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Booze flow more freely in Western Canada

Margaret Sheridan | Interrobang | News | October 1st, 2007

Canadians like their beer, or at least that's what we're lead to believe. And now a cross-country survey has shown exactly which provinces house the heavy drinkers, and it's become obvious that some Canadians appreciate their alcohol more than others.

According to the research done for the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, Ontario and Quebec are the two provinces in which they're find the smallest percentage of substance abusers. In fact, the research showed that you're more likely to find a lower percentage of abusers in central Canada, however in most of the western provinces the numbers are higher than the national average.

“Geography tends to be ignored in this kind of [study],” said Scott Veldhuizen, co-author of ‘Geographical Variation in the Prevalence of Problematic Substance Use in Canada.' “We tend to treat the country as homogeneous, but we know from existing work that there are usually differences between regions.”

The study showed that rates tended to be lower in central Canada, and higher in the west, with an estimated Canadian average of substance abuse hovering around 11 per cent of the population. The highest average was in Saskatchewan with just under a 14 per cent average and the lowest in Quebec at approximately nine per cent.

The study also surprised many people by showing that alcohol abuse is less common in large city centres' than their mid-sized counterparts. The Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) study revealed that the lowest rate of substance abuse was found in Toronto (7.8 per cent) and Montreal (8.1 per cent), while middling sized cities weighed in at an average of 12.6 per cent.

“There's a perception that substance-related problems are most common in places like Toronto,” said Veldhuizen. “So there was a lot of surprise that that wasn't so. [To us] it wasn't entirely surprising though since the situation is quite similar with, for example, crime which is also highest in mid-sized cities, not in Toronto and Montreal.”

Another reason Veldhuisen speculates behind the lower rates in large cities is correlated to the immigrant population.

“Immigrants tend to settle first in major cities,” said Veldhuizen. “Immigrants, and especially recent immigrants, tend to have low levels of substance use problems.

“Beyond that, there are a lot of possibilities. People in these cities tend to be a little better-off economically and to have more education, and, of course, it's been argued that there are also more possibilities for recreation and entertainment.”

The study also revealed what most people have assumed for a while, that students tend to be more susceptible to becoming substance abusers than the majority of the population.

Veldhuizen's study compares favourably in terms of numbers to one done in 2002 by Statistics Canada.

“In terms of prevalence, we had three per cent of men 15-years and older were alcohol dependant,” said Michael Tjepkema, who works as part of Statistic Canada's Health Statistics Division. “For women that value was 1.3 per cent. But in terms of the university population, those aged 20 to 24, both sexes combined, was 8.6 per cent, which was the highest prevalence of all the age groups we looked at.”

“Problems of the kind we're looking at are most common among young people,” explained Veldhuizen. “Especially among young men. We found that rates rise sharply in the late teens, peak around age 20, and then fall off again.”

“The people who were most likely to be alcohol dependant are the 20-24 year olds,” explained Tjepkema. “Never married, which is also correlated with the age. They were people who have some post secondary, so they're probably still in school. The main bridge factor would be those young adults.”

“It seems that demographic and income differences may play a role,” said Veldhuizen. “But there's still a difference that after we take all that sort of thing into account. So we end up speculating: Cultural differences, income inequality and other economic differences, local policy (alcohol tax, restrictions on availability) are all possibilities.”

All things that can contribute to pushing someone from ‘social drinker' to ‘substance abuser.'
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