June 22, 2017 — Last year, about 77,000 hospitalizations in Canada were due to conditions entirely caused by alcohol, compared with about 75,000 for heart attacks.

Alcohol Harm in Canada: Examining Hospitalizations Entirely Caused by Alcohol and Strategies to Reduce Alcohol Harm, a new report released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), examines hospitalizations that are 100% caused by the harmful consumption of alcohol. Examples include patients who are hospitalized for alcohol poisoning, alcohol withdrawal or liver disease caused by alcohol.

On average, 212 Canadians were hospitalized each day last year for conditions entirely caused by alcohol. This number does not include people who were treated in emergency departments (EDs) without being admitted to the hospital.

Facts at a glance

  • Males age 20 and older had higher rates of heavy drinking and hospitalizations than females in the same age group. However, among those age 10 to 19, girls had higher hospitalization rates than boys, with 63 per 100,000 and 45 per 100,000, respectively.
  • The majority of hospitalizations were linked to mental health and addictions. Conditions related to mental health and addictions accounted for nearly 3 out of 4 hospitalizations entirely caused by alcohol. 
  • On average, there were more hospitalizations in the territories than in the provinces for harms caused entirely by alcohol. Hospitalization rates were higher in the west than in the east, with the exception of Nova Scotia.
  • There is a paradox in that lower-income groups report less heavy drinking but have higher rates of hospitalization. The hospitalization rate for harms entirely caused by alcohol was 2.5 times higher for lower-income neighbourhoods than for the highest-income neighbourhoods, but low-income groups typically had a lower rate of heavy drinking.

Policies and interventions vary across Canada

Alcohol policies vary considerably across the provinces and territories. There is large variation in the extent of government ownership and the density of alcohol retail stores.

Alcohol pricing policies are the most effective and cost-effective method of reducing alcohol consumption and harm. Most provinces and territories establish minimum alcohol prices; however, many do not adjust these prices to keep up with inflation. Few jurisdictions adjust pricing to align with the percentage of alcohol content, which can prevent products with a high alcohol percentage from being sold at low prices. For example, vodka would cost more than beer.


Our report shows that alcohol harm is a serious issue in Canada. There is wide variation across the provinces and territories in the number of hospitalizations for conditions entirely caused by alcohol. Many people may be surprised that there are more hospitalizations for conditions due to alcohol than for heart attacks.

— Kathleen Morris, Vice President, Research and Analysis, CIHI

It is striking to see that alcohol sends so many Canadians to hospital, and these numbers are really just the tip of the iceberg. Evidence shows that strong alcohol policies can be effective in reducing such harms. Effective policies include maintaining high minimum alcohol prices, pricing by alcohol strength, restricting the hours of sale and limiting numbers of liquor outlets. Studies like this can help decision-makers to identify which regions or populations are most in need of stronger policies.

— Tim Stockwell, Director, University of Victoria’s Centre for Addictions Research of B.C.

About CIHI

The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) is an independent, not-for-profit organization that provides essential information on Canada’s health systems and the health of Canadians. Mental health and addictions is one of CIHI’s priority populations, as outlined in our strategic plan.

We provide comparable and actionable data and information that are used to accelerate improvements in health care, health system performance and population health across Canada. Our stakeholders use our broad range of health system databases, measurements and standards, together with our evidence-based reports and analyses, in their decision-making processes. We protect the privacy of Canadians by ensuring the confidentiality and integrity of the health care information we provide. 

Media contact

Alison Clement