Canadians are feeling the strain during the COVID-19 pandemic. While these uncertain times are proving difficult for us all, they are presenting greater challenges and risks to people with substance use disorders or mental illness. Up to one in two individuals with an existing substance use disorder reported having moderately severe to severe symptoms of depression since March 2020, according to a new Leger poll.
These findings are from a new series of bimonthly Leger polls commissioned by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) and the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) to shed light on the ongoing impact of the pandemic on Canadians’ mental health and substance use.
Although substance use and mental health symptoms were high across the board, it is clear that people with a history of mental health or substance use concerns are being disproportionately impacted by stresses related to the pandemic.
Other key facts include:
Up to one in two respondents with current mental health symptoms who use cannabis reported increased use since March 2020, compared to two in five of the general population.
Over one in three respondents with current mental health symptoms who use alcohol reported consuming more since the start of the pandemic.
Moderate and severe anxiety symptoms were highest among respondents with lifetime substance use disorder and lifetime mental health diagnoses.
Respondents’ top stressors were financial strain (14%), social isolation (12%) and the health of family members (11%).
Just 24 per cent of respondents with problematic substance use and 22 per cent with current mental health symptoms have accessed treatment since March.
It is more important than ever that Canadians have timely access to a full range of quality services and supports that meet them where they are. In response to these findings, CCSA is highlighting some of its existing resources and supports:
We encourage you to share this publication with your networks. You can download the full survey data on the MHCC website and find a comprehensive list of resources on substance use and COVID-19 in CCSA’s online resource centre.
If you have any questions about the polling project or want to know more about our work with MHCC, please email RJesseman@ccsa.ca.
More and more online opportunities for professional development are popping up in our increasingly virtual environment. Although there are lots of courses out there for specific professions, there are very few online learning opportunities for the range of professionals who work with people with FASD and women who are at risk of having a child with FASD.
Best Practices for Prevention, Intervention, and Support is CanFASD’s newest online learning course, available Spring 2021. It is designed for professionals working in the fields of substance use, mental health, housing, employment, justice, and more.
This webinar will provide an overview of the four modules provided in this course. It will also highlight some of the key tools and resources included in the modules to support individuals who have or are at risk of having a child with FASD and/or may have FASD themselves.
This video is part of our CanFASD webinar series, bringing evidence-based research on FASD to Canadians from the comfort of your own home.
Register now for our new webinar Assessment of Preschoolers with Prenatal Alcohol Exposure. A joint event with the Saskatchewan Prevention Institute and CanFASD, this panel discussion will feature presentations from Dr. Ana Hanlon Dearman and Dr. Ghita Wiebe. It will be a 1-hour event at 1:00 pm eastern time on February 5, 2021.
Receiving a diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is the first step in connecting a child to the appropriate supports and beginning to plan for the future. This webinar will provide awareness and understanding of the multidisciplinary assessment for FASD in preschool children with prenatal alcohol exposure. Dr. Ana Hanlon-Dearman and Dr. Ghita Wiebe will explain the process of diagnosis, the benefits of diagnosis, and describe the current state of preschool FASD multidisciplinary assessments. Ms. Mohr is a caregiver to a child with FASD. She will speak to the impact of receiving her daughter’s diagnosis. There will be 10-15 minutes at the end of the presentation for attendees to have questions answered by the panelists.
The researchers surveyed 5,850 adults from all 50 states through Facebook and its associated platforms during the months of March and April 2020. They asked the participants to describe themselves demographically and report how their alcohol use had changed since the start of the pandemic.
The survey also included questions that allowed the researchers to identify and measure the participants’ symptoms of depression and anxiety. Each person also reported the degree to which they felt at risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Of all the participants identifying themselves as drinkers, 29% reported that their alcohol consumption had increased during the pandemic.
Of the drinkers, 51.2% said that the pandemic had not affected the amount of alcohol that they consumed, while another 19.8% reported drinking less.
Of all the people surveyed, 47% and 30% reported symptoms of anxiety and depression, respectively.
Individuals reporting symptoms of depression were 64% more likely to be consuming greater amounts of alcohol, while anxiety was associated with a 41% higher likelihood of increased drinking.
The study also found that demographic factors affected alcohol consumption during the pandemic:
Women were more likely (33% as opposed to 24%) to have increased their drinking than men.
Highly educated people were more likely to have started drinking more (32%) than those without a bachelor’s degree (25%).
Fewer retirees (20%) reported drinking more than employed and currently unemployed participants, 31% of whom were consuming more alcohol.
People living in rural areas were less likely to have upped their alcohol intake (25%) compared with those living in suburban and urban areas (31%).
Click here to read the full article in Medical News Today.
(Message from the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction)
Please join us for a new webinar series focused on alcohol, the National Alcohol Forum: Implications of COVID-19.
The pandemic has had far-reaching impacts on Canadians, including on alcohol use and sales, and on changes to alcohol policy. Recent polling data suggests that around 20% of Canadians have been drinking more during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, many provinces and territories have relaxed alcohol sales and consumption regulations during the pandemic.
In February, this series of webinars will explore evidence-informed alcohol policy and responses relating to alcohol during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Don’t miss this opportunity to engage with a range of experts and learn more about these important alcohol-related issues. Space is limited for these webinars. We encourage you to register early to secure your place.
The Effects of COVID-19 on Alcohol Sales, Consumption and Harms
Are Canadians buying and drinking more alcohol than usual during the pandemic? This webinar will explore alcohol sales, consumption patterns and impacts during the pandemic, drawing on the results of surveys and polls commissioned by CCSA and others.
Dr. Daniel Myran, CIHR Fellow, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Rebecca Jesseman, Director, Policy, Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction
Please note that this webinar will be presented in English.
COVID-19 and Alcohol Policy
Evidence-informed alcohol policies are crucial tools to minimize the harms associated with alcohol use. This webinar will explore policies for preventing and reducing the negative impacts of alcohol use, focusing on changes made to alcohol policy during the COVID-19 pandemic and their implications for public health.
If we only paid attention to ads, it might seem as though alcohol — a beer or glass of wine, a shot of fiery liquor or sophisticated cocktail — merely served as a way to bring people together and make them happy. Drink responsibly, the ads wink, without ever explaining the toll that frequent or excessive alcohol use exacts, particularly at certain stages in life. Because alcohol doesn’t just get us drunk, impair our judgment, and hurt our liver: it can have many other bad effects on our bodies — including effects on the brain.
In a recent editorial in The BMJ, a trio of scientists pointed out that there are three periods in life when the brain goes through major changes and is particularly vulnerable to the effects of alcohol. Two of those periods are at the beginning and end of life. When pregnant women drink alcohol, it can damage the developing brain of the fetus, leading to physical problems, learning disabilities, and behavioral problems. When people over the age of 65 drink alcohol, it can worsen declines in brain function that happen during aging.
The third period is adolescence. During those years of transition between childhood and adulthood, the brain grows and changes in many important ways that are crucial for that transition to be successful. When teens and young adults drink alcohol, it can interfere with that process of brain development in ways that affect the rest of their lives.
We’re making history this year at the annual FASD Symposium … not only is this the first time we’ve ever hosted the event virtually, but we’ve smashed our previous attendance records for this event. There are now over 300 people registered to join us to dialogue about Managing Challenging Behaviours in Children, Youth and Adults with FASD.
We have delegates from all over Canada and the United States, and a handful of international attendees too. Check out who’s coming.
Caregivers, people with FASD, educators and other professionals who work and volunteer in our communities are already confirmed to attend. You are going to miss out!
What to Expect from the Symposium The deadline to register ($125 CAD per person) is on Friday, January 15th. After this date we can no longer accept any other registrations. We are already very close to maximum capacity for this event. Foil FOMO by registering today!
Beginning the new year with a resolution to abstain from alcohol use for a month is a growing health trend known as Dry January.
Many studies have shown that even short-term abstinence from alcohol can improve health.
Dry January can be an excellent time to reevaluate your relationship with alcohol and make healthy changes that last beyond the first 30 days of the year.
Dry January — kicking off the new year by cutting out alcohol for an entire month — is a health trend more people are trying each year.
Although relatively novel, Dry January is generally attributed to starting in the UK around 2014 as a way to help individuals stop drinking.
And it’s catching on in the U.S. as well.
“Dry January gives people the opportunity to see what their lives would be like without the alcohol. Often people get into routines and patterns and they just self-perpetuate and you really need to break it and you realize you feel better,” Bruce Goldman, LCSW, director of the Zucker Hillside Hospital Addiction Services in Glen Oaks, New York, told Healthline.
However, making your Dry January a successful one may not be as easy as it seems.
Having a plan in place can not only help you reach your goal more easily, but enjoy the experience along the way as well.
So, if you’re one of the many people who’ll be starting off 2020 with a resolution to drink less, these 8 tips can help make your Dry January a healthy and happy one.
This one may feel like a bit of a no-brainer, but it’s really important.
Not only should you have realistic expectations for yourself, but you should also get your friends and family involved.
Making goals can also mean writing them down or posting them somewhere as a physical reminder of your intentions.
“It’s also important to publicly declare your goals, to have others — it doesn’t have to be everyone — be aware of what you’re doing. I think the commitment out loud is important. It increases one’s likelihood of following through,” said Goldman.
By making your goals public to friends and family you also open up a channel of communication and support from them that’s invaluable.
“We’re social animals. We are primates and social interaction is probably one of the most powerful reinforcers that we have,” said George Koob, PhD, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). “It doesn’t mean you have to go to Alcoholics Anonymous… you can find that kind of social affirmation in many different ways.”
Use the people closest to you as a support network to help keep you on track. You may even encourage them to take on Dry January with you.
Whether it’s wanting a nice glass of wine on a Friday after work or wishing for a cold beer at a baseball game, many people have particular times, locations, or situations that they associate with drinking.
These are known as triggers. To cut down on drinking, it’s important for everyone to first understand what their triggers are and then avoid them.
But don’t psych yourself out either. Stopping drinking doesn’t mean you can’t ever go to another baseball game or brunch with your friends.
“People feel like ‘Oh, I can never go to a bar again.’ And that’s ridiculous. The idea is that if today you don’t want to have a drink, don’t go to a bar today. You need to think short term and not forever more,” said Goldman.
You’ve made a plan for Dry January, but it may not always be easy to stick to it. Plan for the inevitability of an urge to drink at some point and know which actions you’ll take to overcome it.
“You really need to learn to ride out the urge. I use the analogy of a wave with a peak, but it always breaks. You need to ride out the wave. If you don’t act on it, it will definitely subside,” said Goldman.
There are simple strategies to employ when an urge strikes that can help such as a quick change of scenery. If you’re inside, go outdoors. If you’re with friends, take some alone time.
Small changes in environment can help distract you or take your mind off of drinking long enough to ride out the urge.
“If you’re using alcohol as a coping mechanism or a way of relaxing, maybe try and find some other way of doing that,” said Koob.
At the top of his list: exercise.
Go for a walk, try some relaxing yoga, or join a recreational sports team.
“Exercise is good for everything. If there’s one universal thing that helps everyone it’s exercise,” said Koob.
This is also a great time to reconnect with your other hobbies, interests, and passions. Time (and money) not spent out at bars can instead be used for that ship in a bottle you gave up on, or that thousand piece jigsaw puzzle collecting dust in the closet.
So, you’ve made your resolution to stop drinking. You’ve written it down and told your friends. But, two weeks into January you have a beer. Uh oh, you blew it, right?
No. It’s not the end of the world.
“People tend to be perfectionists,” said Goldman. “It’s OK if you drink. It’s not all or nothing. I think that trips a lot of people up. Ninety-nine percent dry January would be good, too. As would an eighty percent dry January.”
In fact, just cutting back is better than nothing at all. The point to remember is that you need to bounce back.
Dry January means going alcohol-free for the month of January, and that can bring huge, obvious benefits – but the really good stuff is under the surface…
1. What you’ll notice
See your skin get brighter, your wallet fuller, your days busier. Feel your step get bouncier, your mind calmer, your nights sleepier. Most people who do Dry January see a whole host of obvious benefits that make Dry January the perfect start to the New Year.
2. On the inside
A month alcohol-free has a lot of benefits: research published in 2018, conducted by the Royal Free Hospital and published in the British Medical Journal, found that a month off:
Lowers blood pressure
Reduces diabetes risk
Reduces levels of cancer-related proteins in the blood.
3. Long-term change
The real magic happens when Dry January is over. Dry January helps people to drink more healthily year-round. Research conducted by the University of Sussex has found that six months after Dry January more than 70% of people who take on the month with Alcohol Change UK’s support are still drinking more healthily. On top of that, they have boosted levels of wellbeing, and much more besides.
How can it be that just a month off has a long-term impact? Being alcohol-free for 31 days shows us that we don’t need alcohol to have fun, to relax, or to socialise. It helps us learn the skills we need to manage our drinking. That means that for the rest of the year we are better able to make decisions about when we drink and how much, so we can avoid slipping into drinking more than we really want to.
That’s extra good news, because alcohol is linked with more than 60 health conditions, including liver disease, high blood pressure, depression and seven types of cancer. In fact, alcohol is the biggest risk factor for death, ill-health and disability for people aged 15-49 in the UK. Cutting back on alcohol long-term reduces your risk of developing these conditions.
Why do the official Dry January?
People who take on the official Dry January with Alcohol Change UK are twice as likely to have a totally alcohol-free month, and to get amazing long-term benefits. What does it mean to sign up?
Download the free Try Dry app. It’s your booze-free buddy for Dry January and beyond, helping you keep track of your units, calories and money saved and letting you earn badges along the way. Plus you can use it to track your drinking and set personalised goals all year round.
Sign up for free coaching emails. We’ll offer you daily tips, stories and much more to help you get the most out of your Dry January. You can sign up for these via the app, or sign up for just emails here.