Cannabis and alcohol responsible for majority of hospitalizations for substance use among youth

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 one in 20 of all hospital stays in Canada among youth age 10 to 24. Cannabis was documented in nearly 40 per cent of these hospitalizations, while alcohol was associated with about 26 per cent. Approximately one in every 6 youth (17 per cent) hospitalized for substance use harms was hospitalized more than once for substance use within the same year.

“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,” says Jean Harvey, Director, Canadian Population Health Initiative, CIHI .

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 per cent 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 per cent 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.

“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,” says  Emily Gruenwoldt, President and CEO, Children’s Healthcare Canada.