B.C. has the highest rate in the country of hospitalizations entirely caused by alcohol, and consumption is rising faster in the province than elsewhere in Canada.
The ongoing opioid crisis and rash of overdoses from illicit drugs has been at the forefront of many British Columbian's minds, but the biggest, least discussed addiction on the rise in the province is a legal substance: alcohol.
The residents of B.C. drink, on average, 9.4 litres of pure alcohol each year, the equivalent of roughly 14 bottles of beer or two and half bottles of wine each week. Consumption has continued to rise every year since 2012.
Citing reason, addictions researcher Tim Stockwell said the provincial government's policy to make alcohol available in more locations and at more times of the day is a factor in the high level of consumption.
He said, "Efforts have been made to liberalize its availability without doing much to minimize some of the consequences."
Dr. Keith Ahamad, an addictions doctor at St. Paul's Hospital and a researcher at the B.C. Centre on Substance Use, witnesses the consequences of alcohol addiction firsthand every day.
Ahamad said a big part of the problem is the medical system's response to alcohol addiction.
"The health-care system has just not been trained to screen for addiction appropriately," he said.
He added, "More focus is needed on preventative measures, harm reduction and comprehensive approaches to treating people with alcohol addiction."
In Canada, as a whole, there were more hospital admissions for alcohol-related conditions than for heart attacks last year and the cost to the medical system is high, with the average stay entirely caused by alcohol estimated at more than $8,000.