Alcohol prices in Canada should be raised to reduce the problems of excessive drinking, policy researchers recommend.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse released three reports report Tuesday on alcohol use, sales and price policies with recommendations to deter risky, excessive drinking and its consequences.

The findings included:

- About 26 per cent of Canadians, or five million people, drink excessively every month.

- The heaviest drinkers in the country, about 20 per cent of the drinking population aged 15 and older, drank about 70 per cent of the alcohol sold in 2004.

- Risky drinking costs $14.6 billion each year, including for health care and policing violence.

Report author Gerald Thomas, senior research and policy analyst with the centre, suggested that governments base alcohol pricing policies on three principles:

- Index alcohol prices to inflation.

- Base prices, including minimum prices, on alcohol content to create incentives for lower strength products and discourage higher strength products.

- Focus on minimum prices to remove the inexpensive sources of alcohol favoured by young adults and other high risk drinkers.

Setting minimum prices per standard drinks for bars and liquor stores could apply universally, the authors suggested.

Targeting regular drinkers alone won’t address all sources of alcohol-related harms since much of the harm comes from the relatively large number of drinkers showing risky drinking only occasionally, Thomas said.

The reports compared pricing policies in six provinces: British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick.

Most jurisdictions in Canada incorporate some of the principles, such as increasing prices on fortified wines with higher alcohol content, but none applies all three, according to the pricing report.

Researchers in B.C. looked at changes to the province’s minimum alcohol prices over 20 years, they estimated that a 10 per cent increase in minimum prices reduced consumption of all alcoholic drinks combined by 3.4 per cent.

Elsewhere, the U.K. Home Office said it will introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol.

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  • Abuse: Not Meeting Responsibilities

    <i>Abuse, the regular use of a substance that leads to serious psychological and/or physical disability, is shown by one or more of these symptoms during the same year:</i> Repeated substance use to the point of not being able to meet responsibilities -- not performing well at work, being suspended from school, being repeatedly late or absent from required duties, or neglecting household tasks.

  • Abuse: Involving Risk

    <i>Abuse, the regular use of a substance that leads to serious psychological and/or physical disability, is shown by one or more of these symptoms during the same year:</i> Repeated substance use when there is risk involved, like operating equipment or driving a car while under the influence.

  • Abuse: Difficulties With The Law

    <i>Abuse, the regular use of a substance that leads to serious psychological and/or physical disability, is shown by one or more of these symptoms during the same year:</i> Repeated difficulties with the law related to substance use -- being arrested for physical aggression or drunk driving, for instance.

  • Abuse: Personal Or Social Difficulties

    <i>Abuse, the regular use of a substance that leads to serious psychological and/or physical disability, is shown by one or more of these symptoms during the same year:</i> Insisting on using the substance regardless of continued or repeated personal or social difficulties because of it, verbal or physical aggression with a loved one, or frequent arguments about the substance use.

  • Dependence: Needing Great Amounts

    <i>Symptoms of alcohol dependence, a physical need to drink, are identified as three or more of the following within the same year:</i> Needing greater amounts of alcohol to satisfy cravings.

  • Dependence: An Inability To Reduce Use

    <i>Symptoms of alcohol dependence, a physical need to drink, are identified as three or more of the following within the same year:</i> Using the substance longer than planned or more frequently and in greater amounts. An inability to reduce use, despite a sincere wish to do so.

  • Dependence: Going Through Withdrawal

    <i>Symptoms of alcohol dependence, a physical need to drink, are identified as three or more of the following within the same year:</i> Going through withdrawal when not using alcohol, with symptoms such as tremors, restlessness, and agitation.

  • Dependence: Avoiding Withdrawal

    <i>Symptoms of alcohol dependence, a physical need to drink, are identified as three or more of the following within the same year:</i> Taking a substance or a similar one to avoid the effects of withdrawal.

  • Dependence: Spending Time On Alcohol

    <i>Symptoms of alcohol dependence, a physical need to drink, are identified as three or more of the following within the same year:</i> Spending a significant amount of time trying to acquire the substance. Spending less time at work or on other activities because of substance use; a person may completely abandon previously enjoyable activities.

  • Dependence: Drinking In The Face Of Difficulty

    <i>Symptoms of alcohol dependence, a physical need to drink, are identified as three or more of the following within the same year:</i> Continuing to drink despite being aware that alcohol is causing psychological or physical difficulties.

  • Addiction: Saying Inappropriate Things

    <i>Stephen Gilman, MD, an addiction specialist in New York City, helps determine the severity of alcohol addiction by asking the following questions:</i> Does he/she frequently say inappropriate things?

  • Addiction: Slurred Speech

    <i>Stephen Gilman, MD, an addiction specialist in New York City, helps determine the severity of alcohol addiction by asking the following questions:</i> Does his/her speech slurred?

  • Addiction: Missing Work

    <i>Stephen Gilman, MD, an addiction specialist in New York City, helps determine the severity of alcohol addiction by asking the following questions:</i> Does he/she miss work?

  • Addiction: Off Balance

    <i>Stephen Gilman, MD, an addiction specialist in New York City, helps determine the severity of alcohol addiction by asking the following questions:</i> Is his/her balance off when they walk?

  • Addiction: Trouble With The Law

    <i>Stephen Gilman, MD, an addiction specialist in New York City, helps determine the severity of alcohol addiction by asking the following questions:</i> Has he/she gotten in trouble with the law, for example, with drinking and driving?

  • Addiction: Health Problems

    <i>Stephen Gilman, MD, an addiction specialist in New York City, helps determine the severity of alcohol addiction by asking the following questions:</i> Is he having health issues related to alcohol addiction, such as heartburn, liver problems, high blood pressure, or insomnia?

  • Question To Ask: Should I Cut Down?

    <i>Take the CAGE questionnaire -- if the answer to two or more of the four CAGE questions is yes, it is likely you have a problem.</i> C stands for cut-down: Do you ever feel that you should cut down on your drinking?

  • Question To Ask: People Getting Annoyed?

    <i>Take the CAGE questionnaire -- if the answer to two or more of the four CAGE questions is yes, it is likely you have a problem.</i> A stands for annoyed: Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?

  • Question To Ask: Ever Felt Guilty?

    <i>Take the CAGE questionnaire -- if the answer to two or more of the four CAGE questions is yes, it is likely you have a problem.</i> G stands for guilty: Have you ever felt guilty about your drinking?

  • Question To Ask: Drinking To 'Recover'?

    <i>Take the CAGE questionnaire -- if the answer to two or more of the four CAGE questions is yes, it is likely you have a problem.</i> E stands for eye-opener: Have you ever had to drink as soon as you wake up to steady your nerves or get over a hangover?