Alcohol consumption increase in Saskatchewan leading to rise in harm, expert says

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Alcohol consumption increase in Saskatchewan leading to rise in harm, expert says
WATCH: According to a study, some Canadians are consuming more alcohol, which an expert says is leading to an increase in alcohol-related problems – Mar 1, 2021

With bars and restaurants shut down in some parts of the country, it’s no surprise more Canadians are choosing to drink at home.

According to the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority, its wholesale operations across the province increased by 7.9 per cent in 2020 compared to the year prior.

Some businesses like 4Seasons Sports Palace attribute the increase to consumption, saying it’s seen a soar in alcohol sales.

“Without a doubt, those initial months saw a substantial increase in the retail store and have remained strong,” said owner George Yannitsos.

Since the start of the pandemic, Yannitsos said, online and delivery sales have increased tenfold.

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Over at Trifon’s Pizza and Liquor Store, owner Philip McElree said liquor sales have also increased dramatically.

“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,” McElree said.

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But with alcohol deemed an essential service, McElree said within the first couple of months, sales shot up 40 per cent and deliveries increased threefold. He said since then, both have remained steady.

“It wasn’t a shock because people are stuck at home and not able to do anything,” McElree said.

A study commissioned by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction shows that since the pandemic began, 25 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 35 and 54 say they’re drinking more. Pointing to factors such as stress, boredom and lack of a regular schedule.

One expert says the increase in liquor consumption is leading to an 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 Peter Butt, an associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan.

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“Then it gets to a level where it can shift to the point that they’re drinking to avoid withdrawal.”

Butt said increased access to alcohol, combined with social isolation and anxiety is having unintended consequences.

“We’re certainly seeing increases in the number of people requiring (hospital) admission for alcohol withdrawal,” said Butt.

“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.

You don’t have to look far to see how accessible alcohol has become. The president of Willow Park Wine and Spirits said e-commerce and delivery at its Calgary location has exploded 400 per cent.

“We went from having five deliveries a day in Alberta to two hundred,” said Peggy Perry, Willow Park Wine and Spirits president.

“We went from one driver (a day) to eight, nine drivers a day, delivering wine and beer and spirits.

Still, experts worry the hangover from the alcohol boom could linger long after the pandemic has ended.

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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,” Butt said.

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