There’s no doubt that isolation makes it easier to drink or smoke more.


In normal times, some beer and weed can be a bit of fun, an escape, or more seriously, for gauze over the real problems in one’s life. Now, in the pandemic era, we’re cut off from physical contact from our friends and family and the spectre of the virus hangs over every bit of news and conversation. Of course you’d want a drink.

The CBC reached out to liquor stores across the country, and while not all gave exact numbers for March, all revealed a large increase in the sales of alcohol. Quebec likened it to the Christmas sales rush, while B.C. “saw over-the-counter sales jump by 40 per cent in March compared with February, with bulk sizes of liquor, beer and wine up more than 120 per cent.”

Similarly, in mid-March, the Ontario Cannabis Store saw an 80 to 100 per cent increase in sales.

For those that are tempted, those that are dependent, or those that are struggling with addiction, however, this presents a real and immediate issue. When you’re cut off from the supports and routine that had been helping you back to recovery, what do you do?

“It’s really helpful to break down what has been helpful and try to keep those things,” says Dr. Leslie Buckley, the chief of addiction at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). “If you [are used to] a really structured day, try to build that again into your new schedule. That might mean new hobbies or crafts — some people are doing a lot of baking. It’s [about] trying to keep yourself busy and distracted.”

If exercise was what helped before, then maintaining some level of fitness is important. If lots of social interaction was critical to recovery, then that means picking up the phone and calling those most important to you. Every person has different strategies, what matters is knowing what works.

“Can you engage in relaxation techniques, can you reach out to family or friends for support?” says Nicholas Mitchell, the Alberta Health Services’ provincial director for addiction and mental health. “If you’re a person of faith, are there faith-based practices you can engage in?”

Buckley also suggests SmartRecovery, an online community of mutual support groups for addiction. Alcoholics Anonymous has been continuing meetings over Zoom, so if you find yourself in a scenario where you’re able to continue meetings virtually, Buckley recommends you do so.

Whether or not you are suffering from addiction, there’s no doubt that quarantine and isolation provides more opportunities to drink or smoke. There are not only feeling of loneliness and boredom, which can encourage alcohol and weed consumption, but also we may have more free time on our hands — parents who don’t need to drive their children around anymore, or people who no longer have to get up early for work.

“We can see a point in their life when drinking increased and we can see a reason for that like divorce, hard job situation or a loss,” says Buckley, referring to the patients he works with. “Sometimes, the way an alcohol problem develops is unseen by the person, where it goes from being more of an option or a choice and quietly changes as your brain adapts, and it shifts suddenly to more of an ingrained habit.”

One trick to help you drink less is to alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, he says, which limits how much you can actually consume. While everyone has different preferences for their drink of choice, say, if you’re drinking hard liquor it would be a good idea to switch to beer, or from white wine to red wine.

“In the time of COVID-19 you’re not drinking in a bar or with other people,” says Buckley. “So you don’t want to start thinking about drinking during your regular activities, like watching movies. If you’ve only ever drank socially, you don’t want to start drinking during times you weren’t before.”

For anyone struggling with their consumption of alcohol or cannabis, Mitchell says that the coping strategies are the same.

“…[Alcohol and cannabis] tend to have similar patterns, there’s a social aspect for a lot of folks,” says Mitchell. “I wouldn’t suggest there’s different coping strategies. For whatever substance you’re using, you just want to make sure that you’re not unintentionally falling into a pattern of routinely using more.”

Jessica Nudo already worked from home before the pandemic, so she had some practice with managing her cannabis consumption before self-isolation became a thing.

“I think seasoned consumers who already smoke a lot of cannabis per day, if they’re patients, they have a certain threshold they’re used to and they don’t have a negative reaction,” says Nudo. “My own experience has been that yes it does give me anxiety, I think because I’ve been spending a lot more time online.”

To that end, she has mostly been consuming CBD and low-THC strains with a vaporizer, as that produces less psychoactive effects. Of course, like alcohol consumption, what works for one person may not for another. She has also been using yoga and Instagram Live workouts to compliment her consumption.

Generally, Buckley recommends checking out Canada’s low risk alcohol drinking guidelines, developed by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction. To avoid long-term health risks, it suggests no more than ten drinks a week and two a day for women, and no more than 15 a week and three a day for men.

For non-medical cannabis use, CAMH has their low health risk recommendations. Mitchell also stresses that Alberta’s detox and treatment facilities are still open “for those that are healthy and don’t need to self-isolate,” as well as their 24/7 helpline.

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Jessica Nudo

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