Political Guide to Getting DeBunked

alcohol-map

We’re all for debunking myths here at Thirst. And maybe there’s a perception about alcohol that it’s universally available here in Canada, or certainly that it’s more broadly available than ever before.  Maybe.  Maybe not.

And certainly, we may not all know how much variance there is in pricing from province to province.  Maybe you think it’s all the same.  It isn’t.

From a fairly light exploration of Canada’s drinking laws on Narcity.com, see above a map illustrating variations in the selling points of alcohol, across the territories and provinces.   You can see that booze isn’t even available in Nunavut, and if you wanted a beer, you’d have to order it by mail… and that Alberta has private liquor stores.  A big difference in approach from Ontario!

What’s more, you can see on an interactive map from the.Loop that in addition to different places, there are also very different prices.  In fact, beer is so much cheaper in Quebec that some persons have taken to making ‘runs’ to buy big quantities and bringing it back to their home province.   This from a more serious discussion on CBC news,  illuminating details on recent discussions about inter-provincial laws as they relate to alcohol.

Make no mistake – booze is big business, and these variations represent the market forces of large industries and other interests. Any thoughts to the contrary are a myth, indeed.

Perhaps if we as a society viewed alcohol as something potentially very harmful that needed to be managed instead of a commodity that needed to be sold, the rules would be different.  On that note, see the chart below, illustrating the harms (disease/dependence/injuries/violence) of alcohol as compared to other drugs…an eye opener!

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Bottom Dog Bites

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It’s a sad fact that alcohol connects with depression.  Or anxiety.  Or stress.   Sometimes we don’t just drink booze – we use it.

In the Ready to be Thirsty challenge, there is a conscious effort to keep our dry month efforts light, fun, engaging.  And if you are doing the challenge, you’ll know that it really is those things.  You really do learn about yourself and your patterns, triggers…your emotional alcohol reflexes.  Unfortunately for some of us, those reflexes include regular use of alcohol to soothe ourselves.  From work, life or stress.

We crawl into the tub with a glass of wine, we drink out in the garage, we work our way down to the pub instead of working out…to distract ourselves from troubling truths.  This is talked about with delicate precision in a recent article from the New York Times that discusses how men often handle depression with work-aholism, alcohol consumption and competitiveness.

Yet, depression is twice as common in women, and women are more vulnerable to alcohol’s effects then men are, due to their physiology.

From many studies we know that alcohol and depression are correlated. Often the depression precedes the overuse of alcohol, but they can and do reinforce each other.

And of course depression has a social stigma, like any mental illness.  We remain reluctant to talk about it, still.  This, despite the fact it grows more commonly diagnosed and understood in our culture.  Despite the fact that it affects our families, our friends, our neighbors, our children, ourselves.

Without any shame I can say that I, like many, have suffered with depression personally in the past.  In those times, I can say that it has affected or exacerbated my alcohol use.  Because, well, I’m a human being… and my health both mental and physical, fluctuates.  Good days and bad days -they happen to all of us.

But I can also honestly say that while I’ve been Thirsty this February, I have felt mentally strong or stronger, and a break from alcohol is recouping my mind as well as my liver.

 

Photo by Stewart Black via Flickr.  Creative Commons.  No Changes. 

Money makes another round go ’round

1102barThere remains drama and interest in alcohol distribution.   I think this is so because of the money.  A recent news article reported on Kathleen Wynne and a press conference at the Ontario Economic Summit.    Given the forum for this conversation, it’s not a huge leap that many are interested in the business elements of the alcohol industry here in Ontario.

Premier Wynne insisted that it will take time to iron-out their plan for introducing beer into grocery stores, and also to bring about changes to the Beer Store and LCBO to provide for growing market segments, like craft beer.  At the same time, she insisted her government will not allow for beer or other alcohol products to be sold in convenience stores.  This, she said, is due to a broad segment of society worried about youth accessing alcohol, binge drinking, and other safety concerns.

Without going much further there, it’s obvious there are economic drivers – grocery stores, convenience stores, and the conventional sellers of booze are all hungry (thirsty?) to preserve or expand or get a piece of market share.  Brewers and vintners, meantime, are working hard to sell their products.

Contrast this work to govern distribution, increase sales, and widen exposure with another news article covering Ann Dowsett Johnston  – an author and recovering alcoholic who has written and spoken on the subject of addiction and alcohol for some length.

Johnston’s focus is not on youth, but on women, and to some degree, on our whole society.  She calls our culture ‘alcogenic’.   To interpret – it’s everywhere.  Social functions to family functions to Friday nights.   And we are drinking as much or more than we ever did, as  The Financial Post reports that Canadians have a national average consumption of 124 liters per adult in 2013, up from 117 liters per adult in 1998, (according to Statistics Canada).

Johnston speaks about the role of mental health and addictions, and the role of our consumer/economic-driven society in the marketing of alcohol to women.   Beyond that, alcohol is being heavily exposed to all of us, and its health consequences are being felt by more than just teenagers.

The narrative is that yes, young and old are going to drink.  But we can write a less harmful story by reducing our consumption, and in so doing, reduce some of the harms that go along with drinking.

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Telling the Whole Story

alcohol story infographic

This is a fascinating document  

Essentially, we gathered the perspectives of people who live and work in Simcoe County and the District of Muskoka, as they perceived alcohol use and alcohol culture.

This was the good, the bad and all points in between.  We simply wanted honesty.

Once all the stories were gathered together, we noticed intriguing patterns, and insightful common themes.  This is a chance to understand how people really see alcohol in our communities, from law enforcement, to medical services, to your neighbour.  Take a few minutes and look it over and you’ll likely find many ideas and thoughts that reach you.

Any which way, we hope this document creates discussion and the opportunity for positive change.

Lessen the Limbic Lament

I was on the hunt for a good, old-fashioned health video.  After all, we’ve spent a lot of energy on this Blog talking about political and social issues.  Perhaps for a change we could simply focus on health, or the physical elements.   Or maybe even emotional elements.

The above video is from a Public Health agency in Australia called Peninsula Health.  To my reckoning, they provide health services to the outskirts of Melbourne – a place called Mornington Penisula Shire  – just to give credit where it’s due!

If you take a few minutes to watch this video, you may discover how alcohol affects the limbic system of the brain.  In turn, you may be able to ‘science-together’ how alcohol affects our behaviour, thoughts or words.

After all, we are aware that alcohol compounds emotion – amplifying feelings and impulsiveness.   Have you ever said anything rude, troublesome, or regretful when you had a few drinks?  Been bothered by an annoying drunk?  Did something rash?  Convinced yourself to drink more?

Not dealing with those consequences is a side benefit of the low-risk drinking guidelines. Stay within the lower ranges of those (or your) drinking patterns, and you may have fewer hangovers or hasty words to regret.

When we said ‘When’ – an update

A year ago we highlighted the Saying When app, a neat addition to your cell phone or other electronic device, to help you create goals around reduced drinking.  We weren’t the only ones to expose its virtues.  It was also covered in the Toronto Sun, and elsewhere.  Well, we have news.  There’s an updated version of the app on iTunesversion 1.1 – revised and retooled to make it even better.

And now, it’s FREE !

To remind you, it’s a program from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health [CAMH], designed to help you track your consumption, set goals, and manage limits – hopefully trying to get down to Canada’s Low Risk Drinking Guidelines  – guidelines built to minimize risk from alcohol as it relates to diseases like cancer and heart disease.

But hey, now there’s a whole whack of apps out there related to alcohol and consumption that do some amazing things.  A sampling:

  • Drinking Mirror App – see how bad you look from all that booze
  • Drinks Meter – compare your drinking not to a formula, but to an entire community of drinkers and the group’s social and biological averages
  • Check Your Drinking 3.0 – a web-based survey and report generator comparing your drinking to national averages of persons in your demographic

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Ask: Not why the addiction, but why the Pain?

alcohol addictionMental health challenges touch many of us, whether you have experienced depression, anxiety or another mental illness first hand or have a friend or family member that has had this experience. Mental illness does not discriminate.

One can be living with a mental illness and be mentally well, because they are managing their illness effectively; whether this is with medication, stress management, mindfulness training or meditation. Sometimes addictions come into play when that person is self-medicating to cope with mental pain or anguish. They may be self-medicating because of the mental or emotional pain they are experiencing from a mental illness or from having a history of abuse, neglect, or trauma.

Where are the supports for these individuals before these issues become all consuming? With the stigma attached to any form of mental illness, people are embarrassed to admit they are struggling, and delay seeking the help they need.

Can we start to be more compassionate? And not assume a person suffering an addiction is morally reprehensible? What’s critical to better supporting people suffering addictions is to ask as Dr. Gabor Mate suggests: “Not why the addiction, but why the pain?”