It’s official, COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in alcohol use

Canadians have been drinking more since the pandemic, and liquor laws have been relaxed. Scientists wonder what the long-term effects will be.

All those hilarious boozing alone memes that cropped up during the pandemic lockdown may not be so funny in the long-term if policy-makers don’t address harms associated with increased alcohol consumption, say experts.

According to a new study released by the Canadian Journal of Public Health, there is a strong correlation between exposure to mass traumatic events and increased alcohol consumption and related harms both in the short term and for one to two years after a crisis. However, there is limited evidence available for policy-makers, and this has researchers worried.

Provinces across Canada took different approaches to regulating alcohol and relaxing restrictions during the pandemic. Most provinces, with the exception of Prince Edward Island, quickly declared liquor retailers an essential service. But when P.E.I. attempted to close liquor stores during the initial phase of the lockdown, the public outcry forced officials to reverse that decision.

Vancouver relaxed restrictions on access to liquor by allowing restaurants to offer alcohol for takeout with take-away food, and cut the retail markup on liquor sold to restaurants and bars in order to help keep the hospitality industry afloat, and when restaurants reopened, licensed patios were fast-tracked.

Both North Vancouver and Port Coquitlam have launched pilot projects allowing drinking at selected local parks and public spaces, and Vancouver is considering doing the same.

Dr. Erin Hobin, a scientist at Public Health Ontario and the co-author of the study said that there was no clear, coordinated national guidance for how best to control alcohol during the pandemic, but suggested that a study of how different jurisdictions handled relaxations and restrictions may provide information for better evidence-based policies in the future.

“There are a lot of factors that need to be considered when making decisions about how best to control alcohol during a pandemic,” said Hobin.

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The opinions expressed in this post are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the FASD Prevention Conversation Project, its stakeholders, or funders.

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