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Liquor stores stay open. People are drinking more. Family violence is up. Not cool.

Weekend Wine-up
Residents were lined up outside the downtown Liquor Store Thursday night in anticipation for their purchase of alcoholic beverages for the weekend. Like the uptown Liquor Shop, liquor will be closed Good Friday and Easter Sunday but will be open regular hours on Saturday.
April 9, 2020 Simon Whitehouse/NNSL Media photo

The GNWT has refused to close liquor stores indicating many people would go into withdrawals and it could overwhelm the NWT health care system. Eschia!

To appease Indigenous leaders, they did reduce liquor store hours and the amount of booze a person can buy each day. Yay…that’s a good start.
I get that our health care system needs to be ready to manage a potential outbreak of Covid-19 cases. But look at the potential damage from continuing to sell booze.

When I used to drink, I drank when I celebrated, when I got sad, when I was worried, and when I was nervous. Do you think it’s any different for people with drinking problems today? Not.

Why? Because we think that alcohol helps us cope with stress. Meanwhile, drinking actually increases the symptoms of panic and anxiety, depression and other mental disorders.

No wonder we’re hearing that people world-wide are drinking more while they’re staying home. As a result, women’s rights groups and the United Nations warn that family violence is on the rise as people are stuck at home with their drinking abusers.

Jean and I work with men who have used violence in their relationships and who now want to have better relationships. Almost all of our participants say they argued while sober, and the violence occurred when they were drinking.

And the men in the program at the North Slave Correctional Complex almost unanimously say they were drinking when they committed crimes that got them incarcerated.

Want a real example? Police in York, Ontario say family violence incidents have increased by 22 percent. They said the increase is likely due to more people being at home together for longer periods of time due to Covid-19.

To boot, the World Health Organization (WHO) says that:
• Alcohol use weakens the immune system and reduces the ability to cope with infectious diseases.
• Alcohol alters your thoughts, judgement, decision-making and behaviour.
• Even small amounts of alcohol are a risk to the unborn child at any time during pregnancy.
• Alcohol increases the risk, frequency and severity of intimate partner violence, sexual violence, youth violence, elder abuse, and violence against children.
• Heavy use of alcohol increases the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), one of the most severe complications of Covid-19.

Countries that took the WHO’s advice and banned liquor sales include South Africa, Colombia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, parts of Mexico and France and Cambridge Bay and Nuuk, Greenland.

In banning alcohol sales, South Africa indicated that booze reduces a person’s ability to practice physical distancing and good personal hygiene, like washing hands or using hand sanitizer.

Managed alcohol programs

Managed alcohol programs (MAPs) could be a solution to the concern that banning liquor sales could cause so many people to go into withdrawals that our health care system would be overwhelmed.

Apparently, MAPs was a suggestion for the NWT in the past. I think we have a unique opportunity now to try something different and see if it works.
A MAPs program provides regular doses of alcohol throughout the day to alcoholics, usually at a harm reduction center. You’re thinking, “Whoa, sign me up!”

The Canadian Institute for Substance Abuse Research recently finished a study called The Canadian Managed Alcohol Program Study. They looked at 22 MAPs in 13 Canadian cities and the findings were very encouraging.

Participants drank less alcohol a day and they drank less non-beverage alcohol like mouthwash. They also stole less, committed less crimes, and were in a safer setting than on the streets, jails or regular shelters.

This resulted in authorities reporting 43 per cent fewer police contacts and 33 per cent less time in custody as well as 47 per cent fewer hospital Admissions. We don’t have a detox centre, but there was also a huge decrease in detox use.

Participants were more likely to retain housing, experience increased safety and improved quality of life, and re-connection to family and community.
This all equates to economic savings and easing off on the health system, not an overwhelmed health system.

In fact, they found the government saved $1.09 to $1.21 for every dollar invested in MAP.

Think about it. Getting a drink on a regular basis every day means an alcoholic doesn’t have to be panhandling, shoplifting or committing other street crimes to get a bottle.

And of course, if they shut down the liquor stores, there won’t be any house parties and all the associated problems mentioned earlier. Yay. Yahoo. Right on.
It certainly looks like the benefits of implementing a withdrawal management strategy now, outweighs the ongoing consequences of doing nothing.

Roy Erasmus

Roy Erasmus Sr. Is a certified wellness counsellor who survived heart disease and a former member of the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories.

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  1. Summary of his argument: “I drank too much when I was younger. Then I stopped. Therefore paternalistic prohibition for all.”