If you drank more last year, you’re not alone

Alcohol consumption particularly high in the Interior and not because of tourism

  • B.C. residents drank more last year than ever
  • Alcohol has never been so accessible
  • Consumption per capita highest in Interior

British Columbians drank more alcohol during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic than they have in any of the past 20 years.

The findings are according to the latest analysis of BC alcohol sales data from the University of Victoria’s Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR).

Consumption between April 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021, was equivalent to 547 cans of beer or 104 bottles of wine for each per person aged 15 and older in the province.

At 9.32 litres (L) of pure alcohol per capita, this is the highest level of alcohol consumption recorded since CISUR started monitoring it in 2001. It also confirms the rising trend CISUR first identified in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If you look, there’s been actually a trend toward increasing consumption since about 2013 and 2014 by about eight or 10 per cent during that time,” Dr. Tim Naimi, director of CISUR, told Kelowna10.

“But then on top of it, during the pandemic, we’ve seen an additional spike. ... This tells us the higher levels of consumption seen in the first few months of COVID-19 were not the result of stockpiling, but of an overall increase in drinking sustained over the year."

While consumption at bars and restaurants saw large decreases (60 and 46 per cent, respectively), it was more than made up for in increases at private liquor stores, which accounted for 55 per cent of all alcohol sold in the province.

Naimi said alcohol has never been more accessible, which can lead to increased consumption.

During the pandemic, liquor stores were declared an essential service. Policies were changed due to COVID-19, like increased hours, government support for liquor retailers to develop online stores, expanded home delivery, and more.

Other reasons, including personal factors, may have led to the spike in drinking. Many people reported increased boredom, stress, and more time at home contributed, according to Naimi.

Measured by health authority, Interior had the highest rates of consumption at 13.69L per capita, with Island Health second at 11.54L. Fraser was the lowest at 7.09L.

“In the past, some regions have pointed to tourism as a reason for above-average consumption rates, the assumption being that visitors accounted for a good chunk of alcohol purchases,” Naimi said.

“Given the fact that B.C. saw many fewer tourists in the summer of 2020, this theory doesn’t appear to hold water.”

This research was supported by Health Canada.

Published 2021-12-16 by David Hanson

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