Many Canadians consider drinking moderate amounts of alcohol in social situations a pleasure. Alcohol is a normal part of social engagements of various types, including birthdays, weddings, and work parties just to name a few.

However, there are numerous negative outcomes linked to the consumption of alcohol, especially when done in excess. It can lead to an increased number of health issues, road accidents, and crimes.

This article looks at the statistics around alcohol consumption in Canada. We look at how much Canadians drink, which age groups are the biggest drinkers, the negative impacts of alcohol consumption in Canada, as well as the alcohol market in Canada among other key statistics.

Alcohol Consumption Statistics for Canadians

  • Over ¾ of Canadians consume alcohol.
  • Canadians aged 20-24 are more likely to drink than adults over 25 or Canadian youths.
  • Over six million Canadians could be classed as heavy drinkers in 2021.
  • Alcohol-related harm cost Canadian society $16.6 billion in 2019.
  • Around 3,800 deaths per year are linked to alcohol use.
  • 6% of Canadians admit to driving after drinking.
  • With a 35% market share, beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in Canada.
  • In 2020-21, the total income to the government from alcohol sales was $12.4 billion.

Alcohol Consumption in Canada

Based on the results of an alcohol consumption survey from 2019, 76% of Canadians had consumed alcohol in the last twelve months. This was a slightly lower figure than the 78% from 2017. Men were more likely to have consumed alcohol at 78% compared to 75% of women.

According to Statista, Canadian alcohol consumption decreased between 2022 and 2021. In 2022, Canadians consumed 97.5 litres per capita, which is an overall reduction of 9% since 2008.

Between 2017 and 2019, the highest percentage of alcohol use was in Quebec. The lowest rate of alcohol consumption in 2019 was in Ontario at 74%. If we compare the consumption based on litres sold per capita of the legal drinking age population, then we get a different picture. The average in 2018-19 was 8 litres per capita. Globally, it is 6.18 litres.

The lowest was in Nunavut where the sale of alcohol is tightly controlled with 3.6 litres and in New Brunswick with 6.8 litres. The highest consumption based on volume of sales was in Yukon with 13 litres and Northwest Territories with 11.9 litres.

Drinking Among Young Canadians

In 2019, Canadian young adults (ages 20-24) were more likely to drink than any other age group, with 84% of them saying they consume alcohol. Among adults aged 25 and over the portion of drinkers was 78% and 46% among youths aged 15 to 19. The number of youths who drink has decreased from 2017 when 57% of the age group had consumed alcohol.

The average age for the first time drinking alcohol is 13 in Canada and over 44% of students studying in grades 7 to 12, said they consumed alcohol in 2017. Almost a third, at 64.5%, of grade 10-12 students had drunk alcohol in 2017. 37.8% of 12-17-year-old Canadians who consume alcohol say they drink at least once per month.

Breaking down the percentage of student drinkers, we can see that the portion of students who drink alcohol goes up grade by grade. In grade 7, 10.9% of students have consumed alcohol, 23.5% in grade 8, 39.4% in grade 9, 56.6% in grade 10, 64.6% in grade 11, and 70.7% in grade 12.

Heavy Drinking in Canada

Heavy drinking is defined as five or more drinks on one occasion for men at least once a month and four or more drinks for women.

Almost six million Canadians aged from the age of 12 upwards have at least one heavy drinking session every month. This means 15.6% of Canadians were heavy alcohol drinkers in 2021. In 2018, heavy drinking was more common among men at 23.5% compared to 14.8%.

Heavy drinking was more common in rural areas with 22.4% of Canadians living in rural areas having at least one heavy drinking session in a month compared to 18.4% of those living in urban areas.

People in Newfoundland and Labrador and Quebec were most likely to drink heavily with 27.7% and 21.2%. The lowest proportions of heavy drinkers were in Manitoba at 16% and Ontario at 17.3%.

Negative Effects of Alcohol Consumption in Canada

In 2019, the total cost of alcohol-related harm to Canadian society was $16.6 billion. This represents 36.2% of the total cost of substance use-related harm. Approximately $5.4 billion is incurred from health care costs and criminal justice costs represented $2.8 billion of the total. In addition, there were costs linked to a loss in productivity as well as other direct costs. Almost 20% of all violent crimes were linked to alcohol.

Alcohol Consumption And Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines

According to the 2019 survey, 23% of all Canadians who had drunk alcohol in the past year exceeded the low-risk drink guideline for chronic effects. In addition, 17% exceeded the guideline for acute effects. Men were more likely to exceed the guideline for acute risks at 19% compared to 15% of women and the chronic risk guideline by 24% compared to 22%.

Younger drinkers were more likely to exceed the guidelines of low-risk drinking. Canadians aged 20-24 had exceeded the acute risk guideline by 26% and chronic risk by 31%. The percentages were 13% and 23% for 15-19-year-olds and 17% and 22% for adults aged 25 and over.

What do these figures mean in practice? According to the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA), they mean that around 3.1 million Canadians are drinking enough to risk immediate injury and 4.4 million are at risk of chronic health effects.

Impact on Health in Canada

More than 105,000 hospitalisations and 700,000 visits to the emergency departments were linked to conditions caused by alcohol in 2017. During the same year, hospitalisations caused entirely by alcohol were similar to those caused by heart attacks.

The health effects from alcohol are dependent on the amount consumed with the likelihood of damage to health increasing with consumption. Increased use of alcohol has been linked to an increased risk of several cancers including oral, liver, colorectal, and female breast cancers. Approximately 3,282 cancer cases were attributable to alcohol in 2015.

Alcohol-Related Mortality

There are around 47,000 deaths linked to substance abuse every year in Canada. Around 3,790 deaths were alcohol-induced in 2020 and 3,860 in 2021.

Alcohol Addiction in Canada

Alcohol dependence or abuse is quite high in Canada, with one in five people aged 15 or over meeting the criteria at some point during their lifetime. It is the most common addictive substance used in Canada at 18%.

Drinking and Driving

While the percentage of driver fatalities caused by drunk driving decreased between 2008 and 2016 from 34% to 28%, too many Canadians are still driving after consuming alcohol. In 2019, 6% of Canadians admitted to driving two hours after consuming two or more drinks. Men were more than twice as likely to drive after drinking than women at 9% compared to 4%. Drink driving, at 7%, was the highest among 20-24-year-olds.

The 2019 survey also asked about being a passenger in a car driven by someone who had had a drink. 8% of Canadians who had consumed alcohol during the previous year had been in a car driven by someone who had been drinking. Only 2% of non-drinkers had been car passengers when the driver had had a drink before getting behind the wheel. Women, at 9%, were slightly more likely to have been passengers compared to 8% of men.

Alcohol During Pregnancy

In the 2019 alcohol survey, Canadian women aged 25-44 who had had children within the last five years were asked about alcohol consumption during pregnancy. 18% said they had drunk alcohol during the pregnancy. There were no observations on drinking while pregnant for women aged 15-24.

There is no known amount of alcohol that is safe to consume during pregnancy. According to CPHA, there were over 3,000 babies born with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) in Canada in 2017. Around 300,000 Canadian people are currently living with FASD. FASD costs Canadian society an estimated $1.8 billion.

The Alcohol Market in Canada

The market for alcoholic beverages in Canada is changing. While beer is still the most popular drink, the proportion of people drinking wine, spirits, and ready-to-drink options is growing. The sales of beer have been falling in Canada since 2008. In total, the consumption of alcohol has decreased in Canada.

Beer holds a 35% share of the Canadian alcoholic beverages market, but this is around 10% less than in 2010. The portion of wine sales, which have remained mostly unchanged, is dominated by red wine with $4.28 billion in sales in 2022, while the sales for white wine were $2.7 billion.

The sales of spirits and ready-to-drink options have grown as the sales of beer have decreased. Spirits now account for 26% of the market and ready-to-drink options for 8%. The market share of spirits has grown by more than 11% since 2010 but that is nothing compared to the 175% growth of ready-to-drink beverages.

Alcohol Sales in Canada

The liquor authorities sold on average 9.7 standard alcoholic beverages per week to Canadians who were of legal drinking age in 2020-21. 3.9 units sold were beer, 2.6 were spirits, 2.5 were wine, and 0.7 units were ciders and coolers. However, alcohol sales have dropped in Canada and were 1.2% lower in 2021-22 than in the previous year totalling 3,141 billion litres.

The sales for the alcohol industry in Canada were $23.6 billion in 2018-19. Beer sales contributed approximately $9.4 billion of the total sales, wines $7.5 billion, spirits $5.7 billion, and coolers, ciders, and ready-to-drink options $1.1 billion.

The average sales per person were $837 in between April 1 2020 and March 31 2021. This represents a 2.9% increase. During the same period, the government in Canada earned $422 per person of legal drinking age from controlling the sales of alcoholic beverages. The total income to the Canadian government was $12.4 billion, with about $6.57 billion in net income to liquor authorities and $5.84 billion in taxes and additional revenues.

Canadians Are Consuming More Domestic Beer, Wine, and Ciders

Canadians consumed more domestic wines in 2020-21 compared to ten years earlier at 32% compared to 30% in 2010-11. Consumption of domestic beer increased by one point from 84% to 85%, while domestic ciders and coolers were up from 77% to 86%. Spirits alone increased their imported share. In 2010-11 43% of spirits consumed in Canada were imported compared to 54% in 2020-21.

Summary

While alcohol sales are an important source of revenue for the Canadian government and many consider drinking a pleasure, there can be negative consequences to drinking when done in excess. Overall drinking has decreased in Canada but there are still millions of Canadians who can be categorised as heavy drinkers. The 20-24-year-olds are the biggest drinking age group, after that consumption drops a little. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Alcohol stays in your blood for up to 12 hours. The exact time depends on the amount consumed.

According to a drink and drugs survey from 2019, 76% of Canadians had drunk alcohol in the previous twelve months. However, the consumption of alcohol has decreased by 9% since 2008.

Approximately, 3,860 deaths in Canada were caused by alcohol in 2021.

Sources