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Stress of pandemic causing Canadians to consume more alcohol, cannabis: survey

Information from a pair of surveys conducted by the research firm Leger
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The pandemic is amplifying the relationship between mental health issues and substance abuse, a survey suggests, as Canadians who consume alcohol or smoke cannabis report an increased use during the last year.

Research firm Leger conducted two surveys for the Mental Health Commission of Canada and the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction. A total of 2,502 people responded to the first poll, while 1,507 people responded to a second survey several weeks later. 

The Moose Jaw Express has used the data from the second survey since it is the most recent. Data about mental health issues will be presented in a second story. 

Main findings

Leger found that two in five respondents reported very good or excellent mental health. However, 14 per cent reported moderately severe to severe current symptoms of depression, 24 per cent reported moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety, and about six per cent have seriously contemplated suicide last March. 

Meanwhile, one in three respondents who use alcohol reported increased use and one in five reported problematic use. Two in five people who use cannabis also reported increased use and problematic use. 

Nearly one in two respondents with past substance abuse disorders reported moderately severe to severe depression symptoms since last March, the report said. Furthermore, one out of two respondents with current mental health issues who also consume cannabis reported increased drug consumption. 

“Access to services is not keeping up with increasing need,” the report continued.

Only 22 per cent of survey takers with current mental health symptoms and 24 per cent with current problem substance use issues reported access to treatment since March 2020. Meanwhile, about one in five respondents who have received care reported that they found access to treatments difficult. 

Change in alcohol use

Mental Health Research Canada reported last April that 28 per cent of people who use alcohol had consumed more during the pandemic. 

Leger’s second poll revealed that about 30 per cent of respondents had increased their use of alcohol. This was higher for people with current substance use issues (44 per cent) and people with current mental health symptoms (36 per cent). 

Problematic alcohol use

A 2017 survey found 21 per cent of people exceeded drinking guidelines for chronic health effects, and 15 per cent exceeded guidelines for acute effects. 

Leger’s second survey discovered that more than 20 per cent of respondents who use alcohol reported problematic use. This percentage was higher for people with a lifetime mental health diagnosis (33 per cent) and those with a lifetime substance use disorder (83 per cent).  

Change in cannabis use 

Mental Health Research Canada reported last April that 29 per cent of people who used cannabis increased their use during the pandemic. 

The second survey Leger conducted showed that 43 per cent of respondents who use cannabis reported using more during the pandemic. This was higher among people with lifetime mental health diagnoses (51 per cent) and lifetime substance use disorder (54 per cent).

Problematic cannabis use

Health Canada reports that one in 11 people who use cannabis will develop an addiction, while the risk of addiction to those who smoke it daily is 25 per cent to 50 per cent. 

About 40 per cent of people who responded to Leger’s second survey and used cannabis reported a problematic use. That percentage is higher among people with a lifetime of mental health diagnoses (45 per cent) and those with a lifetime substance use disorder (76 per cent).