People living in the region west of Thunder Bay, including communities such as Kenora, Dryden, Fort Frances, and Sioux Lookout, are more likely to drink heavily than others in the province, according to a new report from the Northwestern Health Unit.

They are also more likely to end up in the emergency room due to alcohol misuse.

The NWHU Alcohol Trends Report, 2017, found that more than 60 per cent of people in the health unit's catchment area exceeded low-risk drinking guidelines in 2013/14.

Those guidelines state that women shouldn't consume more than two drinks per day and ten per week, and men shouldn't drink more than three drinks per day and fifteen a week.

Among people aged 19 to 44, the rate of those exceeding the guidelines jumped to nearly 72 per cent, according to the report.

23 per cent drinking heavily

That's significantly higher than the provincial average of 45 per cent.

Twenty three percent of those surveyed reported drinking heavily, compared with 18 per cent province-wide.

Just over half of the northwest population aged 12-18 engaged in underage drinking in 2013/14, compared with the provincial rate of 31 per cent, and seven per cent of women consumed alcohol while pregnant.

That's twice the provincial average.

In 2015, 287 of every 10,000 people in the region were hospitalized due to alcohol misuse.

That's over six times the provincial average.

Those who exceed the low risk drinking guidelines place themselves at increased risk of cancer, heart disease and stroke, said Dr. Kit Young-Hoon, the health unit's medical officer of health, while the children of mothers who drink while pregnant may develop fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

Drinking is more socially acceptable in the northwest 

"It's scary because you know, therefore, it's having health harms in the community," Young-Hoon said.

The health unit conducted a survey of the public and hosted an on-line discussion panel to better understand how alcohol is viewed in the community, she said.

It found that most people knew drinking in excess was harmful, but they weren't fully aware of all the consequences.

It also found that people felt drinking was more socially acceptable in the region than it is in other parts of the province.

The survey points to a need for more education about the harms of excessive drinking, Young-Hoon said, with a particular focus on high-risk groups such as youth and pregnant women.

It also demonstrates a need for conversations about the usefulness of alcohol policies to discourage heaving drinking, she added — policies such as locating bars in less prominent places at events, not advertising the availability of alcohol at events, and holding events where alcohol isn't served.