While most West Central Alberta residents probably don't have a problem with moderate alcohol use by responsible adults, whether in private homes or at restaurants, lounges or other such places, the dangers of alcohol abuse are all too often brushed aside or ignored altogether.
And according to a report released on Friday, the health, social and economic costs of alcohol abuse are much more widespread than is perhaps commonly known.
In its ìGlobal Status Report On Alcohol and Healthî, the World Health Organization says alcohol use and abuse results in the death of 2.5 million people annually, causes illness and injury to many millions more, and increasingly affects young people in negative ways.
ìClearly much more needs to be done to reduce the loss of life and suffering associated with harmful alcohol use,î says Dr. Ala Alwan, WHO Assistant Director-General for Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health.
The WHO study includes some fairly shocking findings:
ï Nearly four per cent of all deaths are related to alcohol, with most alcohol-related deaths caused by injuries, cancer, cardiovascular diseases and liver cirrhosis.
ï Globally, 6.2 per cent of all male deaths are related to alcohol, compared to 1.1 per cent of female deaths.
ï Globally, 320,000 young people aged 15-29 years die annually from alcohol-related causes, resulting in nine per cent of all deaths in that age group.
Like other jurisdictions in Canada, Alberta is not immune from the costs of alcohol abuse. For example, drunk driving costs the province millions and millions of dollars every year in police, court and health-care expenses, costs that have continued to increase steeply over the past decades.
And while impaired driving is certainly the highest profile alcohol-related problem in this province ñ with literally hundreds and hundreds of drunk driving cases before Alberta courts every week ñ the wider health, social and economic costs of alcohol abuse are much less widely reported.
Those other costs include increased absenteeism and loss of productivity, hospital costs of treating alcohol-related diseases, and the societal costs of families harmed and all too often ruined by drunkenness and alcohol-fuelled abuse.
While there is no current call for a prohibition of alcohol in Alberta ñ nor should there be ñ the dangers of abuse cannot and should not be ignored.
As such, governments and other community stakeholders have an ongoing obligation to ensure that young people in particular are educated about the many risks associated with alcohol abuse.
Today alcohol use is often portrayed in advertisements as fun-filled and harmless. Only ongoing education can provide the necessary balance to those sometimes-dubious claims.