Statistics contained in a recently released Brant County Health Unit report on alcohol use in Brant have us worried. They are sobering numbers, to say the least, that show alcohol consumption rates in Brantford and Brant above the provincial average.
Here are some of the report’s findings, taken from the Canada Community Health Survey, which canvassed 800 local residents in 2009 and 2010:
• One-quarter of Brant residents consume alcohol in excess of the province’s low-risk drinking guidelines. The guidelines recommend a limit of 14 drinks per week for males and a limit of nine drinks per week for females, with no more than two drinks per day.
• Nearly one in five Brant residents – 19.5 per cent – reported binge drinking, which is defined as consuming five or more drinks on one occasion at least once a month. The provincial average is 16.1 per cent.
• 46.5 per cent of Brant’s youth population (ages 12 to 18) have taken part in underage drinking, significantly higher than the provincial average of 37.2 per cent.
• Brant’s rate of alcohol mortality is “consistently higher” than the provincial average.
If those numbers aren’t enough to have you concerned, consider this: Brantford-Brant’s impaired driving rate of 9.1 per cent is almost double the provincial average of five per cent. That means that more than nine out of 100 people in Brant have driven while impaired. And with drinking and driving self-reported in the health unit study, that rate may be even higher.
Considering the tragic consequences of drinking and driving – which our community has witnessed first-hand – this last statistic is simply unacceptable.
So, what can we do about Brant’s problematic drinking problem? With alcohol abuse putting strain on the health care system through emergency room visits, the cost of treating patients with addictions, fetal alcohol syndrome disorders and other chronic diseases – not to mention the mental health problems associated with excessive drinking – it is clear that something must be done.
As Brant County Health Unit program manager Sarah Edwards points out in this week’s Brant News, this drinking issue is a complex one that won’t be solved by a single program. A comprehensive approach is needed.
And, when seeking answers, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that Brant’s higher than average drinking rates may be the result of socio-economic conditions, with poverty and social isolation making alcohol abuse more common.
While it is true that the dedicated staff at social service agencies in Brantford and Brant offer important help to those struggling with alcohol addiction and work to educate the community about the dangers of excessive drinking, we can do more.
A good place to start would be to move forward a plan put forward by Brant MPP Dave Levac to open an addiction treatment and detoxification centre in Brantford. Such a facility could put many service providers under one roof and lead to a more comprehensive approach to battling addiction – to both alcohol and other substances – in our community. To his credit, Brant’s MPP has been leading on this important issue and we urge him to continue the community conversation he started about the proposed detox centre last year.
Because, as the numbers show, it is time for action on this important issue impacting the health of our community.