Acute alcohol poisoning occurs frequently in Québec. Between January 1 and November 26, 2017, provincial emergency rooms admitted 2,332 young people age 12–24 for acute alcohol poisoning. That is equivalent to 214 cases per month, 49 cases per week, or 7 cases per day.
These cases are serious. One quarter of young people age 12–24 admitted to the emergency room at the Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Sherbrooke for alcohol-related problems had a priority level indicating that their lives were at risk.
The available data do not conclusively demonstrate that products with high alcohol and sugar content were the main cause of acute alcohol poisoning cases treated in Québec emergency rooms in 2017. Nonetheless, analysis of the data underscores a serious problem that justifies stronger preventive action.
Sales of sweetened alcoholic beverages are up in grocery and convenience stores in Québec. Products with the highest alcohol content show the highest sales growth: a more than threefold increase (319%) for products with more than 11% ABV in one year. Many of these products are inexpensive and their advertising is aimed specifically at young people.
A range of measures is needed to prevent alcohol-related problems, including acute alcohol poisoning. The priority is to set a minimum price for all alcoholic beverages, adjusted according to alcohol content. This is the best way to prevent alcoholic beverages from being sold too cheaply.
Cases of acute alcohol poisoning among young people occur predominantly at certain times of the year. Preventive measures should be stepped up during graduation season, during Québec’s Fête nationale holiday, and at the start of the school year at cégeps and universities. It is also important to provide follow-up to young people admitted to emergency departments for alcohol poisoning or other alcohol-related problems. Lastly, content published on brand social media pages, including comments made by Internet users, must be considered as content advertising under the Regulation respecting promotion, advertising and education programs relating to alcoholic beverages.