Adults in Lake Cowichan are consuming more alcohol than any other community on Vancouver Island, according to statistics released by Island Health. According to the Community Health profiles, the average adult in Lake Cowichan drinks 320 litres of alcohol per year, compared to the Vancouver Island average of 124 litres per year and the provincial average of 103 litres per year.
Though the numbers are striking, Island Health’s medical health officer Dr. Paul Hasselback admits that the methodology used in gathering the data isn’t perfect. The numbers were reached through calculating alcohol sales (including liquor, beer, wine, etc.) at local liquor stores, without differentiating between the alcohol content present in the drinks. A common criticism, said Hasselback, is that Lake Cowichan’s numbers are being inflated by campers and other tourists during the summer. While he admitted that this phenomenon does skew the numbers, he said that other data included in the reports make the problem more convincing.
“We get this in other communities with tourist-based industries, but [consumption] is only part of the picture — you have to look at the health outcome,” he said. “We can see an increase — though not a doubling — of alcohol-related illnesses in Lake Cowichan, compared to the rest of the Island.”
Some of the health issues that that disproportionately impact communities with high alcohol consumption rates include liver failure and certain types of cancer and mental illnesses, such as addiction. Along with the impact on health, Hasselback listed the social consequences of higher alcohol consumption rates to be a higher prevalence of violence and spousal discord, both physical and verbal.
While data on specific outcomes weren’t available, Hasselback said that Lake Cowichan is feeling the effects more so than its neighbours, with the rates of alcohol-related deaths being 30 per cent higher than the average for Vancouver Island and 40 per cent higher than the provincial average.
Overconsumption of alcohol isn’t a problem that’s unique to Lake Cowichan, as the numbers have been steadily rising in all of British Columbia, according to the Centre for Addiction Reasearch of BC.
Hasselback said that health authorities are calling for higher prices for hard liquor, as the implementation of minimum prices, in order to curb the province’s drinking problem.