Experts warn alcohol harm is increasing in Saskatchewan

Mar 16, 2021

According to new data released by the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA), its wholesale operations across the province have increased by 7.9% in 2020 compared to 2019. Moreover, a research study commissioned by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSUA) has demonstrated that since the COVID-19 pandemic began, 25% of Canadians between the aged between 35 and 54 have reported drinking more, citing factors such as stress, boredom and lack of a regular routine.

In his interview with Global News, Peter Butt, an associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan, said that the increase in liquor consumption is resulting in the increase in alcohol-related problems and behaviours. “People that were perhaps episodic drinkers have become daily drinkers if every day is a Friday or Saturday,” said Dr. Butt. “Then it gets to a level where it can shift to the point that they’re drinking to avoid withdrawal.”

According to Dr. Butt, increased access to alcohol, combined with social isolation and anxiety, is resulting in increased consumption. “We’re certainly seeing increases in the number of people requiring (hospital) admission for alcohol withdrawal,” he said.

“These are people coming from across the socioeconomic spectrum. They’re people that come in and they’re embarrassed, they’re in denial, because of the situation that they found themselves in. They’re surprised by it. It’s just crept up on them. He added, If you have a three-fold increase in sales and home deliveries, is it any surprise that we have a three to four-fold increase in admissions for alcohol-related problems? The curve is parallel.”

In addition, some businesses such as 4Seasons Sports Palace attribute the increase in alcohol sales to augmented consumption. “Without a doubt, those initial months [of the coronavirus pandemic] saw a substantial increase in the retail store and have remained strong,” said the business’ owner George Yannitsos. He also mentioned that since the start of the pandemic, online and delivery sales have increased tenfold.

“When the pandemic first hit, we were quite worried just as everyone else was. We weren’t sure how we were going to pay our bills,” said Philip McElree, owner of Trifon’s Pizza and Liquor Store in Regina. However, with liquor stores deemed an essential service, within the first couple of months, McElree’s sales increased by 40% and deliveries increased threefold; both have remained steady since. “It wasn’t a shock because people are stuck at home and not able to do anything,” McElree told Global News.

Similarly, alcohol sales have increased in other provinces. Peggy Perry, the president of Willow Park Wine and Spirits, said e-commerce and delivery at its Calgary location has increased by 400%. “We went from having five deliveries a day in Alberta to two hundred,” said Perry. “We went from one driver (a day) to eight, nine drivers a day, delivering wine and beer and spirits.

Notably, health experts worry the hangover from the alcohol boom could continue in the long-term after the end of the pandemic.