A recent report from the Brant County Health Unit contains some sobering statistics about alcohol use in Brant.
Alcohol consumption rates in Brantford and the County of Brant are higher than the provincial average and the area’s impaired driving rate of 9.1 per cent is almost double the average of five per cent.
Nearly one in five Brant residents reported binge drinking – consuming five or more drinks on one occasion at least once a month – compared to a rate of 16.1 per cent across Ontario.
Since 2001, underage drinking has declined to 46.5 per cent of the youth population (ages 12 to 18), but that figure is significantly higher than the provincial average of 37.2 per cent. Young males in rural areas are particularly prone to these risky behaviours.
The numbers are worrying, said Brant County Health Unit program manager Sarah Edwards.
In the short term, Edwards said alcohol abuse leads to injuries and possible death from high-risk behaviours such as impaired driving.
Alcohol abuse strains the health care system through more emergency room visits and the cost of treating patients with addictions, fetal alcohol syndrome disorders and chronic diseases like liver cancer.
Poverty and social isolation make alcohol abuse common among marginalized populations, Edwards said, adding that mental health problems such as depression are “highly associated” with excessive drinking.
The health unit works with the city’s impaired driving committee and social agencies like St. Leonard’s to combat alcohol abuse. BCHU staff visit elementary schools to inform children about the dangers of alcohol abuse before they start to drink.
“It’s a complex issue that won’t be solved by a single program,” Edwards said. “It needs a comprehensive approach.”
The survey also found Brant’s rate of alcohol mortality to be “consistently higher” than average.
One-quarter of Brant residents consume alcohol in excess of the province’s low-risk drinking guidelines, which recommend limits of 14 drinks per week for males and nine drinks for females, with no more than two drinks per day.
“That isn’t a target, it’s a limit,” Edwards said.
The report would appear to add credence to Brant MPP Dave Levac’s call for an addiction treatment and detoxification centre in Brantford.
“Addiction is a growing problem in our community that needs immediate action,” Levac told Brant News last year. “Everyone is in agreement that (a detox centre) is the missing piece to the services that are being provided.”
The statistics were taken from the Canada Community Health Survey, which canvassed 800 Brant residents in 2009 and 2010. Drinking and driving was self-reported. Therefore, the rate may be even higher.