VICTORIA -- According to a report from researchers at the University of Victoria, British Columbians have been drinking more alcohol during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study by the university’s Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR) found that alcohol consumption began to spike during the “lockdown” in late March. The study also noted there was a significant rise in alcohol purchased at liquor stores in the subsequent months as pandemic restrictions required people to stay home.

“When COVID first hit in mid-March, people drank a lot more,” said CISUR researcher Tim Stockwell. “We’ve analyzed sales data from the whole of B.C. and we see sales from private stores skyrocketed.”

Stockwell says the research team found that after the B.C. government permitted home delivery of alcohol by licensed private liquor stores, sales increased by 18 per cent from March to July 2020. He says there was an increase of eight per cent at government liquor stores during the same period.

“Overall, people in B.C. are drinking more than they did in 2019 at the same time of year,” said Stockwell. “We assume people are drinking more at home because the sales are predominately from liquor stores.”

UVic researchers say that home delivery of alcohol is a factor that has contributed to the increase in alcohol consumption. After the first few months of the pandemic, home delivery of alcohol accounted for as much as 70 per cent of sales in B.C.

“We focus on the moment, of course, but in the long term we are setting the scene for more adverse effects from alcohol,” said Stockwell. “To put that in perspective, twice as many people in Canada will die this year from alcohol than from COVID.”

Researchers analyze weekly data provided by the BC Liquor Distribution Branch. They say the data shows that as the COVID-19 pandemic has progressed sales at private liquor stores have remained high. Stockwell says the team noticed a marked decline in alcohol being consumed outside of people’s homes in bars and restaurants due to the industry’s total closure during the lockdown and limited capacity once it reopened.

“There are a few factors that may cause people to drink more,” said Stockwell. “Liquor store prices are lower than bar or restaurant prices, and people who are working have more disposable income because there is less to spend your money on when you are home all the time.”

According to CISUR researchers, alcohol and COVID-19 have the potential of being a lethal combination. They say more drinking, including binge drinking in the home, contributes to an increase in domestic violence.

“As consumption rises, the number of heavy drinkers increases and that puts more people at risk,” said Stockwell. “Collectively, we see more deaths, more hospital admissions and alcohol-involved crime with increased alcohol consumption.”

To help curb alcohol consumption during and after the pandemic, researchers say short- and long-term policy changes are needed. They say there should be a limit to how much alcohol can be purchased in liquor stores in addition to the removal of minimum order limits for deliveries.

“You should be able to order one bottle of wine with a delivery fee,” said Stockwell. “That may be a sensible compromise so people could still get alcohol and it may prevent them from drinking everyday.”

Stockwell says the B.C. government should also consider increasing the minimum price per drink in the province. He says by making lower-priced alcohol more expensive would help to save lives.

“It would only target cheap alcohol and take it out of the equation and it would protect a lot of vulnerable people,” said Stockwell. “We have to be careful because COVID will be gone one day, so I’m hoping that these relaxations of regulations are shelved when COVID is over.”