Cannabis and alcohol responsible for majority of hospitalizations for substance use among youth
September 19, 2019 — Last year, over 23,500 youth (age 10 to 24) were hospitalized for harm caused by substance use — the equivalent of 65 hospitalizations each day. A new report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) shows that cannabis and alcohol were the most common substances associated with hospital stays among this age group in 2017–2018.
Hospitalizations for harm caused by substance use accounted for 1 in 20 of all hospital stays in Canada among youth age 10 to 24. Cannabis was documented in nearly 40% of these hospitalizations, while alcohol was associated with about 26%. Approximately 1 in every 6 youth (17%) hospitalized for substance use harms was hospitalized more than once for substance use within the same year.
Substance use harms requiring inpatient hospital care include overdoses, withdrawal symptoms, injuries caused by intoxication, chronic conditions and substance-induced psychoses that require mental health treatment. These harms place a burden on individuals and their families, health care systems, social services and public safety systems.
Who is hospitalized?
Among those age 12 to 16, hospitalization rates were higher for females than for males. However, rates were higher for males in the 19+ age group. Differences in hospitalization rates may be related to the patterns and types of substance use, differences in physiology, and coexisting mental health conditions. For both sexes, hospitalization rates for substance use increased with age.
Substance use and mental health
Nearly 70% of hospital stays for harm caused by substance use among youth involved care for a concurrent mental health condition. Among youth hospitalized for harms related to cannabis, 81% received care for a concurrent mental health condition. Younger people were twice as likely to have a documented mental health diagnosis, compared with people age 25 and older. Mental health conditions vary and include mood disorders, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders, among other disorders.
i. CIHI’s analysis on hospitalizations for harms caused by substance use focuses on inpatient hospital stays. It does not include visits to addiction centres, primary care clinics or emergency departments, or fatal overdoses in the community.
ii. CIHI’s data pre-dates cannabis legalization and includes data captured between April 2017 and March 2018.
“Cannabis and alcohol are the most commonly used substances among Canadian youth. Every day, 65 youth are hospitalized for substance use and this is only the tip of the iceberg — for every 1 hospital stay, there were 5 emergency department visits. We’re also seeing high rates of mental health conditions with harms related to substance use. Mental health conditions typically appear during adolescence and our report highlights the need for comprehensive, integrated and coordinated mental health and addictions services for youth. We hope this data can inform prevention and treatment efforts across the country.”
— Jean Harvey, Director, Canadian Population Health Initiative, CIHI
“We know that the health and well-being of children and youth living in Canada continues to decline. At the same time, hospital visits for youth are being driven by mental health disorders and substance use. Evidence tells us that early intervention is important for the prevention and treatment of substance misuse and associated mental health disorders. Operational leaders across Children's Healthcare Canada's member organizations are ready to implement interventions to support and improve services for youth. This report highlights the urgent need for a pan-Canadian child and youth mental health and substance use strategy.”
— Emily Gruenwoldt, President and CEO, Children’s Healthcare Canada
This report builds on CIHI’s new indicator Hospital Stays for Harm Caused by Substance Use and further explores hospital stays for youth.
The Chief Public Health Officer’s Report on the State of Public Health in Canada, 2018: Preventing Problematic Substance Use in Youth has a summary of interventions to prevent or reduce problematic substance use among youth in Canada.
Concurrent Substance Use and Mental Health Disorders: An Information Guide has information on the treatment and management of concurrent mental health conditions for youth and their families.
Drug Free Kids Canada has information for parents on how to protect children from substance use harms and how to intervene if your child is using substances.
CIHI is an independent, not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing essential health information to all Canadians.
CIHI works closely with federal, provincial and territorial partners and stakeholders throughout Canada to gather, package and disseminate information to inform policy, management, care and research, leading to better and more equitable health outcomes for all Canadians.
Health information has become one of society’s most valuable public goods. For 25 years, CIHI has set the pace on data privacy, security, accessibility and innovation to improve Canada’s health systems.
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Julie Bortolotti 613-694-6654
Michelle Glew 613-694-6345