Does Thunder Bay have a Collective Drinking Problem?

With nearly half of the city allegedly drinking too much, how do students fit into the equation?
By Leah Ching, Staff Writer

Driving while stoned. Alejandro Forero Cuervo/ Flickr

Driving while stoned. Alejandro Forero Cuervo/ Flickr

According to a December 2015 report published by the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, close to fifty percent of Thunder Bay residents are consuming more alcohol than recommended in low-risk drinking guidelines. While the provincial average lays at 42%, Thunder Bay’s rates exceed this average. The report not only outlines the health risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption, but also goes over the social and economic costs that heavy drinkers may end up paying.

Canada’s National Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines (LRADG) suggests that on ‘most days,’ men should consume no more than three drinks a day, and women no more than two. Weekly, the suggestion is no more than ten for women and fifteen for men. On special occasions the suggestion is nothing above four for women and nothing above five for men.  For students going to the Outpost for Tankard Tuesdays or even just heading to a friend’s house party, four or five drinks may seem more like what’s consumed to get the night started. This report suggests that weekly binge drinking among men aged 18-29 remains at an elevated level, with trends suggesting that number of drinks consumed daily and weekly for women in this age group rising steadily.

Garnering public reaction through social media, The Argus asked for responses online. Many people outside of the youth demographic noted that these numbers seemed high, and questioned if the study was botched, or not representative of the general Thunder Bay population. “Per night 2-3 drinks is STILL too much,” said one response. Another read “I have maybe 1-2 drinks a year! Where did they get their information from?” The responses largely drew attention to the need to research and present information on the economic and social factors that contribute to high alcohol consumption rates, and the ways in which many members of the public are willing to distance or remove themselves from the problem. Many respondents were quick to chalk the study up to botched numbers and unrepresentative samples.

The report suggests that this risky drinking can lead to detrimental physical, social, and economic impacts and suggest the need for the public to adopt a healthier relationship with alcohol. This suggestion may hold real gravity, with over half of Ontario post-secondary students reporting negative consequences occurring in the past year associated with their drinking including ideas of suicide, risky sexual activity, and personal injury and harm. With one in three post-secondary students reporting binge drinking in the past two weeks, the question begs to be raised: Do students need to start re-thinking their rate of alcohol consumption?

With alcohol being the most abused substance globally, one in three adults in Ontario report experiencing harm from someone else’s drinking. Also important to consider are the groups of people that disproportionally experience what the report terms as ‘alcohol related harms.’ Youths up to 24 years of age, youths who identify as LGBTQ, women, aboriginal persons, persons with mental health diagnoses are all on that list. With the results of the report suggesting a real need to re-think the way we drink, The Argus decided to get some student perspective on the results of the study.

Lakehead graduate Alana Johnson said that the numbers were “high, but not shocking.” Noting that, “Drinking in Thunder Bay, like lots of other places, is an entirely social endeavor. It’s easier to label your friend as that one who ‘likes to have a good time’ than to tell them that you’ve noticed a pattern when you guys go out and that they might need to slow it down.” Alana pointed out the connection that was all too real between socializing and drinking. Another third year English student, Carly, told The Argus, “When you’re at a house party or at the bar, you’re not really focusing on how many drinks you have. Sometimes you’ve had five or six drinks and then some more playing beer pong and one or two more doing a shot with your buddy. You don’t really think of how much you can drink until it hits you and you’re wasted.” Her companion Kara interjected by saying, “You say you won’t drink that much next time, but then the weekend rolls around and you want to relieve some exam stress and it’s hard to say no to going out and getting drunk with your friends. Drinking culture is pretty pervasive.”

Highlighting the frequency and intensity of drinking in Thunder Bay, the report also offers ideas for solutions, which are of course easier outlined than implemented. The numbers draw to attention the need for members of the public, students included, to re-envision the way they relate to alcohol and perhaps, in the future, infuse their drinking habits with a bit more mindfulness.