Canadian adults under the age of 54 have consumed more alcohol since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, a new poll has found.
The Nanos poll, commissioned by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA), revealed that 25 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 35 and 54 say they have increased the amount of alcohol they drink while at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, 21 per cent of Canadians between 18 and 34 years of age also say this is the case.
Just 10 per cent of adults over the age of 54 say they have been drinking more alcohol since they began practising physical distancing, the poll found.
“We were curious about substance use since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic,” CCSA senior research and policy analyst Dr. Catherine Paradis told CTVNews.ca over the phone on Wednesday. “We know that it has been creating significant stress and anxiety among Canadians…which are factors we know to be associated with substance use.”
According to the poll, the main reason for this increase is the lack of a consistent schedule, with 51 per cent of respondents reporting this to be the case. Other reasons include boredom and stress.
Studies show that Canadians’ alcohol consumption patterns are closely tied to weekends and time off from work. Paradis explained that, with many spending more time at home, it has become harder for some to separate work from play.
“We’ve known for years that alcohol is used by Canadians to mark a boundary between weekday and weekend, work and leisure; it really marks a ‘time out,’” said the doctor. “But with the ongoing threat of COVID-19, people are finding it difficult to gauge when work and related activities end, and when leisure time begins, because it’s all blurred now.”
Overall, 94 per cent of Canadians say they are spending more time at home due to the continued spread of COVID-19. This change in routine, along with the fact that many are increasingly anxious about the pandemic, can lead people to drink more than they normally would, said Paradis.
“You’re at home, you don’t really know if it’s a Tuesday or a Saturday anymore, you’re stressed and you have alcohol on your kitchen counter – there’s a risk that you will make the decision to drink, and that’s what the poll is showing,” she said.
LIQUOR STORES DEEMED “ESSENTIAL BUSINESSES”
Lineups outside liquor stores across Canada bolster the consumption, as retailers across the country report increases in sales. In British Columbia alone, liquor sales have jumped by 40 per cent, according to the province’s liquor distribution branch.
In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford pointed to concern for those dependent on alcohol as a reason for keeping liquor stores open. In a news conference last month, he cited the advice of mental health and addiction experts as having influenced the decision.
“There are people out there with addictions and we’re here to support them,” said Ford.
Toronto’s medical officer of health took a similar stance. At a news conference on March 23, Dr. Eileen de Villa insisted that suspending the sale of alcohol would lead to significant health consequences.
“Whether we care to admit it or not, there are many people in our community who have significant dependence issues with respect to alcohol,” she said. “I think there is a reasonable rationale for that service to continue to be provided.”
LINK BETWEEN ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
The Nanos poll also found that 44 per cent of respondents noted stress as a reason for consuming more alcohol, while 49 per cent said they were drinking more alcohol out of boredom.
Paradis explained that, because substances like alcohol can provide a sense of relief in stressful situations, this is likely why people are consuming more of it. She warned, however, that the relief is temporary and frequent use can increase the risk of developing a substance use disorder.
“It’s one thing to drink to mark time out or because you’re having a social event with friends; it’s a totally different thing to drink to relieve yourself from stress, anxiety, loneliness and boredom,” she said. “This is really the risk associated with drinking during this pandemic.”
Not only can increased alcohol consumption lead to a greater risk of addiction, said Paradis, but it can also result in domestic violence. Researchers are already predicting a possible increase in violence at home during the pandemic. With Canada having some of the heaviest drinkers per capita in the developed world, there is strong reason for concern, said the doctor.
“It’s really based on the evidence that we’ve had for years about the relationship between conflict, domestic violence and alcohol that we are making the concerning hypothesis that there will be a spike in domestic violence in Canada as well,” said Paradis.
It is for this reason that she said Canadians should be mindful of how much they are drinking – no more than about two drinks per day for women and three drinks per day for men. She also advised Canadians to follow the national low-risk alcohol drinking guidelines.
“There is a group of Canadians who have started to drink more and we will need to make sure that once we are out of this crisis, these folks will have access to the right information and resources to adopt low-risk drinking patterns,” she said.
Pollster Nik Nanos emphasized the poll’s goal of measuring any change in the alcohol consumption patterns of Canadians, instead of measuring exactly how much alcohol they consume. According to Nanos, change is something Canadians are more likely to report.
“We know from past research that Canadians tend to underreport actual consumption,” he told CTVNews.ca over the phone on Wednesday. “We have a high level of confidence in capturing change in consumption, and what’s clear is that consumption is changing for certain parts of the population.”
This data, he said, will make it easier to address the potentially negative effects of stress and solitude on Canadians in the future.
“This gives a glimmer into the potential mental health and substance use risks that isolation presents,” said Nanos.
“We have to start thinking about the post-COVID world, and one of the ways of doing this is by monitoring behaviours and risks during the pandemic so that when we get through this, people are ready to deal with the potential stresses they had to experience.”
Nanos conducted an RDD dual frame (land- and cell-lines) hybrid telephone and online random survey of 1,036 Canadians, 18 years of age or older, between March 30 and April 2, 2020, as part of an omnibus survey. Participants were randomly recruited by telephone using live agents and administered a survey online. The results were statistically checked and weighted by age and gender using the latest census information and the sample is geographically stratified to be representative of Canada.
The margin of error for this survey is ±3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.