Canada, Drug and Alcohol Use in

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Alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis are the most prevalent drugs of abuse in Canada. A 1996 national survey found that 76.8 percent of Canadian adults aged 15 and over were current drinkers (who had consumed Alcohol at least once in the past year); an additional 13.5 percent said they were former drinkers, while only 9.7 percent said they never drank. Per-adult consumption was about 450 drinks per year (7.64 l) of absolute alcohol (ethanol). Overall alcohol consumption has decreased in Canada since the 1980s.

In 1996, 29 percent of adults were current smokers and another 29 percent were former smokers. Overall, the percentage of the population who smoke has been dropping since the 1970s. Practically all Tobacco is consumed as cigarettes, with daily consumption per smoker estimated at 20.6 (more than one pack) in 1996.

The 1994 national survey found that 23.1 percent of adults had used Marijuana or Hashish at some point, while 7.4 percent had used it the past year. Less than one percent were current Cocaine or Crack users, and 3.8 percent had used it at some time. Also, 1.1 percent of adults had used Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD), Amphetamines (speed), or Heroin in the past year, and 5.9 percent had used them at some point.

High school students and "street" kids reported the use of numerous illegal drugs, such as LSD, Hallucinogens, speed, heroin, glue and other In-Halants, or made nonprescription use of stimulants, Barbiturates, and tranquilizers. Most indigenous youth smoke and have rates of alcohol problems and illicit drug use several times higher than the national average. Almost all street youth in Toronto used alcohol and one or more illicit drugs.

The 1996 survey found that 4.5 percent of adults used sleeping pills, 4.3 percent used tranquilizers such as Valium, .9 percent used diet pills or stimulants, 3 percent used antidepressants, and 13 percent used narcotic painkillers such as Demerol, morphine, or codeine. (In Canada, codeine of less than 8 milligrams per tablet is an over-the-counter drug.)

Alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drug use is generally higher among Canadian men than women, but prescription psychoactive-drug use is greater in women. For all types of licit and illicit drugs except tranquilizers and barbiturates, male Canadian students are heavier users than are females.


A 1993 survey found that 5.1 percent of current drinkers had had a physical health problem due to their drinking at some point. About 2 percent said it had interfered with their friendships or social life, and 2.1 percent said it had affected their home lives or marriages. Finally, 4.7 percent said it affected their financial positions.

In 1996, about 8 percent of current drinkers reported drinking and driving. Of fatally injured drivers who had been tested, 45 percent had positive Blood Alcohol Concentrations (BAC), with 28 percent exceeding 150 milligrams. (The legal level in Canada for impairment is 80 milligrams.)

In 1996, there were 95,877 federal drunk driving offenses, although the number has been declining for several years. Most offenses are for impaired operation of motor vehicles, but about 8 percent are for refusal or failure to provide a breath sample. There were 16,239 people jailed for drunk driving offenses in 1996, about 20 percent of all jailed people.

In 1996, there were 194,916 provincial liquor act offenses, and 14,329 juvenile offenders were convicted in liquor act offenses. However, only 1,201 people were jailed for liquor act offenses, as most are dealt with by fines, suspended sentences, or attendance at detoxification centers.

In 1996, there were 65,106 illicit drug offenses of all types with most (47,002) being for cannabis; there were 11,188 offenses for cocaine and 1,233 for heroin. Almost all convictions were under the Alcoholic Control Act. Offenses under the Food and Drug Act, which covers LSD, stimulants, and non-narcotic drugs were 1,306.

In 1996, 8,684 people were sent to federal or provincial prisons for drug offenses, the majority of which were for cannabis and cocaine related offenses; they constituted about 16 percent of all federal jail prisoners and 7 percent of provincial jail prisoners.


In 1996 about 400,000 Canadians were alcohol dependent (2.7% of all adults). The total number treated for alcohol dependence is unknown but probably no more than half have been treated. In 1996, 81,000 cases were treated in hospitals for the consequences of alcohol problems, such as car accidents, drownings, falls, liver problems, strokes, gastrointestinal problems, and many other causes. There were over 7,000 cases treated in hospitals because of illicit drugs. This included drug psychoses, poisonings, dependency, and various types of accidents.


In 1995, there were 6,701 deaths directly due to alcohol diagnoses. The larger proportions were due to motor vehicle accidents (1,444 persons), suicide (955 persons), liver disease (1,037 persons), alcohol dependence (590 persons), and accidental falls (452 persons). Other causes include various cancers, circulatory problems, and accidents. There were only 804 deaths attributed to illicit drug use in 1995. The majority were due to suicide (329 persons), opiate poisoning (160 persons), and AIDS (83 persons).


Adrian, M., Jull, P., & Williams R. T. (B.) (1989). Statistics on alcohol and drug use in Canada and other countries: Data available by 1988. Toronto: Addiction Research Foundation.

Single, E., Williams, B., & Mc Kenzie, D. (1994). Canadian profile: Alcohol, tobacco and other drugs 1994. Ottawa and Toronto: The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and the Addiction Research Foundation of Ontario.

Single, E., et al. (1999). Canadian profile: Alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. Ottawa and Toronto: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

Statistics Canada. (1998). National Population Health Survey, 1996-1997, Ottawa.

Manuella Adrian

Revised by Reginald G. Smart

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