How new alcohol guidelines could lead to policy changes on P.E.I.

New guidelines released by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction says even two drinks a week increases the chance of negative outcomes. It's a big change from previous guidance, which was no more than 15 drinks a week for men and 10 drinks for women. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images - image credit)
New guidelines released by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction says even two drinks a week increases the chance of negative outcomes. It's a big change from previous guidance, which was no more than 15 drinks a week for men and 10 drinks for women. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images - image credit)

P.E.I.'s chief public health officer is hoping an online forum this week will raise awareness of the negative impacts of alcohol consumption and lead a broader discussion about warning labels and other policies that have helped decrease the use of other harmful substances such as tobacco.

Dr. Heather Morrison says the Provincial Alcohol Policy Forum is timely, given the rise in alcohol consumption during the COVID-19 pandemic and the new guidelines released by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction that suggests even two drinks per week increases the chance of negative outcomes.

"Every Islander has a right to know that all alcohol use is associated with risk so that they can make better decisions and more informed decisions about their health," she said.

Alcohol is the third-leading preventable risk factor for disease, disability and death in the country, behind only tobacco and high blood pressure, Morrison said. It is linked to more than 200 different diseases, including diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Morrison would like to eventually see some of the policies around cigarette smoking extended to alcohol consumption -— that could include changes to pricing, warning labels on packaging, taxation and availability.

"Those are the kinds of policies that are looked at across the country and that will be part of any discussion around alcohol policy in this province as well."

Zoom
Zoom

A report by the Canadian Institute for Health Information in 2015-2016 looking at alcohol harm in Canada, showed there were more than 3,000 visits to emergency rooms on P.E.I. related to alcohol, 661 hospitalizations and 26 deaths.

We know that the costs associated with alcohol, both direct and indirect costs, are significant. — Dr. Heather Morrison

Though the harm stats are seven years old, Morrison said alcohol consumption on P.E.I. remains high.

In the last year, she said, 68 per cent of Islanders reported consuming alcohol, with more than one quarter considered "heavy drinkers." As well, more than 40 per cent of students from Grades 7-12 reported using alcohol in the last 12 months with more than three quarters saying they engaged in "binge drinking."

"Certainly nationally there's reports that the COVID pandemic has contributed to increased alcohol use," Morrison said.

"We know that the costs associated with alcohol, both direct and indirect costs, are significant."

The forum will be held virtually Wednesday and Thursday mornings. Anyone wanting to register should go to the Live Well P.E.I. Facebook page.

Speakers include members of the Canadian Alcohol Policy Evaluation team, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Nova Scotia Health and the IWK Health Centre.

Morrison said it will likely take time to change drinking habits, and whether you have two drinks a week or 10, the message remains the same: "Less alcohol is better."