Alberta has experienced a growing trend of alcohol-related emergency department visits. (File photo by BLACK PRESS)

Alcohol-related ER visits increasing in Alberta

Binge drinking is a pattern of addiction

Alcohol-related emergency room visits have climbed significantly at Alberta hospitals in recent years, and a growing number of those patients are female.

“Certainly, there is a trend of increasing presentations for alcohol-related emergency department visits, and that trend has gone up fairly significantly from 2010 to 2017,” said Barry Andres, executive director of addictions and mental health with Alberta Health Services.

“While males continue to be at a rate of approximately double that of females, the rate of increase amongst females is higher, at about 45 per cent compared to males in the range of 36 per cent.”

A recent study of Ontario emergency departments showed ER visits for alcohol-related health problems climbed an annual average of seven per cent between 2003 and 2016.

More than two-thirds of patients were men, but the rate of alcohol-related ER visits by women rose 86.5 per cent, compared to 53.2 per cent for men.

Andres said the jump in alcohol-related emergency room visits isn’t a new problem in Alberta or Canada, but the Ontario report shines a light on it.

“Many Albertans drink moderately, but alcohol does have significant potential of being misused, which certainly causes considerable harm. Not just the physical harms of cancers, seizures and so on, but also risk of injury, impaired driving and also social harms in terms of relationships.

“Alcohol is misperceived as being safer than other drugs. Yet at the same time, along with tobacco, it causes the most harm in terms of the health of Albertans and Canadians, and in fact, the economy as well.”

An increasing number of young adults in Alberta are also “drinking to get drunk as quick as possible,” known as binge drinking, Andres said.


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Jennifer Cross, manager of a medically supported detox program at Safe Harbour Society, said binge drinking is an addiction, even though people may not drink every day. Frequency can increase depending on the pain or challenges they face.

“(Binge drinking) is an addiction. It just is a different pattern of abuse,” Cross said.

At least half of the society’s clients struggle with alcohol abuse, sometimes in combination with other substances, she said.

“Most of our clients abuse (alcohol) above all others. It’s neck and neck with methamphetamine these days, but alcohol is still very significant,” Cross said.

She said even during the current opiate crisis, alcohol abuse is a continuing issue.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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