Ads on the web are encouraging Canadians to go dry this February.
Our job is to ask questions, not suggest how you should live your life. By talking to Canadians and retailers, we’ve put together a portrait of drinking habits nationally. Here is a glance at what we know.
Three in four Canadian adults drink alcohol
Just over three-quarters (76.5%) of Canadians aged 15 years and older reported drinking alcohol in 2019, with men (78.3%) slightly more likely to consume than women (74.7%). Canadians aged 20 to 24 years (84.4%) were most likely to report drinking alcohol.
Canadian households spent an average of $1,125 on alcoholic beverages in 2019, and of this amount, 71.0% was spent at stores and 28.4% was spent at restaurants or bars. Canadian households spent as much money on alcoholic beverages in 2019 as they did on furnishings.
For some, going dry is the norm, as 23.5% of Canadian adults do not drink alcohol.
Beer and wine account for two-thirds of alcohol sales in Canada
In 2020/2021, beer remained the alcoholic beverage of choice for Canadians, accounting for 36.0% of total alcohol sales. Wine accounted for 31.4%, followed by spirits (25.4%) and ciders and coolers (7.2%).
There is a distinct regional flavour to what Canadians drink. Beer was the alcoholic beverage of choice across much of Canada in 2020/2021, while wine claimed the top spot of total sales in Quebec (43.5%) and British Columbia (33.4%). Spirits were the biggest seller in the Northwest Territories (45.7% of total sales).
Alcohol sales rise at the fastest pace in a decade during first year of the COVID-19 pandemic
Liquor authorities sold $25.5 billion worth of alcoholic beverages in 2020/2021, up 4.2% from a year earlier and the largest sales increase in over a decade.
The 3,180.1 million litres of alcohol sold in 2020/2021 could fill 1,272 Olympic-sized swimming pools and was the equivalent of 9.7 standard alcoholic beverages a week per Canadian of legal drinking age.
The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction recently announced guidelines suggesting Canadians limit alcohol intake to two standard drinks a week.
Buying habits changed during the pandemic
Liquor authorities reported that Canadians were making fewer visits to their stores but buying more alcohol compared with prior to the pandemic. The increase in off-premise consumption sales more than offset the sales drop at bars and restaurants.
Percentage of Canadians who engage in heavy drinking on the decline nationally
Most Canadians drink moderately. However, in 2021, almost 5.1 million people, or 15.6% of Canadians aged 12 years and older, told us they engaged in heavy drinking, defined as having five or more drinks for men and four or more for women, on one occasion, at least once a month in the past year. Nevertheless, this was the lowest level of heavy drinking since we first asked in 2015.
Canadians aged 18 to 34 years (1.7 million people) were most likely to report being heavy drinkers in 2021, down 10.1% from a year earlier and almost one-third (31.5%) lower compared with 2015.
The share of Canadians aged 65 years and older who reported heavy drinking rose from 6.7% in 2015 to 7.9% in 2021.
In 2019, for the first time, we asked Canadians about five harms they may have experienced in the past 12 months due to alcohol consumption. Types of harm include being unable to stop drinking once started, failing to do what was normally expected from you because of drinking, needing a first drink in the morning to get yourself going after a heavy drinking session, being unable to remember what happened the night before because of your drinking, or having a feeling of guilt or remorse after drinking.
Of those who reported past-year alcohol use, 21% (4.8 million people) experienced at least one alcohol-related harm in the past year due to alcohol use. There was little difference in the prevalence of reported harm in the past year due to alcohol consumption between male drinkers (21% or 2.5 million) and female drinkers (20% or 2.3 million). A higher proportion of young adults aged 20 to 24 years (40% or 758,000) and youth aged 15 to 19 years (38% or 378,000) reported harm due to alcohol use in the past year than adults aged 25 years and older (18% or 3.7 million).
Alcohol-related deaths up by over one-fifth since the beginning of the pandemic
Alcohol-related deaths have risen by over one-fifth (+21%) since the beginning of the pandemic, with 3,875 deaths attributable to drinking alcohol in 2021. Approximately two-thirds of alcohol-related deaths in 2021 occurred among Canadians aged 64 years and younger (2,525), while one-third occurred among those aged 65 years and older (1,345).
From 2019 to 2021, the number of alcohol-related deaths among Canadians aged 64 years and younger (+27%) rose at more than three times the pace compared with those aged 65 years and older (+8.0%).
The price of alcoholic beverages is rising
The price of alcohol was up a sobering 5.8% year over year in December, the largest year-over-year increase in alcohol prices since 1991. Alcohol prices rose at a slower year-over-year pace than inflation (+6.3%) in December.
Alcohol prices rose at the fastest pace year over year in British Columbia (+9.1%) and at the slowest pace in Manitoba (+4.2%).
We are serving up fresh alcohol sales data during dry February
We won’t be tracking how many Canadians go dry this February, but we will be announcing 2021/2022 alcohol sales data on February 24, 2023.
Whatever collective choices Canadians do make when it comes to drinking this February and beyond will be reflected in our upcoming data.
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