Most people enjoy the occasional glass of wine with our meal, and the nonchalance of folks having a couple of drinks at the end of the day seems far from becoming a problem. Perhaps it is why countless people don’t think they have a problem. There are also cultural and social aspects associated with drinking, especially among Canadians. Having a long history of alcohol consumption that has shaped drinking preferences over time, alcohol is widely available and promoted, while just as much as almost everywhere around the world increased exposure from the media and surrounding environment as well as easy access to alcohol are linked to increased drinking and addiction.
Back in 2015, about 80% of the Canadian population reported consuming alcohol. More recently, Statistic Canada revealed that 19% of Canadians aged as little as 12 and older reported habits that classified them as heavy drinkers. The latest numbers also show that despite the fact that 18 is the legal age to purchase alcohol, almost 30% (27.9%) of teenagers between 12 and 17 report consuming alcohol and over 40% say they do it at least once a month. Another large survey of over 43,000 students from across 41 Canadian campuses signalled the struggles institutions face with the prevalence of binge drinking. Over third of respondents admitted to having five or more drinks the last time they partied or socialized, while 18% said they physically injuring themselves as a result of over drinking or had unprotected sex (24%), lost their memory (29%) or did a regrettable thing (38%).
When these numbers are put in a global context, the World Health Organization reports that Canadians drink more than the global average and when being compared to the U.S, Latin American and Caribbean countries it’s actually the first one.
However alarming these numbers may be, having a couple of drinks is now so normalized, very few people are actually aware of the risks. Millions of drinking Canadians risk injuries, chronic conditions such as liver disease and cancer and children end up growing up with alcohol in their environment making them numb to dangers. At least 3,000 babies are estimated to having been born with feta alcohol spectrum disorder each year.
At the individual level, alcohol impacts the biological system, much like a drug causing addiction leading to health problems, decreased well-being over both the short and long term. It also affects behaviours as many of us are aware: from impulsivity and violence to poor memory, impaired decision-making and overall functioning.
After tobacco, alcohol is considered to be the substance that causes most harm across Canada. It has also been shown to be one of the top three leading risks for cancer worldwide being responsible for about 4% of cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, esophagus, colon, rectum, liver, larynx and breast. And its consumption has implications at many levels. The economic cost alone of alcohol-related harm is estimated at about $14.6 billion per year. While Canadians are known to having spent over $22 billion on alcohol just last year.
There is a wide range of factors influencing the ways in which alcohol affects a person’s life and health which include how much and how often a person drinks. Probably just as much as the specific health risk factors they are facing and even what they do under the influence. And it’s way too easy to fall into the trap. Ads are on TV, friends are posting boozy pictures on social media, there are even studies that prove the benefit of drinking which is quite dangerous as many fail to acknowledge the ‘moderately’ and end up in emergency rooms or hooked on it.
But how can one know when too much is actually too much? Preferably before getting into accidents and causing injuries to themselves and others. According to Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines, having more than 15 standard drinks a week for men and 10 a week for women with more than 3 drinks a day for men or 2 for women increases health risk, makes people more prone to addiction and is a definite sign that there is a problem that needs addressing.
If it gets to addiction, recovery can be a lifelong battle for many. And there isn’t a specific profile the average alcohol addict has, it can be anyone from any gender, race, age or status. A 2017 survey wanted to uncover the realities of alcohol recovery in Canada, what it means for people going through it and what got them there. Among other questions, participants were asked if they consider themselves in recovery and what were the main challenges they encountered so far. 78% of people who considered themselves in recovery were actively employed, while almost half (49%) were married and over 60% had kids. However, on a more optimistic note, the survey also showed that recovery facilitated significant improvements in both productivity and quality of life. For example, more than 60% used to miss work regularly. This number showed incredible progression after recovery, dropping to only 4%.
Learning about the challenges they faced shows how big the gap is when it comes to seeking help. Results showed many people hide their problem and still consider it something to be embarrassed about. Before receiving help, the first barrier that needed overcoming was the stigma, the second one was access to services with many believing finding the right support was difficult when they finally decided they needed it.
These key findings are essential, especially for recovery facilities that strive to continuously improve their offering and care. Probably the best way to learn more about how to seek the most appropriate services and what to expect once admitted is to hear from people who have gone through the exact same thing or even worse. Testimonials can help many overcome their fears and understand that recovering does not have to be a gruesome, horrible process. Quite the opposite, it can be a life-changing experiences with long-term benefits.
September is Recovery Month across Canada. Ahead of this, it’s important for communities and businesses to join forces altogether to work towards improving the lives of people facing alcohol addiction.