During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in BC, new research shows people drank more alcohol than they have in the past 20 years.
The latest analysis of BC alcohol sales data from the University of Victoria’s Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR) looked at data between April 1, 2020, to March 31, 2021.
Researchers found the average person consumed the equivalent of 547 cans of 5% beer or 104 bottles of 12% wine.
“This tells us the higher levels of consumption seen in the first few months of COVID were not the result of stockpiling, but of an overall increase in drinking sustained over the year,” says Dr. Tim Naimi, director of CISUR.
Because of health restrictions, consumption saw a marked decrease at bars and restaurants. Purchases at private liquor stores made up 55% of all alcohol sold in the province.
“It has never been easier to buy alcohol in BC, and we know increased availability of alcohol leads to people drinking more,” says Naimi. “COVID-era changes to alcohol policy such as increased hours, government support for liquor retailers to develop online stores, expanded home delivery and declaring liquor stores an essential service has certainly played a role in these increases.”
The data was also broken down by region, with those in the Interior Health Region drinking the most and Fraser Health.
“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,” says Naimi. “Given the fact that BC saw many fewer tourists in the summer of 2020, this theory doesn’t appear to hold water.”
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This research – which was supported by Health Canada, also found beer continues to be the beverage type most consumed in BC.
Spirits and wine are almost identical in consumption rates (2.56L for wine and 2.53L for spirits). Coolers have been steadily increasing in popularity the past few years, although they have the smallest share of consumption.
According to the researchers, “In July 2020, the most recent month for which we have sales data, alcohol consumption peaked at about 50 standard drinks per month for every person aged 15+ in BC, which is almost two drinks a day.”