The P.E.I. government wants to tell Islanders that when it comes to drinking, "less is best."
The slogan will be part of a public awareness campaign that will roll out next week focusing on the health benefits of reducing alcohol consumption, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison said Thursday.
Alcohol use was linked to 6,000 emergency department visits, more than 700 hospitalizations and 135 deaths in 2020 alone, according to a report by the Canadian Substance Use Costs and Harms working group published this year.
That year, substance use cost the Island $280 million. Almost half of that figure — which includes lost productivity and health-care and criminal justice expenses — was attributed to alcohol use alone.
"Alcohol really leads all the other substances in terms of costs and impact to P.E.I.," Morrison said.
Alcohol use was linked to 6,000 emergency department visits, more than 700 hospitalizations and 135 deaths in 2020 alone, according to a report by the Canadian Substance Use Costs and Harms working group. (P.E.I. government)
"The more alcohol you drink in a week, the greater your risk is for developing certain kinds of cancers, heart disease, stroke.... There's also impacts on community harms associated with alcohol, so family violence, motor vehicle collisions, ... the risks associated with pregnancy."
Fifty-seven per cent of Canadians aged 15 years and older drink more than what's recommended, according to a recent report by the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
Canadians must have no more than two drinks a week to avoid serious health consequences from alcohol consumption, according to national guidelines.
Rand Teed, an addictions counsellor in Saskatchewan, said that when people think about alcohol use, they see things "black and white."
"Unless you're falling down drunk regularly, you can kind of start thinking that you're OK, and even moderate alcohol use can start to cause health issues and particularly mental health issues," Teed said.
Rand Teed is an addictions counsellor in Saskatchewan. He said that when people think about alcohol use, they see things 'black and white.' (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)
"Alcohol disrupts sleep. Alcohol is a very big factor in causing anxiety and also depression. People pay attention to those mental health issues, but they don't tie it to their alcohol use."
Teed co-authored the CMAJ report and also helped create new guidelines meant to help family doctors and other health-care professionals approach the subject of alcohol use, and treat it.
He said it's important for health-care professionals to ask questions about their patient's alcohol use.
"A lot of the medications that are prescribed for anxiety and depression don't work well in conjunction with alcohol use," he said. "So it's really important that that primary care person help the individual understand that OK, this medication can help you, but it's not going to help or in fact things might get worse if you continue to use alcohol."
Teed said treatment can really vary depending on how much trouble people are having taking a complete break from alcohol.
"Residential treatment programs separate you from the alcohol at one level. At the more important level, they start to teach you other ways to manage how you're feeling," he said. "Alcohol is also an emotional anesthetic, so if there's things bothering a person and they stopped drinking, those feelings are going to bubble up."
'The single biggest factor is a person's desire to change'
Ellen Taylor is a local mental health and addictions advocate. After seeking treatment off-Island, she got sober, and has remained so for close to four years.
"I started more as a binge drinker," she said. "I started drinking like I didn't want it to stop, but I could leave it alone at the start.... Then it just became that I was drinking all the time, and it was just super problematic for me."
Ellen Taylor is a local mental health and addictions advocate. After seeking treatment off-Island, she got sober, and has remained so for close to four years. (Stacey Janzer/CBC)
Taylor said her treatment was more about why she was drinking instead of about the substance itself.
She recommends Islanders who don't have a family doctor but want to quit drinking to start by calling the Provincial Addictions Treatment Facility in Mount Herbert, to see if detox treatment is right for them.
"The single biggest factor is a person's desire to change," Teed said.
"We've talked for years about people have to hit bottom. And that doesn't mean that you have to be living on the street. You just have to get to the point that I'm sick and tired of feeling how I'm feeling and I want to change. And I know in order to change, I've got to separate myself from alcohol."