Calgary

Alberta youth hospitalized for substance-related concerns at higher rate than average, report finds

A report that found Alberta's youth are hospitalized for substance-related concerns at a higher rate than the national average has local experts suggesting we should be "more cautious" in our approach to cannabis and alcohol.

Alcohol, cannabis top two substances behind hospitalizations, according to CIHI

The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) recently reported that the national rate of hospital stays "for harm caused by substance abuse among youth" who are between the ages of 10 and 24 was 364 per 100,000. In Alberta, that rate is 424 — and the top two substances leading to those hospitalizations were alcohol and cannabis. (Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press)

A report that found Alberta's youth are hospitalized for substance-related concerns at a higher rate than the national average has local experts suggesting we should be "more cautious" in our approach to cannabis and alcohol.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) recently reported that the national rate of hospital stays "for harm caused by substance abuse among youth" who are between the ages of 10 and 24 was 364 per 100,000.

In Alberta, that rate is 424 — and the top two substances leading to those hospitalizations were alcohol and cannabis.

"Alcohol and cannabis are often misconstrued as innocuous and less harmful substances, and I think that the core message here … is, that's not the case," said Barry Andres, the executive director of addiction and mental health for Alberta Health Services (AHS).

Andres warned that young people might be more likely to use these substances excessively, and that this could be reflected in the report's findings.

"There's certainly significant health problems that can emerge from excessive cannabis and alcohol use, particularly in this population which ... have been referred to as 'naive users,'" Andres said. 

"[They] may use ... in a binge pattern beyond what's safe, and we're certainly seeing that as well."

'Be informed, and to be cautious'

Adjoa Chintoh-Silva is the associate director of youth programs at the Alex, a network for vulnerable populations in Calgary that combines "clinical and social components" in its approach to care and support. 

She said that the report's findings are reflected in the demographics she sees at the Alex.

"I would say, definitely, we're seeing a very similar representation of the youth accessing our youth health centre in terms of substance abuse disorders," Chintoh-Silva said. 

Using these substances at a younger age, she said, presents an increased risk to both physical and mental health.

"Early introduction of any type of substance, specifically marijuana, has been linked with adverse mental health issues later on in life, as well as physical health issues," Chintoh-Silva said. 

"And so the concern to me is that if young people are using to the point of being hospitalized at this young of an age, it doesn't bode well for them as they get older."

Chintoh-Silva said that to tackle these complex issues effectively, it needs to be addressed in three areas: prevention, harm reduction and treatment.

Andres said becoming informed about the potential for harm is also integral.

"Parents, friends — you know, we all have a role," he said. "To encourage people who are using substances in that way to get information, to be informed, and to be cautious about the use. Because there are health consequences."

The information in the CIHI report was gathered from 2017 to 2018.

With files from Helen Pike

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