More Canadians end up in hospital from drinking than from heart attacks

A new report reveals that alcohol is sending more of us to the emergency room than heart attacks. How much drinking is safe, and how can you spot the signs of alcohol poisoning?

Last year, about 77,000 hospitalizations in Canada were due to conditions entirely caused by alcohol, compared with about 75,000 for heart attacks.

Alcohol Harm in Canada, a new report released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), examines hospitalizations that are 100% caused by the harmful consumption of alcohol. Examples include patients who are hospitalized for alcohol poisoning, alcohol withdrawal, or liver disease caused by alcohol.

On average, 212 Canadians were hospitalized every day last year for conditions entirely caused by alcohol. That number doesn’t include people who were treated in emergency departments without being admitted to the hospital.

Who’s drinking the most?

Ontario had 195 hospitalizations entirely due to alcohol over the period of the study – slightly below the national average of 239 per province or territory. The lowest province or territory was New Brunswick at 172, while the Northwest Territories topped the list at 1,315.

Men had the highest rates of heavy drinking and hospitalization among people aged 20 and older. However, girls aged 10 to 19 had higher heavy drinking and hospitalization rates than boys the same age.

How much alcohol is dangerous?

Because drinking alcohol will have different effects on different people, it is difficult to identify a precise amount of consumption that will become dangerous. For non-alcoholics, blood levels of .30 per cent to .45 per cent can become fatal.

Those dangerous levels can occur at approximately 15 drinks over 2-4 hours for a 160 pound man, or 9 drinks over 3-4 hours for a 120 pound woman.

People who are of lighter weight will have much higher rates of blood alcohol than heavier individuals, and will be at higher risk of blood poisoning.

The Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) recommends that to reduce long term health risks from drinking alcohol you should drink no more than:

  • 10 drinks a week for women, with no more than 2 drinks a day most days
  • 15 drinks a week for men, with no more than 3 drinks a day most days

They also suggest that you plan non-drinking days every week to avoid developing a habit.

Alcohol poisoning

Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include confusion, trouble staying conscious, vomiting, seizures, difficulty breathing, a slowed heart rate, clammy skin, dulled responses, such as no gag reflex (which would prevent choking), and very low body temperature.

If untreated, alcohol poisoning can be very dangerous or even fatal. Hazards include:

  • Choking on their own vomit
  • Breathing that slows, becomes irregular, or stops
  • Heart that beats irregularly or stops
  • Hypothermia
  • Hypoglycemia (very low blood sugar), which can lead to seizures
  • Untreated severe dehydration from vomiting, which can cause seizures, brain damage, and death.

If you suspect someone is suffering from alcohol poisoning, call 911 immediately for help.

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