Alcohol-related deaths and hospitalizations in Canada are increasing at a faster rate for women than men, according to data released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information on Thursday.
The non-profit group found that from 2001 to 2017, the rate of women who died from causes linked directly to alcohol jumped a whopping 26 per cent. For men during that same period, the rate increased roughly 5 per cent.
Kathleen Morris, vice president of research and analysis at the CIHI, said in a statement that “it is troubling to see the rates for women increase so much faster than those for men.”
Historically, men have been far more likely to be hospitalized for alcohol-related reasons than women, but women “are catching up,” said Joseph Amuah, a senior researcher with the health system performance branch of the CIHI and an adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa.
Researchers with the CIHI don’t have a definitive explanation for what is driving the trend, but they note that Canada is not an outlier.
“One key thing to remember is that the hospitalizations entirely caused by alcohol indicator is only one indicator and that we just started looking at it in the past two years,” Amuah told CTVNews.ca.
“But if we look at this trend from the long-term side of things, this is part of a pattern that we are seeing globally.”
Girls aged 10 to 19 have already closed the gap with boys. While the rate of hospitalizations entirely caused by alcohol from 2016 to 2017 was 44 boys per 100,000, for girls of the same age, it was 69 per 100,000.
The research also found that the rate of hospitalizations caused by alcohol for females grew 3 per cent from 2016 to 2017 when compared to the previous year. For males, the year-by-year increase was less than 1 per cent.
Amuah said greater gender equality around the world, as seen in the workplace, may be extending to alcohol consumption. Women are drinking more heavily than in the past, he said, which means they’re also more exposed to health risks.
And because women’s bodies metabolize and process alcohol differently than men, they suffer a more pronounced response to heavy drinking and binge drinking than men, he added.
The CIHI’s data also found that for the second consecutive year, there were more hospital admissions in Canada for alcohol-related conditions than for heart attacks.
Nearly 80,000 Canadians were admitted for alcohol-linked conditions from 2016 to 2017, compared to 77,000 hospital stays for heart attacks during that same period.
Mental health and addiction-related conditions were responsible for early 75 percent of those alcohol-related hospital stays.
Amuah said policymakers should consider tighter rules on alcohol advertising. He argues that a comprehensive strategy similar to the one that targeted tobacco consumption is needed here, particularly to prevent the normalization of alcohol consumption among Canadian youth.
“It’s important not to rest on our laurels,” he said.
The CIHI’s data comes from an indicator called “hospitalizations entirely caused by alcohol,” which measures hospital stays linked to conditions such as alcohol poisoning, chronic alcohol abuse, liver disease, alcohol withdrawal, hepatitis and liver failure.
A study released by the group in 2017 cautioned that this indicator represents only “the tip of the iceberg of alcohol harm” because it excludes hospitalizations partially related to alcohol consumption such as heart disease or injuries stemming from drinking and driving.