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Privatization, number of liquor stores argued as factors contributing to alcohol abuse
Five years ago, the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, or AGLC, increased the base prices at which alcohol can be sold in an attempt to curb the occurrence of binge drinking in Alberta.
However, according to Statistics Canada, the number of Albertans who partake in binge drinking at least once a month has increased since the province's minimum pricing policies came into effect.
Statistics Canada defines binge drinkers as: "Population aged 12 and over who reported having 5 or more drinks on one occasion, at least once a month in the past 12 months."
“Alcohol is our society’s favourite drug outside of coffee,” says Dyck, “and we consume it with a sense of appreciation for its benefits.”
- Tim Dyck, research associate for Centre for Addictions Research British Columbia
When asked about the apparent failure of that initiative among young drinkers, commission spokesperson Tatjana Laskovic said, "When these measures were introduced, they reflected the government's wish to improve safety in and around licensed premises."
But experts interviewed by the Calgary Journal have suggested the commission needs to look at factors other than pricing if it wants to reduce binge drinking.
Tim Dyck, who is a research associate at the Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia, lists the issues of privatization and outlet density as examples.
Outlet density refers to the number of places that have liquor available for retail sale, such as liquor stores, in a given area.
As of December 2009, there were 1,158 liquor stores in Alberta, according to the AGLCAlberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (ALGC).
Compared to the 197 locations of BC Liquor Stores in British Columbia, that figure is staggering.
In addition, unlike the other Canadian provinces, Alberta has entirely privatized liquor retailing. Every other province retains at least part government ownership of the liquor industry.
For example, the B.C. government's Liquor Distributing Branch operates 195 B.C. Liquor Stores and, according to the B.C. Liquor Control and Licensing Branch, there are around 700 privately-owned stores.
Dyck points to total privatization as another potential factor in the growing numbers of binge drinkers in Alberta.
He says that governments that have a more direct hand on the liquor industry may be able to implement regulations governing it with greater ease.
SOCIAL PRESSURE TO DRINK
But Dorothy Badry, assistant professor PhD at the University of Calgary Department of Social Work, says society's perception of alcohol contributes greatly to its misuse.
"People tend to think of alcohol as a social habit versus a toxin," she says.
"[They] see it as almost a right to be able to relax, have a few drinks."
Dyck shares similar viewpoints, saying that "alcohol is our society's favourite drug outside of coffee and we consume it with a sense of appreciation for its benefits."
In fact, Dyck says, "We tend to view alcohol in our society as something of a center stage attraction. If we were to instead look at it as a useful stage prop, I think we would be situating it better and be helping ourselves to a more wholesome overall outlook around alcohol," says Dyck.
Badry also points to peer pressure and group mentality as another factor that encourages binge drinking.
"If you're in a group that's doing heavy drinking you're more likely to engage yourself in heavy drinking," she says.
Those social pressures and attitudes are difficult to change. But there are some promising initiatives on the horizon that could reduce binge drinking.
INITIATIVE FOR CHANGE
Most recently, according to Laskovic, the AGLC and municipal partners in both Edmonton and Calgary have introduced the Bar None Program, which encourages licensees to raise their standards of operation.
The program is geared towards promoting patron safety and responsible liquor service. It will address factors such as responsible liquor service, security of patron management, drugs and first aid, as well as issues related to the premises or patron transportation.
"The Bar None initiative strikes me as a very promising one," says Tim Dyck. It will address factors such as responsible liquor service, security of patron management, drugs and first aid, as well as issues related to the premises or patron transportation.
"Alcohol is our society's favourite drug outside of coffee," says Dyck, "and we consume it with a sense of appreciation for its benefits."
In addition to knowing when someone's drinking becomes a problem, as well as encouraging responsible and moderate consumption, Dyck suggests a societal change in viewpoint towards the bottle could help in reducing binge-drinking numbers: "We tend to view alcohol in our society as something of a centre-stage attraction. If we were to instead look at it as a useful stage prop, I think we would be situating it better and be helping ourselves to a more wholesome overall outlook around alcohol."
"There does need to be a reminder that there are issues with alcohol when it is used inappropriately, at times when it shouldn't be, or in excess," he says.
"Encouragement to drink in responsible and moderate ways are really helpful."