Canadians consume 50% more alcohol than the rest of the world, claims study

Jordana Divon
Contributing Writer
Shine On

Whether it’s those long winter nights or an endless supply of Molson Canadian, a new study from Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) pins Canada among the world’s heaviest drinkers.

The study, published online this week in the journal Addiction, claims Canadians drink more than 50 per cent above the average of our fellow earthlings.

Based on CAMH’s statistics, this places us in a heavyweight category that includes Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Spain – populations that have traditionally had far more practice in the drinking department.

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Researchers, who studied alcohol consumption in 241 countries, were looking to establish patterns in the relationship between alcohol and the global burden of disease.

They learned that alcohol is now the third leading cause of death worldwide, exceeded only by high blood pressure and smoking.

"Alcohol consumption has been found to cause more than 200 different diseases and injuries," he says the study’s lead author Kevin Shield in a press release. "These include not only well-known outcomes of drinking such as liver cirrhosis or traffic accidents, but also several types of cancer, such as female breast cancer."

Shield and his team analyzed data on alcohol consumption by country from 2005. They then estimated figures for 2010 by looking at sales and production data, population surveys and unofficial alcohol consumption records.

The data from 2005 showed Canadians to knock back 9.9 litres of pure alcohol per person each year compared to the global average of 6.1 litres per person, reports the Toronto Star.

But that was back in 2005. The estimated data for 201o presumably shows we've increase our consumption since a press release claims we now drink 50 per cent above the global average.

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Unfortunately, the researchers calculations for both years only included what went on record. Nearly 30 per cent of alcohol consumed in 2005 went unlisted, whether it was a home-brewed concoction that could knock out a field of cattle or illegally produced alcohol reminiscent of prohibition days.

"The amount of unrecorded alcohol consumed is a particular problem, as its consumption is not impacted by public health alcohol policies, such as taxation, which can moderate consumption," says Dr. Jürgen Rehm, study author and director of CAMH's Social and Epidemiological Research Department.

The researchers also noted unhealthy drinking practices in regions like Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa where people often drink to intoxication, go on alcohol binges and don’t eat while drinking.

By contrast, people in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia consumed the least alcohol.

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Here in Canada, we are terrible when it comes to binge drinking.

But it’s important to note that in a 2011 World Health Organization study on alcohol consumption, Canada didn’t even crack the top 25. Either we’ve spent the last year or two catching up, or the study’s conclusions need to be taken in a larger context of other research.

That doesn’t mean we should be relaxed about practicing smart drinking habits, like putting a cork in it when you’ve had enough, not consuming alcohol on an empty stomach and never getting behind the wheel after a night of drinking at the bar.