Abstract: This paper documents and analyzes the divergence between the perceived seriousness and actual social costs associated with various substances in Canada using public opinion data collected from the Canadian Addiction Survey (CAS) in 2004 (Racine et al., in press), and a 2006 study estimating the social costs of various substances in 2002 (Rehm et al., 2006).
Much effort has been expended over the past few decades on raising awareness about the hazards of alcohol and other drug abuse in Canada. Using the principle that policy should be evidence-based, the inclusion of alcohol in our response to problems associated with substance abuse is both logical and appropriate given the significant health and social harms derived from alcohol misuse. What this paper demonstrates is that there continues to be pervasive public misperceptions regarding the relative seriousness of different substance abuse behaviours in Canada and that these misperceptions are likely based on a complex set of psychological, institutional and social/cultural processes. It should be noted that alcohol was identified as priority in the National Framework for Action to Reduce the Harms Associated with Alcohol and Other Drugs and Substances in Canada. In response, a broad coalition of stakeholders has been meeting for the past year to review a range of potential responses that could form part of a proposed national alcohol strategy. The recommendations would provide a more coordinated and active response to the problems associated with alcohol misuse in Canada.