Alcohol and Cannabis Use in Canada During COVID-19

A guest article by Marcel Gemme of Drug Rehab Services:

Throughout the entirety of the pandemic, alcohol, and cannabis stores have been considered essential services. Unfortunately, due to social isolation, government restrictions, endless news cycles, and the ongoing fear created by the pandemic, millions of Canadians turned to alcohol and cannabis to cope. According to a poll published early on in 2020, 25% of Canadians aged 35 to 54 were drinking more while at home due to the pandemic. Nine in ten Canadians who reported staying at home during that time said their cannabis consumption had stayed the same. However, among Canadians aged 18 to 35, cannabis consumption increased. Canadians cited lack of regular schedule, stress, and boredom as main factors contributing to alcohol and cannabis use.

“Alcohol and cannabis use is common among people struggling with addiction, yet more teens and young adults are using these drugs to cope,” said Marcel Gemme of Drug Rehab Services. “Unfortunately, increased levels of stress, social isolation, and lack of support cause people to turn to drugs and alcohol as a means of coping.” Moreover, it is important to note that excessive or high-risk cannabis and alcohol use can weaken the immune system and make a person more susceptible to COVID-19 and other illnesses, according to the Canadian Center on Substance Use and Addiction.

The conditions surrounding the pandemic have drastically increased the likelihood of people using cannabis and marijuana to cope. Millions of Canadians have felt stress and anxiety from the pandemic, along with an economic downturn and struggling with social isolation and loneliness. Excessive cannabis use causes disruptions in daily and weekly routines within the family dynamic. Unfortunately, more alcohol and cannabis use leads to these drugs being stockpiled in the home, increasing the availability.

During 2020, it was an adjustment for most Canadians, and early indicators were there showing the impact of the pandemic and government restrictions. In a study published by the Canadian Red Cross in June of 2020, 18% of survey respondents felt lonely frequently and or every day, 37% worried about their financial situation, 30% were consuming two to four alcoholic drinks in a single sitting, while 12% were consuming five or more. When this survey was conducted, 26% of respondents said their alcohol consumption was higher than the previous week, and 6% said they were using Cannabis once per day.

The Canadian Center on Substance Use and Addiction released research looking at the risk associated with retail liquor stores during the pandemic. Some of the key risks with liquor stores being open include increased alcohol consumption in the population, a rise in domestic violence, and long-term costs for governments. The risk of closing liquor stores include involuntary withdrawal among people with alcohol use disorders, turning to non-beverage forms of alcohol, increased anxiety among individual using alcohol, and stockpiling and reducing profit for governments.

An in store display of wine bottles available for purchase

Numerous reports and studies are showing the same trends of increased alcohol and cannabis use. Many of these studies were published before 2021 and should have been a clear indicator that ongoing restrictions were doing more harm than good. A study published in September of 2020 surveyed men and women, and overall, respondents reported consuming more alcohol, and the odds of using more alcohol during lockdowns were associated with younger ages, more children at home, non-healthcare workers, and being unemployed because of COVID.

Stress has been a prominent factor in the increase in alcohol and cannabis use. As the federal and provincial governments continue to implement more restrictions, many Canadians face significant stress levels. Alcohol and marijuana have become a way of coping with stress, but excessive use leads to other problems, especially for someone struggling with addiction. “Finding the right support and addiction treatment is essential during this time,” said Marcel Gemme of Drug Rehab Services. “There are excellent drug rehab and counseling options for Canadians.” The hope is that more Canadians realize there is support available and provinces begin to return to normal, removing the added stress placed on Canadians.


David Penny

David Penny is Together We Can's Marketing and Media coordinator. Learn more about him & read his articles here.

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