First Nations are much more likely to abstain from alcohol consumption than their Albertan and Canadian counterparts.
Addictions have a significant impact on health and well-being. The information for this section examines data for alcohol consumption and is based on results from the First Nations Longitudinal Regional Health Survey (RHS) and the Canadian Addictions Survey (Alberta component). In both cases, the information is based on self-reported information.
While the Canadian Addictions Survey provides data on drug addictions, it was not possible to identify similar data for First Nations in Alberta. Therefore, this section is limited to examining alcohol addictions and considers:
- The proportion of individuals who consume alcohol (regardless of quantity).
- The proportion of individuals who consume alcohol heavily on a regular basis. A commonly accepted benchmark of “binge drinking” or “heavy drinking” is five drinks in one sitting23. The data were compiled for those who consumed heavily more than once a month or 12 times a year.
The two datasets use slightly different age groupings and the RHS provides data for both genders. Therefore, the results are presented in separate figures.
Figures 24 and 25 illustrate the proportion of individuals who consumed alcohol in the year prior to the survey. Despite the challenges posed by the different age grouping, the data show consistency in terms of alcohol consumption between First Nations and Albertans except for the older age groups where there is a higher proportion of abstinence for First Nations24. The RHS survey shows differences between genders, highlighting that among younger drinkers, young women report drinking at a higher rate than young men.
A recent study indicates that the Canadian mean25 age of initiation to alcohol for Canadians is 15.6 years of age. A study of drinking and driving among First Nations youth in Alberta revealed that many had taken their first drink around the age of 1226. A number of studies27have also demonstrated that the younger age of initiation to alcohol (usually under 15) tends to increase the likelihood of substance addiction at a later age.
Both surveys also sought to examine the extent of “binge drinking” or “heavy drinking”, which is defined as having more than five drinks in one sitting28. Figure 26 demonstrates significant differences in the drinking pattern between First Nations, Albertans and Canadians as it shows a much higher proportion of First Nation drinkers that indicated drinking heavily more than 12 times a year. In other words, less First Nations drink in comparison to their Canadian counterparts, but those who drink tend to drink more.
Both surveys provide information on heavy drinking by age groups and the findings are provided in Figures 27 and 28.
The key findings are as follows:
- While Figures 24 and 25 illustrate a much higher abstinence rate for First Nations as compared with the rest of the population, they also indicate a higher level of heavy drinking for First Nations as compared with the Alberta population and across age groups.
- A significant proportion of First Nations youth (12 to 17 years of age) drink heavily more than once a month. These results are particularly troubling for young women; Figures 33 to 35 will show that many First Nations babies are born to teenage mothers.
Self-reported health status is lower for First Nations than for Albertans and Canadians. This is reinforced by information on key risk factors for chronic conditions including body weight, smoking and addictions.
23Health Canada, Canadian Addictions Survey: A National Survey of Canadians’ Use of Alcohol and Other Drugs, 2005
24Thatcher, R.W., Fighting Firewater Fictions: Moving Beyond the Disease Model of Alcoholism in First Nations, 2004
25Health Canada, Canadian Addictions Survey: A National Survey of Canadians’ Use of Alcohol and Other Drugs – Substance Use by Canadian Youth, 2007
26Rothe, P. et al. “A Qualitative Inquiry into Drinking and Driving among Alberta’s First Nations Post-Secondary Youth Aged 18-29”, Alberta Centre for Injury Control
and Research, 2004
27DeWit, DJ et al. “Age at First Alcohol Use: A Risk Factor for the Development of Alcohol Disorders”, American Journal of Psychiatry, May 2000; Health Canada, Canadian
Addictions Survey: A National Survey of Canadians’ Use of Alcohol and Other Drugs – Substance Use by Canadian Youth, 2007; Pitkanen, T. et al. “Age of Onset of Drinking
and the Use of Alcohol in Adulthood: A Follow-Up Study from Age 8-42 for Females and Males”, Addiction, Society for the Study of Addiction, 2005
28Health Reports: How Healthy Are Canadians? 2002 Annual Report, catalogue no. 82-003-SIE, Statistics Canada