Study Shows Pandemic Affecting Canadians' Consumption of Alcohol and Cannabis

Published: July 3, 2020

Study Shows Pandemic Affecting Canadians' Consumption of Alcohol and Cannabis

Latest results from an ongoing Pan Canadian study by the Canadian Red Cross suggest a portion of adults who use alcohol and cannabis have increased their consumption of those substances during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, findings of the June segment of the study show that, among those who used alcohol in the previous 14 days, 26 per cent consumed more than during an average two-week period prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Eleven per cent used less.

Among those who used cannabis during the previous month, 27 per cent reported using it more frequently than during an average month prior to the pandemic. Twelve per cent reported using it less. The result, says Leger, is a 15 per cent net gain in the consumption of both alcohol and cannabis. Included is a 23 per cent net gain in alcohol consumption among 18 to 34-year-olds – prompting cautionary words from both Red Cross and the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA).

“Most young adults (66 per cent) are consuming no more – or even less – alcohol than prior to COVID-19,” said Dr. Paul Hebert, Medical and Science Advisor for the Canadian Red Cross. “While that is encouraging, we remain concerned for those heading in the other direction, as the pandemic is often a magnifier of pre-existing vulnerabilities.”

In the three months that Red Cross has conducted its study, vulnerabilities shown to be more pronounced among young adults include sadness, loneliness, and hopelessness. Nearly half have also reported feeling anxious, restless, or uneasy during the three days prior to the survey – a full 17 per cent higher than the average for all respondents.

According to CCSA, findings of the Red Cross study regarding use of alcohol among young adults during the pandemic are consistent with their own research and that of other organizations.

“Substance use during COVID-19 has not increased for the majority of young adults, but we need to be concerned for the segment that is not coping well,” said Rita Notarandrea, Chief Executive Officer of CCSA.  “This appears to be related to stress, anxiety, loneliness, boredom and a lack of regular routine – but more research and analysis is needed in this area.”

As the pandemic continues, Notarandrea encourages Canadians to explore positive ways of coping with COVID-19, and to keep health risks from alcohol low by using alcohol within Canada’s Low Risk Drinking Guidelines.

The Red Cross survey was conducted by Leger between June 3 and 9. It was the third in a series the humanitarian organization has executed to track public perceptions about social and psychological impacts related to COVID-19. Web-based interviews were completed with a representative sample of 2,280 adults – including 84 per cent of participants in the May survey and 75% from the initial survey in April. Questions were provided by interRAI.

Findings of the June survey also indicated continued cause for concern for the most vulnerable among Canada’s senior population.  Nearly one-third of those 65 years and older who are living alone and in fair or poor health reported not feeling confident they could get help right away, if needed – a nine per cent increase over the previous month. Just 48 per cent of vulnerable seniors reported feeling hopeful about their future – well below the total respondent average of 67 per cent and significantly less than their healthier peers (76 per cent).

“Altogether, results of the survey suggest that family, friends, neighbours, employers and health professionals should continue to be mindful of the health of young adults and vulnerable seniors in their lives,” says Dr. Hebert.

On a positive note, June survey results showed signs that many Canadians are either adjusting better to life during a pandemic – or are benefitting from the relaxation of some COVID-19 prevention measures:

Respondents who reported feeling anxious, restless, or uneasy in the previous three days dropped from 40 per cent in April to 30 per cent in June.

Those reporting little interest or pleasure in things they normally enjoy during the previous three days dropped from 29 per cent in April to 24 per cent in June. The percentage of Canadians worried about making ends meet in the COVID-19 environment dropped from 46 per cent in April to 37 per cent in June.

For a complete summary of the study and information about Red Cross service offerings in response to COVID-19, visit redcross.ca.

For more information on coping with stress and anxiety and on substance use during the pandemic, visit CCSA’s COVID-19 resources page.