Doctors prepare for St. Paddy’s drunks

St. Patrick’s Day is a great day to celebrate Irish culture and have a drink, but health professionals remind us that it’s not without its dangers.

By Tamara Freeman

Angela McDougall celebrating the St. Patrick's Day Spirit at the Queen Elizabeth II Health and Science Center (Tamara Freeman photo)

For many, St. Patrick’s Day is when friends come together to share a laugh and a drink. Sometimes the latter leads to more trouble than fun.

Alcohol use on St. Patrick’s day means more work for hospitals already busy with drunk patients; one in every seven early morning emergency room visits in Halifax is alcohol related.

Dr. John Ross works in the emergency department at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Center. He says peak holidays for binge drinking include New years day, Christmas, and St. Patrick’s Day.

Ross points out that, “it comes back to people’s uncommon sense, I would like to see people better informed without having to wait for someone to regulate what they do or don’t do.

“Sometimes that is just the way we are, but we need to know how to use it. Unfortunately there is a sizable part of the population that doesn’t use it very well.”

Dan Steeves, who works as a counsellor in addiction and mental health at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Center said that “Nova Scotians consume alcohol in a manner that right now is harmful to the public’s health, so this isn’t a matter of what were drinking it’s how were drinking.”

Nova Scotia’s drinking rates are the highest throughout all of Canada. Ross says that many of the alcohol related patients moving through the emergency room during holiday hours belong to Halifax’s large student population.

“It’s always been a mix, although students tend to be a fair number,” says Ross.

On St. Patrick’s Day people over-indulge in alcohol since it is considered a celebratory holiday in which people “let themselves go” says Steeves.

“So we at the addictions services are by no means prohibitionists, we believe that alcohol has a role in society where people can enjoy a cold drink, absolutely.”

He notes that there needs to be a change in the culture, “in that we want to work with our stakeholders about the price of alcohol, how easily accessible alcohol is, and how heavily alcohol affects us.”

For Steeves, it is an effort on switching the culture to one of moderation rather then intoxication.

With St. Patrick’s Day upcoming there is concern that more people might be entering the ER. However, it may also be the case that binge drinking and rowdy behaviours have been reduced with awareness of the dangers of alcohol abuse being increased within universities.

“The fact that Halifax is a university town brings unique challenges absolutely” Steeves says. However, these challenges may be met to some extent, as the universities have taken positive steps forward in a crusade against binge drinking. In the past three years there have been three deaths in maritime universities.

Related Resources
Further Reading  by John RossArticle on the use of alcohol

To Steeves, this seems like “a real wake up call to university’s and that their stepping up and starting to do more then ever to tackle the culture of intoxication that affects the university population.”

“ The challenge is that Nova Scotians consume alcohol in a manner that creates harm to our healthcare system, to our justice system, and to our family system,” Steeves said.


Related audio

Angela Mcdougall talks about her plans for St. Patrick’s Day.