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Recession linked to increased substance use

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Daily alcohol consumption increased in Ontario in 2009 to 9%, up from 5.3% in 2002, according to a recent survey done by Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Photo illustration by Jennifer Bowman

By Jennifer Bowman

A rise in alcohol and marijuana use may be connected to the recession, says the author of a provincial survey.

Dr. Robert Mann is the senior scientist and lead investigator of a survey done by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health that has been tracking Canadian mental health and addictions for the past 32 years.

According to the survey, Ontarians who reported drinking daily increased from 5.3% in 2002 to over 9% in 2009. The average number of drinks in a week also jumped from three to 4.6. Cannabis users also increased from 8.7% in 1996 to 13.3% in 2009.

The survey doesn’t explain the cause, but he can speculate, said Mann. He noted that in 2009 there was quite a severe economic recession, which may have affected the psychiatric distress leading to an increase in alcohol and cannabis use.

Cindy Kirkpatrick, Hastings Prince Edward Health Unit public health nurse, said there may be another reason – alcohol advertising.

“One of the things contributing to the increased alcohol numbers is increased advertising,” said Kirkpatrick.

There are no strict guidelines around alcohol advertising but she has seen an increase in the advertising of alcohol products locally, said Kirkpatrick.

Alcohol advertising means children are more likely to start drinking sooner and possibly more, she said. People should start complaining about it.

Trends haven’t changed at the Addictions Centre of Hastings Prince Edward County Inc. though.

“It’s pretty constant in our business. It’s alcohol, cannabis, top two. Has been for the last 30 years, 35 years. Probably not ever going to change,” said Cate Sutherland, executive director of the centre.

According to the survey, those who use marijuana the most are on the opposite ends of the spectrum – the young and the old. Cannabis use doubled among 18 to 29-year-olds, and tripled for those 50-years and older.

This isn’t the age group the addictions centre sees.

It takes awhile for people to develop a problem, said Sutherland. The age group of people they see most often are around age 35 to 50.

According to Mann, the trend is a cohort effect.

“Every generation takes it’s own path,” said Mann. “And there are societal attitudes may be different towards cannabis now than they were then. The availability of the substance is an important issue. I think there’s a sense also that cannabis is a safer innocuous drug.”

Much of the survey’s data reflected a change in the young adult cohort. Mann says they will be watching that group closely.

The recession may have affected young people more than the rest of society, said Mann. They may have a new family, be more likely to lose their job or may have a more difficult time financially.

Mann said there may be other explanations for the trend. Either way, the change has him concerned.

“These are a change in the trends that we’ve been seeing for a number of years, so often times when these long-term indicators turn around, they turn around and go on for an extended period of time.”

Mann is worried that could indicate an increase of alcohol use and problems.

“Most of us are moderate drinkers and we drink without problems, however a substantial portion of the population does experience problems.”