Quebecers were very reasonable during the first month of isolation, and episodes of excessive drinking in March remaining exactly the same as they had been in pre-lockdown times. However, the situation deteriorated slightly in April among heavy drinkers, who drank more. The good news: drinking frequency dropped overall. During month two of isolation, nearly 8 out of 10 Quebecers either did not increase their drinking (66%) or drank less than usual (13%), while one out of five increased their drinking by a little (16%) or a lot (5%). These are the main results of the second CROP survey on drinking in Quebec since the start of isolation, conducted May 5-10 and commissioned by Éduc’alcool. A first survey was conducted in April.

Results show also that, while more than two thirds of Quebecers never exceeded the recommended drinking limits in April, 23% of them did exceed the limits in May, as opposed to 18% in April.

That indicator is critical because, by itself, the increase or decrease in drinking does not provide an accurate picture of the situation. For example, if a person who was having two drinks a week upped their alcohol intake to four or five drinks a week, that would not really be a problem, for they would still be following the low-risk drinking guidelines. But someone who was already exceeding the limits and is still doing so remains a heavy drinker, even if there was no increase in the amount of alcohol consumed. A full 5% of drinkers exceeded the limits in May, which is significant.

An increase in the frequency with which recommended weekly limits were exceeded was seen primarily among people with a higher income ($80,000+ a year) and those aged 25-34.

Compared to the encouraging first data collected in early April, May results are a little disappointing, but not disastrous. Heavy drinkers in Quebec may be a small minority, but there is still cause for concern, since these are the people most at risk for developing alcohol-related health problems and dependency issues. It demonstrates the continued importance of our prevention work and encourages us to pursue our efforts to publicize our five tips for safe drinking during a pandemic.

The new data

With regard to the data on increased/decreased drinking, the new survey is similar overall to the one done in April, with the primary change being that 5% of drinkers have increased their drinking by a lot, compared to only 3% last month.

An increase in drinking was seen primarily among drinkers aged 25-34, those with higher incomes, people who experienced a change in employment, and those who were more psychologically affected by the situation.

The three main reasons for increased drinking in the second month of isolation were the same as in the first month: to combat boredom or fill unoccupied time, to reduce stress and anxiety (which is rising significantly) and having more time and opportunity to drink.

People who cut back on their drinking said it was mainly because they generally drank away from home, in bars and restaurants, or because they were social drinkers who drank only with friends and relatives. Some also mentioned that they were trying to keep expenses down.

Half of all Quebec drinkers, especially among those with higher incomes, took part in a virtual happy hour or meal, compared to 40% the month before.

Drinking behaviour at a glance

  • Two thirds of Quebecers, drinkers and non-drinkers alike, did not change their drinking habits in the second month of isolation.
  • 13% reduced their drinking: 6% by a little and 7% by a lot.
  • 21% said they had increased their drinking: 16% by a little and 5% by a lot.
    • Among this 21%, 84% (18% of all respondents) drank more often and 26% (5% of all respondents) drank more on each occasion.
  • Drinking frequency in the last month is down, as follows:
    • 33% drank no alcohol at all (31% in March);
    • 17% drank between once and three times that month (14% in March);
    • 21% drank one or two days a week (18% in March);
    • 20% drank three to five days a week (24% in March);
    • 9% drank six or seven days a week (14% in March).
  • Compared to Éduc’alcool data for February 2020, compliance with the low-risk drinking guidelines changed slightly in the second month of isolation:
    • 67% were in full compliance with the low-risk drinking guidelines (72% in March and in February);
    • 11% exceeded the limits just once (11% in March and 12% in February);
    • 11% exceeded the limits two to three times (8% in March and 7% in February);
    • 4% exceeded the limits once a week (4% in March and in February);
    • 5% exceeded the limits two to three times a week (5% in March and 4% in February);
    • 3% exceeded the limits almost every day (2% in March and 1% in February).
  • Half of all drinkers participated in a virtual happy hour or meal with friends and/or relatives during the second month of isolation (40% the previous month).

Coming out of isolation: an opportunity to reboot our drinking habits

With lockdown restrictions beginning to ease, now is the perfect time to rethink our drinking habits. Coming out of isolation gives us a chance to reboot of our internal software, and we should take advantage of the process to take stock of our drinking, calmly and thoughtfully. It would be a shame to miss this unique opportunity.

Éduc’alcool is recommending a few easy steps to help Quebecers adopt new habits:

  • First, we can learn the excellent habit of counting our drinks and waiting until a glass is empty before refilling it or offering more.
  • Next, we can limit our drinking to 2 drinks per occasion for women, and 3 for men.
  • We can also learn to alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages systematically.
  • We can avoid drinking every day, and try to designate one day—and preferably two—a week as alcohol free.

We should all see the end of the lockdown as a unique chance to monitor our drinking, learn new habits, and apply the slogan that more than 95% of Quebecers already know and everyone should practice: Moderation is always in good taste.

A note on methodology: The results of the survey, which was administered by CROP, are based on 1,007 responses recorded between May 5 and 10, 2020. Respondents were recruited by a web panel. The data are compared to those from a previous survey, conducted between April 4 and 6, 2020, using the same method. For this survey, 1,412 Quebec residents aged 15 or older completed the questionnaire.