Alcohol has been manufactured, consumed and many times abused by people all over the world since pre-historic times. So why is it now a greater issue than it was before? There are a number of factors that played a role in this. To begin with, alcohol consumption has been normalized up to a point where very few people perceive it to be a drug. Following years and years of media exposure and societal embrace of alcohol, not even the people who do not fancy drinks are alarmed by their friends’ binge drinking.
We see it everywhere, from billboards and music videos to books, magazines and news. Everybody’s doing it, so it must be okay. What would be more distressing to see happening: a person drinking a can of beer or a person jabbing a needle into their arm? No one would have a problem with the person drinking a beer, regardless if it’s their first can or their tenth, unless they started becoming violent which is always a possibility. But alcohol abuse can be more harmful than crack or heroin abuse, according to experts, so why is there such a discrepancy when they all have in common specific chemicals meant to alter the mind and cause addiction?
Alcohol seems to be Canadians’ favourite drug: a staggering 80% of the population are drinkers. And there are a lot of factors that play a huge role in this. A 2018 international study published in the renowned publication The Lancet is alluding to the recommended drinking limits in Canada and how they are considered to be far too high. Currently, recommendations say that women should not exceed 10 drinks a week, while for men it’s 15 per week. As a comparison, in the U.S. guidelines dictate that up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men are within safety moderate drinking recommendations.
Putting recovery into perspective
In March 2018, Health Canada has issued an intention to change an existing Food and Drug Regulation aiming to restrict the level of alcohol in highly sweetened alcoholic beverages sold in cans. This followed the tragic incident of a teenager from Québec passing away after an alcohol overdose. But nevertheless, caused an immediate reaction from the government to act on and prevent such things from happening. When it comes to underage drinking, many Canadians believe that by raising a child to drink responsibly the chance of developing an addiction later in life decreases. Which can actually make sense to some extent given the fact that for instance, the legal drinking age is lower in Canada than it is in the U.S. but42% of Canadian students reportedly drank heavily at least one time in a week in contrast with 54% American students.
Over 5 million Canadians are believed to engage in high risk drinking leading to accidents, pregnancy-related problems and other health issues as well as crime and violence. Fortunately, Canadian authorities have caught on these threats and a series of managed alcohol programs have been spreading across Canada and turning heads around the world due to their effectiveness. Monitoring the progress, experts have concluded that participants experience less hospital visits, detox episodes and police contacts after being involved in such programs. These direct improvements are token that with the right approach and support, alcohol addiction can become a thing of the past for millions.
Another example worth mentioning would be the infamous A.A. (Alcoholics Anonymous’) meetings which have been around since the 1940s in U.S. and Canada and have grown in popularity throughout time due to their successful formula for providing help. For decades, the A.A. and the 12-steps initiative have been the go-to solution for people suffering from alcohol addiction. But it’s always a matter of different strokes for different folks. Each person is unique and so is their experience with addiction. This is exactly why there isn’t really a one-size-fits-all solution. For as many people reporting the many benefits they have reaped following A.A. meetings, others have found themselves conflicted with the concept or reluctant to adhere to the program.
Luckily and especially with the digital boom, more and more options are available. A 2018 study has actually found that alternative mutual help groups are just as effective as the 12-step program. Over 600 people suffering from alcohol addiction filled out an online survey. The analysis was done by splitting participants into groups according to their preferred help group option. A follow-up was done after 6 months and then after a year, measuring the outcomes which included abstinence and other alcohol-related problems as well as their level of involvement. At the end of the research, it was discovered that all studied options were just as efficient. However, the differentiator factor laid in abstinence and recovery goals. For instance, in AA the emphasis is on full abstinence as a way to treat alcohol abuse, while other groups might lean more towards moderation and whether the individuals wanted to commit to an alcohol-free life or just a specific amount of time.
As expected, the power of a recovery treatment and its success depends mostly on the person who is undergoing it. The saying ‘you are in control of your own destiny’ most certainly is a rule here. Recovering from substance addiction is a personal journey made up of various pathways.
Substance addiction and mental health issues associated with it affects the lives of four out of every five Canadians. About 80% of the population confesses that they know someone who has experienced or is dealing with substance abuse and at the same time, another 82% believe there should be more help available for these people. Key findings such as these are motivating and positive but simultaneously, they are pinpointing the existing gap. More support, more personalized help, more understanding and more care is what people living with substance addiction are most in need of getting back on their feet.