With all of our attention focused on the raging opioid epidemic, we have allowed ourselves to neglect the risks of alcohol use. Headline after headline convinces us that opioids are the number one concern, and the effects of all other drugs are incomparable. Yet, only 13% of Canadians have used prescription opioids in the past year, and a mere 0.3% have abused opioids. Despite the tragic consequences of the opioid crisis, the use of opioids and the associated death rates pale in comparison to those associated with alcohol in Canada. An astounding 77% of Canadians consumed alcohol in the past year, and up to 24% of those who consumed alcohol exceeded the low risk guidelines, putting themselves at risk of experiencing both the acute and chronic effects of alcohol use.
Indeed, the acute and chronic effects of alcohol are severe and widespread. In the last year, there were 77 000 hospitalizations caused solely by alcohol, including alcohol intoxication, withdrawal and alcohol related health problems such as liver cirrhosis. Further, alcohol use was ranked as the third leading cause for global disease worldwide in 2010.
In spite of the overwhelming evidence of the detrimental effects of alcohol consumption, we have normalized its use as a society. Indeed, a beer after work or a glass of wine with dinner is the universal remedy for a stressful day at the office, and a glass of bubbling champagne is the quintessential symbol of celebration. Alcohol has become so ingrained in our society, that we have managed to eschew the negative effects and willfully ignore the harm we are doing to our bodies.
In fact, we’ve even convinced ourselves that there our benefits to imbibing. Headlines read “One glass of red wine is equivalent to one hour at the gym” and “The 10 health benefits of drinking beer”. Yet, recent research has identified flaws in the previous studies indicating any health benefits and suggests more stringent low risk drinking guidelines than are currently in place.
Although our public health attention is focused squarely on the opioid epidemic, we should not let it overshadow the problematic use of alcohol in our society. Our relationship with alcohol is normalized and insidious. As a result, we should more closely examine the effects of our alcohol use, and critically assess the benefits versus harms. Finding a healthy balance is crucial when maintaining a healthy life. If you’re having trouble cutting down on drinking, our counsellors would be happy to discuss strategies and options with you!