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New Report on Alcohol Policy in BC Shows Drinking on the Rise

A new report issued by the Provincial Health Officer, PRW Kendall, reveals some troubling statistics on drinking in British Columbia. Interestingly, this December 2008 report, Public Health Approach to Alcohol Policy: An Updated Report from the Provincial Health Officer, received very little attention in the media. This is unfortunate since the public needs to know that alcohol consumption, and the harms associated with it, have been on a steady increase since 2002.

What’s so special about 2002? That is the year that the provincial government decided to increase accessibility to alcohol. Since 2002, the total number of liquor stores in BC has increased from 786 to 1,294. This is important since 73% of alcohol consumed in BC originates from liquor stores. 

To give the provincial government credit, the Public Health Approach to Alcohol Policy report was commissioned to measure the effects of making alcohol more widely available and suggest ways to minimize the health and social harms associated with increased alcohol use in BC.

Here are some of the highlights of the report:

Statistic #1 – Drinking is on the Rise in BC

Since 2002, alcohol consumption has increased by 8% overall. Government revenue from alcohol sales increased 4% per year from 2003 to 2007. Little wonder the provincial government has been slow to reverse the trend since alcohol sales provide much-needed revenue.

Statistic #2 – A Small Minority Accounts for the Majority of Drinking

Often lost in the statistics is how much alcohol is consumed by those struggling with alcohol abuse. This is known as the concentration of drinking.

According to the 2004 Canadian Addiction Survey:

  • the top 10% of the heaviest alcohol consumers in Canada accounted for 53.3% of total alcohol consumption
  • the top 20% accounted for approximately 72% of the total
  • the remaining 80% accounted for 28% of overall alcohol consumption, as measured by self-reporting

The self-reporting data likely underestimates the true concentration of drinking in Canada. Further analysis of the data from the Canadian Addiction Survey revealed that self-reported alcohol consumption only accounted for about 40% of the alcohol sold in Canada, as measured by official Statistics Canada sales data*. This, coupled with the fact that heavier alcohol consumers tend to under-report their consumption more than lighter drinkers **, suggests that the actual concentration of drinking in society is likely even more skewed than suggested.

(*) Source: Stockwell, T., Sturge, J., & Macdonald, S. (2005). Patterns of drinking in British Columbia: an analysis of the 2004 Canadian Addictions Survey. CARBC statistical bulletin #1, University of Victoria, British Columbia. 

(**) Source: Greenfield, T., Kerr, W., Bond, J., & Stockwell, T. (2007, May). Improving graduated frequencies measures for use in monitoring surveys: Results from recent US and Australian national surveys and a diary-based validity study. Paper presented at the KBS International Research Symposium: Monitoring Alcohol and Other Drug-Related Harm: Building Systems to Support Better Policy. Sidney (Victoria), BC.

Statistic #3 – Youth Drinking in BC is Usually at Dangerous Levels

Over 90% of alcohol consumption reported by males aged 15–24 was in excess of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines, and 85% of alcohol consumed by females aged 15–24 exceeded the guidelines.

If you think that having a better education means reduced levels of excessive drinking, think again. In fact, the opposite is true. According to a 2005 study *, 27% of undergraduate students in BC are considered hazardous alcohol consumers, 39% report being harmed by drinking, and approximately 30% report at least one symptom of alcohol dependency.

(*) Source: Adlaf, E., Begin, P., & Sawka, E. (Eds.). (2005). Canadian Addiction Survey (CAS): A national survey of Canadians’ use of alcohol and other drugs: Prevalence of use and related harms: Detailed
. Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

Statistic #4 – Alcohol-Related Social and Health Harms are on the Rise

Research shows that alcohol-related social and health harms * are on the rise in British Columbia.

Statistical analysis found that:

  • alcohol-caused hospitalizations in BC increased by 3.38% from 2002 to 2007, 8.1% in the Northern Health Authority, and 10.1% for the 40-59 age group
  • alcohol-related or alcohol-caused deaths in BC increased by 10.5% for adults 75 and older
  • since 2004, rates of impaired driving charges in BC have surpassed the average rate in Canada by approximately 10%
  • the percentage of night-time drivers testing at or above 0.05 BAC in BC fell substantially between 1995 and 2003 but increased to nearly 1995 levels in 2006.

Excessive alcohol consumption is the leading contributing cause of death among British Columbians 25 years of age and under, due to fatal road crashes, suicides, homicides, and poisoning deaths **.

(*) Note: Alcohol-related health and social harms include those related to (1) toxicity and intoxication – alcohol poisoning (overdose), (2)  harms derived from long-term chronic use – some cancers, cardiovascular diseases, liver disease and (3) social harms – violence, sexual assault, crime, alcohol-involved traffic casualties, and other intentional and unintentional injuries.

(**) Source: Ministry of Health (2006) Following the evidence: Preventing harms from substance use in BC.

For More Information on the Report

Copies of this report are available from:

Office of the Provincial Health Officer
Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport
4th Floor, 1515 Blanshard Street
Victoria, B.C. V8W 3C8

Telephone: (250) 952-1330 and electronically (in a .pdf file) from: http://www.health.gov.bc.ca/pho/

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