly or indirectly, from alcohol. One does not need to develop an alcohol use disorder to be negatively impacted. This message needs to be conveyed to high school students who often have a very narrow understanding of the harms associated with alcohol.