A recent nation-wide study led by the University of Northern British Columbia and published in the international journal Addiction indicates there is a 15 to 20 percent increase in hospitalizations for alcohol-related disorders among young Canadians immediately after they reach the minimum legal drinking age. The research is the first of its kind in Canada since 1981, and part of a series of studies meant to inform legal drinking age policy across the country.
Media Download: Dr. Russell Callaghan's research found a 15 to 20 percent increase in hospitalizations for alcohol-related disorders among young Canadians immediately after they reach the minimum legal drinking age.
“The minimum legal drinking age is the cornerstone policy for youth alcohol control in this country and this study is the first to demonstrate the powerful effect it has on a wide range of instances of sickness, injury, and death in hospitals,” says the study’s lead author Russell Callaghan, an Associate Professor in the Northern Medical Program at UNBC, and an expert in alcohol and drug policy in Canada. “My sense is that, if we were to raise the minimum age to at least 19 in every province, it is highly likely we would reduce alcohol-related injury among youth.”
Currently, all provinces and territories in Canada have a minimum legal drinking age of 19, with the exception of Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec where it is 18. In March 2013, a national Canadian coalition of researchers, policy makers, and public-health officials met in Toronto to endorse a comprehensive strategy to reduce alcohol-related harms across the country. One of the coalition’s key lines of inquiry was investigate whether to raise the minimum legal drinking age to at least 19 years old across the country.
The study, “Impacts of the Minimum Legal Drinking age Legislation on Inpatient morbidity in Canada 1997-2007,” analyses all in-patient hospitalizations in Canada (except for Quebec) from April 1997 until March 2007. Participants in the study were Canadians aged 15 to 22 who had been admitted to hospital. The study’s primary conclusion is that, immediately after Canadians reach the minimum legal drinking age, there is a marked increase in disorders such as alcohol abuse, poisoning, and alcohol-related injury in young people admitted to hospital.
“The minimum legal drinking age has only been evaluated in one other Canadian study, which was done in 1981,” says Dr. Callaghan, who grew up in Prince George and recently returned to work at UNBC after a previous position at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.
Dr. Callaghan says the next step in the research will examine the impact of the Canadian minimum legal drinking age laws on emergency department admissions, mortality, and motor vehicle crashes. It is expected that the results from these future studies will also help inform the public debate about drinking-age legislation across the country.