Better data needed to measure alcohol abuse in youth, health experts say

More than 200 New Brunswickers between the ages of 12 and 24 were hospitalized over the last five years due to alcohol intoxication, according to data provided by the province’s health networks.

But health professionals and experts say more concrete data is needed to measure how widespread alcohol abuse is in the province.

From 2012-2013 to 2016-2017, Horizon Health Network recorded 186 hospitalizations of teens and young adults due to alcohol, while Vitalité Health Network found there were 36 hospitalizations of teens and young adults due to alcohol at its hospitals over the same time period.

Better data needed

In an interview conducted in French, Martin Robichaud, regional director of emergency services for Vitalité Health Network, said he doesn’t believe the data accurately reflects what’s happening with respect to alcohol abuse in youth, because the way these incidents are recorded differs from one hospital to another.

He said he thinks both health networks should standardize their computer systems to have accurate data in the province.  Otherwise, it’s hard to say whether alcohol abuse among youth is a problem, he said.  But he added that he believes that the province needs to continue to educate youth about moderation, as too many of them abuse alcohol and end up in intensive care.

Stéphane Robichaud, chief executive officer of the New Brunswick Health Council, said he agreed that standardization of hospital data is important to more accurately capture this and other health issues.

The figures also don’t break down what communities the hospitalizations are happening in, which is important to consider, he said.  “The situation may not be critical from a provincial perspective, but it would be if it’s driven by a few communities,” he said.

Youth could be facing other consequences

Janine Olthuis, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of New Brunswick whose research focuses on alcohol abuse among youth, said the data wasn’t surprising.

But it’s still worrying to have any young people hospitalized for drinking too much, she said.

UNB professor Janine Olthuis says youth could be facing other serious consequences for binge drinking beyond landing in the hospital that aren’t captured by statistics. “In general, if you’re getting 30 to 40 kids a year hospitalized for alcohol use, that’s a problem. That’s something that shouldn’t be happening,” she said.

She added that hospitalization rates are not the only way to measure alcohol abuse, because if youth are drinking heavily, they could be facing other consequences, such as legal problems.  “Those are not health consequences, but they are going to have similar implications for people in this age bracket down the road,” she said.

“I think in general the percentage of people who are experiencing consequences [for alcohol abuse] is probably higher than you would expect.”

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