There are three faces of alcohol, according to Don Voaklander, researcher for the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research at the University of Alberta who presented some the social and financial aspects of liquor sales:
• A psychopharmacologic agent.
• An object of commerce.
• A cultural symbol.
Voaklander described alcohol as a depressant affecting the nervous system. “If you drink you get sad or fall asleep eventually.”
One of the common myths around alcohol is that it makes the drinker feel happier. But eventually euphoria turns to depression. “Contrary to what the cultural myth is.”
Side effects from drinking can include headaches, high blood pressure and sexual problems such as impotence and reduced fertility. Long-term health harms can include a tender liver, cancer of the colon and pancreatitis.
Financially, alcohol is, “key revenue of commerce for all Canadian provinces.” The revenue in 2010 to 2011 from liquor sales was $683.5 million to the Alberta government but Voaklander suggests the cost of policing and the criminal justice system needed to tackle problems arising from abuse offset the income.
Culturally, alcohol is used for social interaction and is almost considered a rite of passage for younger adults.
“Most people who drink alcohol do not cause problems or suffer from long-term problems,” explained Voaklander.
Approximately 80 per cent Albertans use alcohol and about 15 per cent of those have an abuse problem; the abuse includes some health and social issues such as involvement with the law.
Three to four per cent have chronic health and social issues with alcohol.
The researcher suggested three ways that are effective in limiting alcohol abuse:
• Taxation on alcohol units. “That type of taxation targets the malt beverages, the high strength beers.”
• Restrict access by limiting locations, hours and having sales as a government operation. “As we used to have in Alberta.”
• Restrict advertising. “It is also somewhat effective.”
He also said education on moderation has been used but is, “not particularly effective in solving alcohol issues.”
There are challenges for those who serve alcohol to keep serving as their livelihood depends on tips and the bar owner wants to make money, Voaklander said in a follow-up interview. For liquor store employees there is also a desire to minimize the risk to themselves if they are the only person in the store late at night. “Which is going to trump getting caught for selling to someone who is inebriated.”
He feels restricting sales times will make it more difficult for those who have already been imbibing to continue. One point in the proposed bylaw also restricts liquor delivery times to 10:30 p.m. Voaklander feels Ponoka and Wetaskiwin are different and liquor delivery might not be as large of an issue as Wetaskiwin. “They’ve got a lot of urban social problems.”