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Binge drinking soars in Arctic Canada

  • Author: CBC News
  • Updated: September 27, 2016
  • Published July 11, 2012

A new Canadian study adds fuel to the perception that alcohol abuse worsens the farther north one travels.

Binge drinking is on the rise in Canada and northern people of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut are the heaviest drinkers in the country, according to a 2011 Canadian Community Health Survey that defined binge drinking as consuming five or more drinks at a time, at least once a month.

In the latest survey by Statistics Canada, 19 per cent of Canadians surveyed said they were heavy drinkers, compared to 17 per cent the previous year. That 2011 survey pegs the Northwest Territories with the highest rate of binge drinkers at 31 percent.

The results were nothing new.

"All years of data that we have right now, from 2003 to 2011, it's always been significantly higher than the national average in the Northwest Territories," said Amanda Wright, of Statistics Canada.

Dana Heide, associate deputy minister of health in the Northwest Territories, agreed that the results were not surprising.

"We have a history in the Northwest Territories in the fallout of residential schools, colonization, the move to a wage-based economy. It's very much a social dislocation over the past 50 years (that) has been incredible."

The numbers were high across the north.

In Nunavut, the number of people binge drinking doubled in 2011, from 13 percent to 26 percent. Nunavut has the third highest rate of heavy drinkers, after the Northwest Territories and Newfoundland.

Yukon had the fourth highest in the country.

But, Heide said the Northwest Territories has come a long way since 2003. He said there are more programs now to keep youth on the right track.

"It's about the work that schools are doing in communities. And it's about what communities are doing to generally to increase young people's attachment to their culture, their language in their communities," he said.

This story is posted on Alaska Dispatch as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.

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