Notable reduction in the number of Quebecers who say they are drinking more to reduce stress and anxiety

Montreal, November 30, 2020 – Drinking in Quebec has not changed significantly eight months into the pandemic. Throughout November, 80% of Quebecers either drank the same amount (67%) or less (13%), while 20% drank a little more (17%) or a lot more (3%). Episodes of heavy drinking were very similar to last May, with two-thirds of Quebecers never exceeding the recommended limits and 13% doing so only once in the previous month. And there’s some very good news: while close to 30% of Quebecers had increased their drinking to reduce stress and anxiety in April and May, only 17% were doing so in November, which is a significant decrease. These are the main conclusions of the third survey on drinking in Quebec since the initial lockdown last spring. The CROP poll was commissioned by Éduc’alcool and conducted November 19-24. Similar polls were conducted in April and May of this year.

The survey also shows that, while more than two-thirds of Quebecers never exceeded the recommended drinking limits in November, 22% of them did exceed the limits at least twice during the month. Last May, 23% had exceeded them.

“This is actually the most significant indicator, because the increase or decrease in drinking does not paint a complete picture of the situation. For example, if someone who was having two drinks a week doubled their consumption to four drinks a week, that would not be a problem because it would still be within the recommended limits. But someone who was already exceeding the limits and did not increase their drinking is still drinking excessively. In this regard, we have found that the situation has stabilized, contrary to what we had feared,” said Hubert Sacy, Director General of Éduc’alcool.

“We often hear that increased drinking in Quebec is of concern. But when you take the time to analyze how people are drinking, you find that, despite the pandemic, drinking is still generally reasonable. The trends are demonstrated very clearly in the surveys we have been doing regularly for Éduc’alcool,” noted Dominic Bourdages, Vice President of CROP.

Fresh data

With regard to the increase or decrease in drinking, the new survey shows that the people who are drinking more are primarily Montrealers, young people 18-34, the more well-to-do, those who have experienced a change in their employment situation, and those who are feeling a greater psychological impact.

The three main reasons people give for drinking more are the same ones they gave in previous surveys: to relieve boredom or have something to do (27%), having more time to drink (26%) and, well behind the first two, to reduce stress and anxiety (down significantly from 28% to 17%).

Quebecers who have cut back on their drinking say they have done so mainly because they generally drink in bars and restaurants, or because they are social drinkers who drink only among friends and family (40%). The number of people who reduced their drinking for health reasons has practically doubled since the spring, from 10% to 19%. Also, from May to November, the percentage of people who believe that alcohol is not necessary rose from 12% to 18%, which is what it was in April.

“Still, compared to March, before the pandemic, 7% more Quebecers exceeded the recommended drinking limits at least once a month in November (35% vs. 28%). While this is not a catastrophe per se, it is not good news, since heavy drinking weakens the immune system, and that is the last thing you want during a pandemic, when we’re facing such a fearsome foe as COVID-19. Very heavy drinkers in Quebec, while still a small minority, are cause for worry, since they are most at risk for alcohol-related health problems and dependence,” added Hubert Sacy.

On another note, nearly one in a quarter of Quebecers (24%) say they have drunk alcohol to feel better when they are depressed, sad or stressed: 6% frequently and 18% occasionally. The people who drink to feel better constitute the highest proportion of those who have also drunk excessively.

Finally, while half of all drinkers had participated in a virtual happy hour or meal in May, only 44% were doing so in November. Drinkers with the most education were more likely to have drunk alcohol at such virtual gatherings.

“After a phase of major change that upended our lives and influenced our behaviour, we seem to be stabilizing somewhat. It is more important than ever that we adjust to our new reality, measure our drinking, incorporate new practices, and above all, apply the slogan that more than 95% of Quebecers already know so well: Moderation is always in good taste,” concluded Hubert Sacy.


Drinking behaviour at a glance

  • Two-thirds of Quebecers, whether or not they drink, have not changed how much they drink.
  • 13% drank less: 7% by a little and 6% by a lot.
  • 20% said they drank more: 17% a little more and 3% a lot more.
    • Among this 20%, 76% (15% of the total) were drinking more often and 30% (6% of the total) were drinking more on each occasion.
  • Drinking frequency has remained relatively stable in Quebec, compared to April and May:
    • 31% did not drink at all (31% in April and 33% in May)
    • 23% drank one to three times (24% in March)
    • 20% drank once or twice a week (18% in April)
    • 19% drank three to five times a week (20% in May, 24% in April and 20% in March)
    • 9% drank six or seven days a week (9% in May, 14% in April and 18% in March).
  • Compared to the results of our last surveys, compliance with the low-risk drinking guidelines has changed a little:
    • 65% were fully in compliance with the recommendations (72% in March and April, 67% in May)
    • 13% exceeded the limits once (11% in May and April, and 12% in March)
    • 11% exceeded them two or three times (11% in May, 8% in April and 6% in March)
    • 4% exceeded them once a week (4% in all three previous surveys)
    • 5% exceeded them two or three times a week (5% in May and April, and 4% in March)
    • 2% exceeded them almost every day (3% in May, 2% in April and 1% in March)
  • Lastly, 44% of people who drink alcohol participated in a virtual happy hour or meal with friends and relatives in the previous month, compared to 49% in May and 40% in April.

A note about methodology: The results of this survey, which was administered by CROP, are based on 1,000 responses recorded November 19-24, 2020. Respondents were recruited by a web panel. The data are compared to those from two previous surveys, conducted using the same method: April 4-6, 2020, with 1,412 Quebec residents aged 15 and older completing the questionnaire, and May 5-10, 2020, with 1,007 Quebec residents aged 15 and older participating.