An Even Unhappier Hour

1297358007007_ORIGINALChristina Blizzard exposes the complexity of the alcohol issues in this province and in our culture in her recent article in the Toronto Sun. Certainly she relays how the government has a monopoly on liquor sales in this province; the Ontario government controls the LCBO and in turn garners significant tax revenue.

This does ignore however, the mammoth suds sales from the foreign-owned Brewers Retail – more commonly known as The Beer Store – a jointly-owned foreign monopoly of its own.

Taxes are paid on beer too, so back to the point: the Sun article speaks to an Ontario Medical Association recommendation that Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government should divert some LCBO funds/ alcohol taxes to help ‘problem drinkers’ – not a terrible idea. However, what’s important to understand is that ‘problem drinking’ is a wider issue than Ms. Blizzard’s article details. Alcohol is a monster difficult to fully comprehend because its swath is so broad, its tentacles so long.

Alcohol is a pervasive beast that touches multiple layers of our society. Most visibly, booze correlates with crime, violence, injury and death. Costs to the government (read: society) include enforcement, incarceration, health care costs, and lost productivity. Less conspicuously, alcohol can hurt families and individuals with impacts to housing, income, crises, and abuse.

Less commonly understood or discussed in the media, alcohol raises the risk for cancer and other diseases, and can complicate treatment and recovery. Statistically, this also has a massive cost to taxpayers – meaning us – society. Not everyone is going to drink a 26’er of vodka and smash heads, abuse children, or lose their job. But many of us might have three glasses of wine more often than we truly should.

The true total cost of alcohol in Canada – health, crime, enforcement, violence, injury, disease, everything – vastly exceeds that of alcohol tax revenue, counting all sources. Diverting taxes to help one layer of the issue ignores the rest.

Spring Break Is Coming

This is an American term, of course. Here in Ontario we call it March break, because Spring isn’t exactly here yet in the first two weeks of that month. Yet, when the break comes, our young people are often engaging in similar behaviour to our Yankee friends.

Whether you call it Spring or March break, the week is infamous for vacations to sunny destinations, complete with binge drinking and other risky behaviour. These parties are sometimes sponsored or hosted by large corporations that appeal to youth.

At these parties, serious alcohol consumption takes place. To accompany all the drinking there are other troublesome decisions.

From the Trauma Centre, San Francisco General Hospital:

A study of college drinkers on campus found that among frequent binge drinkers, the following behaviors occurred at least once:

• 49.7% engaged in unplanned sex
• 52.3% engaged in unprotected sex
• 58.4% had trouble with the police
• 58.9% were injured

Perhaps these issues put a damper on the party, or worse – they make for serious problems afterward.

Check out these curves

We churn through a whole lot of research here at the Health Unit, some fascinating, some banal.  There are many studies out there talking about alcohol consumption.   How many 64-year old grandmothers are drinking gin on Tuesday afternoons? – this information is out there just waiting to be discovered!

More seriously, when it comes to alcohol, we keep learning that small things lead to big changes in behaviour inside bars and at barbeques.  What I mean by that is we’ve recently learned of a study where they correlate the amount of alcohol consumed with the size and shape of the glass in which the booze is served.

I guess it’s only natural – when they give a monstrous glass, you might be likely to drink a little more like a monster.  

The new study also shows that a curved glass will induce quicker imbibing – almost twice as fast, actually.  What’s more, persons are less likely to know how much fluid is in a curved glass.

This makes sense too – the shape and weight of the glass is what helps you visually, physically and subconsciously understand how much drink you have, whether it be beer or a mixed concoction, and how much you have left.   If the glass distorts the standard drink, it subtly distorts your drinking behaviour.

This is why we here at the Health Unit are always extolling the virtue of knowing what a standard drink is, and how it helps you monitor your consumption.

To Host an Open Bar or Not….

One of the big decisions to make when planning a wedding or other social occasions is whether or not to have an open bar, and almost everyone has an opinion.

Because alcohol is perceived as an important part of many cultures, including Canadian culture, some believe it is rude not to provide free alcohol, whether limited or not.  Some believe it is rude to limit it, and some believe it is a status thing.  You can have an open bar or a cash bar, wine service or wine on the tables, cocktail service, and let’s not forget champagne to toast the happy couple or important individual!

On the other hand, some people anticipate that many guests will overindulge and want to minimize the risk of intoxicated attendees.  Would it be so wrong to have an alcohol free event?  Have mocktails instead?   We’d love to hear from you on this.

The Infamous Solo Cup

Sometimes the world-wide-web is well-informed, and sometimes…not so much.  If you’ve been to any school in the recent past, you might recall your teacher or professor telling you – check your sources.

I first found the image to the left on a website that may or may not be accurate. In fact, it’s a site dedicated to “promoting the mental & physical benefits and enjoyment of daily sex, coffee, cigars, and alcohol”.  Doesn’t sound too scientific, but let’s think on it for a moment.

Admittedly, there are substantiated cardiac and psychological health benefits to sex, while modest use of alcohol provides a mild protective factor for cardiac health and diabetes (though even modest use has other health implications). Tobacco use slowly destroys your health and seriously outweighs any perceived benefits. And we’ll leave coffee out of this discussion.

I notice the cup above, with its expansive ‘rings’.  Supposedly these are markings that coincide with measurements for volume. As such, they might assist serving staff in knowing how much is the right amount when they fill your glass. Or, they might help you at your next family barbeque, when you are guessing how much beer to serve Aunt Gina.

Unfortunately, this website posted the image without links or references, so we are left amused, but questioning its validity.  In fact, we are hereby accepting the photo above as a challenge of sorts.  We are going to get downright Newtonian here at the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit and we are going to find a cup akin (let us hope, identical) to the image above. We are going to measure the various volumes this cup can hold, relative to the rings, and once measured, we will gladly report our results here.

Until we return with these results, we suggest that there is always value in knowing how much you are consuming, be it wine, beer or spirits.  Furthermore, it’s important to know the alcohol percentages and the true volume of the alcohol you might ingest.  This is for protecting both your driver’s license AND your long-term health.  Stay tuned.

Teen drinking … what’s a parent to do?

When it comes to drinking by their underage teenagers, my friends are really not sure what to do or how to react. Some let their kids hang out in the basement with a few friends … and even supply the booze. Their logic is that they would rather have them at home drinking than out somewhere else and drinking. 

My other friends don’t allow their teens to drink, for lots of good reasons, and sometimes brag that their kids don’t drink or do drugs. What they don’t get is that their kids are going to my other friends’ homes and hanging out there!

And now we have a Canadian low risk drinking guideline that says “Teens should speak with their parents about drinking.  If they choose to drink, they should do so under parental guidance”. Yikes! What’s a parent to do? Well, the above suggestion is a good one. Kids need the support and guidance of their parents, so talking about alcohol is a great way to get started so that they have the tools to make responsible decisions.

by Adele Payne RN