Calls for moderation as alcohol consumption spikes

Interior Health reports drinking is up 30 per cent since 2020

  • Substance use rose during pandemic
  • Balanced approach needed to support economy and prevent harm
  • Alcohol addiction stigma needs addressing

It is often the most festive time of the year when we're likely to have a few more drinks than normal followed perhaps, by a New Year's resolution to cut back.

But that may be easier said than done for many and Interior Health (IH) is promoting a ‘culture of moderation’, following a report that shows alcohol consumption is on the rise.

“The pandemic has resulted in stress in individuals and substance use has gone up,” IH medical health officer, Dr. Silvina Mema, told Kelowna10.

The report echoes the findings about increased alcohol consumption in the latest analysis of BC alcohol sales data from the University of Victoria’s Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research.

IH received data through the B.C. Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), indicating alcohol consumption rose 30 per cent since 2020. That number is highest in the Interior region and especially among younger populations.

Not just alcohol

Substance use overall has seen an increase in the past year, not just alcohol. Mema said anecdotally IH knows marijuana use rose as the unprecedented opioid overdose crisis continues.

“People use substances to self-medicate and treat anxiety or boredom. That has been a coping mechanism for some individuals,” Mema said.

In recent weeks public health restrictions were imposed to combat the surge of the COVID-19 Omicron variant province wide. Gyms, bars, and nightclubs were forced to close, and seating maximums of six returned to restaurant tables.

The normalization of drinking

The report noted excessive drinking can be a challenge to address compared to other substances given that alcohol is a socially acceptable and accessible psychoactive substance.

“Even some individuals who may know they are drinking more than they should, they may not think that’s a problem,” Mema said. “Because they haven’t gotten into trouble, haven’t been injured, lost their job, or haven’t had relationship issues. They may not feel the need to seek help. Even if they acknowledge they drink a lot.”

Suggested guidelines recommended a maximum of 15 drinks per week for men, and 10 for women. The daily maximum is three drinks for men, two for women.

IH recognized during the pandemic, if an individual has an alcohol use disorder and has to self isolate after contracting COVID-19, sudden abstinence from alcohol could prove deadly.

In response, Interior Health created the Alcohol Managed Program to supply those individuals with alcohol while they isolated.

Wider economic consideration

One challenge highlighted in the report is alcohol’s significance as an economic driver in the Okanagan. The Interior region has the highest rate of licensed liquor establishments per capita in the province.

The alcohol industry contributes $2.4 billion annually to the provincial economy with the Okanagan Valley accounting for more than 80 per cent of all wine produced in BC.

“We need to find a balance. The balance between being able to enjoy alcohol in the social settings and using it to generate revenue for our communities,” Mema said. “But at the same time preventing harm to individuals who are using it and that’s what we’re calling a culture of moderation.”

Published 2021-12-29 by David Hanson

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