A study of alcohol-related deaths and hospitalizations run by the Canadian Institute for Health Information has released its findings, and the results don’t look good for Canadian women, who have seen a 26% uptick in deaths resulting from alcohol in less than two decades. The study, which ran from 2001 to 2017, shows that for men, who have had historically higher rates of hospitalization resulting from alcohol-related deaths, this statistic only rose by 5%.
To put this into perspective, over the last two years, health care facilities across Canada have logged more hospital admissions for alcohol than for heart-attacks.
“One key thing to remember is that the hospitalizations entirely caused by [the] alcohol indicator is only one indicator and that we just started looking at it in the past two years,” says Joseph Amuah, senior researcher with the CIHI and adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa. “But if we look at this trend from the long-term side of things, this is part of a pattern that we are seeing globally.”
The research also shows that women are being admitted to hospitals for alcohol-related issues, like chronic alcohol abuse, liver disease, withdrawal, alcohol poisoning, hepatitis, cirrhosis, acute pancreatitis, extreme intoxication and liver failure, at an increasingly early age—6.9% of girls admitted to hospital between 2016 and 2017 arrived due to alcohol, compared to 4.4% of boys. Notably, the study has excluded injuries resulting from drinking and driving, which would increase the number of alcohol-related hospitalizations and deaths significantly.
The causes? Amuah suggests that equality among the sexes may be contributing to women’s increased alcohol consumption, as the workplace may provide greater or more frequent access to drinking. Also, the female body does not metabolize heavy drinking as efficiently as a male’s, which means women are more likely to end up in the hospital after binge drinking. As Tim Stockwell, director of the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, says, “women are drinking more like men.” Amuah adds that mental health and addictions contribute to nearly three quarters of alcohol-related hospital admissions, and that alcohol consumption in Canada needs the same treatment as tobacco—we need better strategies to prevent alcohol consumption from becoming normalized among Canadians, and especially among Canada’s youth.
According to Jurgen Rehm, Senior Director of the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research, it’s time to take alcohol more seriously. “It is one of the top-five risk factors for premature mortality, for life expectancy, for burden of disease and hospitalizations,” he says.
The solution? Rehm says making alcohol less visible, less affordable and less accessible might help lower these devastating statistics, but this has to come from the government and “our political system doesn’t want to do that.”
Dr. Eddy Lang, head of an Emergency Department in a Calgary hospital, says that while kids are still going out to parties and “getting into trouble,” it’s the adults that mostly turn up in his ER with alcohol related complaints, sometimes arriving almost “comatose.” “I’ve had shifts at the hospital here in Calgary where I look over my patient list at the end of the shift,” he says, “and if it wasn’t for alcohol, I’d have no patients.”