Boozing and sniffing habits revealed

by Richard Gleeson
Northern News Services

NNSL (NOV 22/96) - Northerners' bad boozing and sniffing habits have been hung out just like so much dirty laundry on public display.

Drinking, sniffing and smoking have just been spotlighted with the release of the first report of the NWT Alcohol and Drug Survey.

Among the findings is more non-indigenous people in the North drink alcohol than do aboriginals. Meanwhile, almost 30 per cent of Eastern Arctic residents say they smoked a joint in the last year.

Results are based on responses from 1,590 people to questions posed on a 30-page form.

Conducted both by telephone and in person from January to March this year, the questions focused on drug, alcohol and tobacco use by people from across the north.

The survey provides the kind of hard evidence needed for a more effective approach to the problems -- and funding, said Health and Social Services addiction consultant Andy Sibbald.

"It will allow us to get on with the problem in a new way, a more constructive way," said Sibbald.

"This documentation outlines the severity of the problem.... Up until now we've had to rely largely on common knowledge, which doesn't provide a whole lot of insight," he said.

"It's pretty hard to make a case for funding based on speculation."

Dr. Ian Gilchrist, chief medical health officer for the NWT, said the report confirmed what is already widely known in the North.

"I don't think there are any big surprises. In my view it spells out what we've seen already, though in more detail." said Gilchrist. "The issue of addiction is a big one in the Northwest Territories, as it is in all circumpolar countries."

Asked why Northerners are more prone to addiction, Gilchrist had no answer. "Some of it has to do with the whole issue of development, where we're at in terms of socio-economic status."

The report reveals only a portion of the survey results. It does not provide results for survey questions concerning such things as home beer and wine making, legalization of marijuana, gambling, drinking and driving, perceived effects of drug and alcohol use on everyday life and rehabilitation.

A decision has not yet been made on when, or in what form, the rest of the survey results will be released, said survey statistician and manager David Stewart.

"That will be decided in consultation with Health and Social Services," he said. Stewart added he anticipates the next release will come later this winter.

NWT numbers exceed national averages across the board and generally dwarf them.

The starkest contrast came in the area of solvent sniffing.

Less than one per cent (0.8 per cent) of Canadians have sniffed solvents in the last year. But in the NWT that figure balloons to 11.1 per cent.

According to the survey, 30 per cent of Eastern Arctic residents 25 to 34 years old had sniffed in the 12 months prior to completing the survey.

Without exception, females proved more sensible than males. Fewer females smoked, sniffed, and drank than males. Women and girls who use drugs or alcohol consume less of them, less often than men and boys.

Though fewer aboriginal people than non-indigenous people have taken a drink within the last year, aboriginals who do consume alcohol generally drink more during each sitting.

Just under 17 per cent of non-aboriginal people drink five or more drinks at a time compared with 33 per cent of aboriginal people surveyed.