As most non-essential businesses are shut down, forced to reduce hours, or finding innovative ways to survive, it makes the glowing neon “OPEN” sign of liquor stores really stand out.
Not only are booze sales are up, but on April 17, the province lifted restrictions for liquor stores (public and private) to expand their hours from between 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, if they choose to do so (one of the reasons is to support visiting hours specifically for seniors).
The provision of liquor is included as an essential service by the province.
And yet, in Victoria, two of the country’s leading alcohol researchers are saying the province should be limiting the hours and accessibility, not expanding them.
“It’s the wrong call they should be doing it the other way,” said Tim Stockwell, a University of Victoria professor who heads the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research. “There should be restrictions on alcohol and it’s curious to identify alcohol services as essential when we are concerned with the burden on health care.”
Research shows that alcohol-related incidents are a burden that keep hospitals busy and outnumbered heart attacks in Canada by three times last year, Stockwell said.
He also criticized the idea that some local companies will only deliver if the booze order hits a minimum amount, saying there should be no minimum but instead a maximum.
“In Nunavut one chain of stores has limited sales of liquor to three days a week and 12 bottles of beer [or equivalent] per purchase,” Stockwell said.
The province calls the expanded hours as “time-limited” to “provide seniors and immuno-compromised populations the opportunity to buy liquor during early shopping hours such as some grocery stores do, and to support physical distancing efforts.
One of the underlying arguments in addition to a Canadian’s right to enjoy recreational alcohol is that there is a segment of the population addicted to alcohol who might experience withdrawal.
Bernie Pauly, another UVic professor who is part of the Canadian Managed Alcohol Program study with Stockwell, noted that about 80 per cent of Canadians drink, and about four or five per cent have a disorder (according to the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction). And an even smaller number of the population would go into severe withdrawal if they were cut off.
“For the majority of the population the recommendation that I would make is to follow safer drinking guidelines,” Pauly said, adding, “What are the real reasons for drinking, if not social?”
For those casual drinkers the Centre on Substance Use and Addiction recommends 10 drinks a week for women, with no more than two drinks a day and 15 drinks a week for men, with no more than three a day as men and woman metabolize alcohol differently. The Centre also recommends drink-free days.
One could surmise that cutting off people who are dependent on alcohol could lead to them accessing health care to deal with withdrawal. But there are a number of drugs that could be prescribed for alcohol if someone has a serious disorder, Pauly said.
For others, this might be a good time to cut down or maintain, and not exceed, the safe drinking guidelines, she added.
Plus, now is not a good time to be impaired or to compromise your overall health with drinking, Stockwell said.
“Is alcohol a good idea when we need social distancing and vigilance about touching?” Stockwell said. “If you have a respiratory condition, you’re more likely to get pneumonia. There’s research on that.”