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Alcohol Abuse Facts

Substance abuse touches many lives, maybe even yours.

How it works

Alcohol is a depressant, it slows the nervous system. Alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream through the stomach and small intestine and spreads quickly throughout the body. The amount of pure alcohol in your bloodstream is your blood alcohol content (BAC). To simplify things, say you had 10,000 drops of blood, each in its own compartment. If you replaced one drop of blood with alcohol, the blood to alcohol ratio (BAC) would be .01. Two drops would be .02. The legal level of impairment in Canada is .08%. The time between when we first drink and begin to feel the effects of alcohol varies depending on how fast we drink, our size, and gender. Within 20 minutes, the BAC can rise significantly.

Chain reaction

Drinking alcohol sets off a chain reaction, so to speak, in our brains. Each stage of impairment signals that a new area of the brain is being affected. As we continue to drink, as new areas of our brains are affected, already-felt reactions grow worse – or further impaired. Alcohol follows a set path to other areas of the brain resulting in a predictable pattern of early and total intoxication. The last area of the brain affected by alcohol is our brain stem, which controls involuntary reflexes like telling your lungs to breathe, your heart to pump. At toxic levels, (BAC of .35% - .50%) alcohol slows or stops the functions in the brain stem often resulting in death without early intervention.

The damage has already spread ...

But long before alcohol affects the brain stem, it has already been absorbed by the major organs in our bodies. Alcoholism is known to cause:

  •     inflammation of the liver leading to cirrhosis
  •     lowered blood pressure increasing chances of heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure
  •     irritation of the stomach lining leading to ulcers
  •     inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
  •     increased risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, larynx and oesophagus
  •     sexual dysfunction in men

Combining Alcohol and Drugs

It’s very common for people to combine illicit and prescription drugs with alcohol. When this is done, the effects of other depressants (like marijuana) are increased, or the effects of stimulants (such as cocaine) are reduced (usually). Combining alcohol and drugs is always dangerous because you have no idea how the two will react inside you. Combining depressants can result in lowered heart and breathing rates for instance. Combining alcohol with stimulants causes stress to your heart and other organs and keeps you from feeling the full effect of either substance, increasing your chance of overdose.

Canadian Statistics

  • 79% of people in Alberta over the age of 15 drink to some extent.
  • 83% of gr. 12 Ontario students admit to using alcohol
  • 49% of Ontario gr. 12 students admit to binge drinking
  • Among Ontario grade 11 drinkers, 13 years was the average age of first exposure, and 14 years was the average age for first intoxication experience.
  • Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in Canada.
  • 24% of offenders entering federal custody (2 years' imprisonment or more) report having been under the influence of alcohol when they committed the crime
  • More than 2,700 children are born each year with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder
  • In 2002, alcohol accounted for more than $14.6 billion in costs (that’s $463 per person) and represented 36% of the total costs of substance abuse. – MADD Canada
  • Motor vehicle crashes, liver cirrhosis, suicides, oesophageal cancer, and arrhythmias were the leading causes of alcohol-related deaths. — MADD Canada

Canadian Headlines

Sobering stats on drunk drivers

May 19, 2010

Alcohol is a major factor in the death toll on our highways. More than 1,100 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes in Canada in 2007, the latest year for which figures are available...

Health Canada strikes an uneasy regulatory balance on alcoholic energy drinks

May 17, 2010

OTTAWA — Health Canada has approved the sale of pre-mixed alcoholic energy drinks at liquor stores, despite having warned people not to mix alcohol with energy drinks they pick up from the corner store.