Alcohol consumption

Annual alcohol consumption in BC

 

A graph of annual per capita alcohol consumption in BC and Canada

In the most recent year of our BC Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) Monitoring Project data (2020/21), BC recorded an increase of 0.13L in age 15+ per capita pure alcohol (ethanol) consumption, up to 9.32L from 9.19L. This means alcohol consumption in BC is at the highest it has ever been since CISUR started tracking it in 2001. This increase occurred in tandem with the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw loosening of alcohol policies in BC, particularly for private liquor stores, and is reflected in 2021 survey data from Statistics Canada showing 22% of British Columbians reported an increase in their drinking.

Age 15+ per capita alcohol consumption of 9.32 L equates to every British Columbian aged 15+ (jncluding non-drinkers) consuming an average of 547 bottles of beer a year, 10.5 per week or about 1.5 per day (regular strength 5% 341 mL bottles) or 104 average strength bottles of wine a year (12%, 750 mL bottles) or nearly two bottles of wine per week or 1.5 medium glasses per day.

In general, per capita alcohol consumption in BC has been sustained at a relatively high level for the past five years, having previously increased since the last financial crisis. Per capita alcohol consumption tends to follow the strength of the economy and is important to monitor because it directly predicts the numbers of people becoming injured or seriously ill as a result of their drinking. However data from the 2020/2021 fiscal year, when the COVID-19 pandemic affected virtually every aspect of peoples’ lives, including the economy, alcohol policy, and societal closures, has shown a decoupling of that relationship.

The most recent Statistics Canada data for per capita pure alcohol consumption in Canada (2019/20) saw a slight increase over the previous year, for a total of 8.1L per person aged 15+ per year (or bottles of 5% beer each per year). Their data saw BC hold steady at 8.8L for 2019/20, well above the Canadian average.

Our BC AOD Monitoring Project estimates show similar trends, but are able to provide more accurate data than Statistics Canada for a number of reasons:

  • U-Brew and U-Vin sales (i.e., home-produced alcohol) are included in the per capita consumption estimates
  • More accurate estimates of the ethanol strength of typical alcoholic beverages is used
  • More up-to-date population estimates from BC Statistics are used

Read more about our methodology.

You can view and download interactive maps and data tables of alcohol consumption in BC (2002-2020, broken down by Health Authority, Health Service Delivery Area and Local Health Area, as well as venue and beverage type) via our AOD Trend Analyzer Tool.

Alcohol consumption in BC by region

a map of alcohol consumption in BC by health authority

 

In 2020, the highest per capita alcohol consumption in BC was in the Interior (13.39L), Vancouver Island (11.54L) and Northern (10.78L) Health Authorities, with the lowest levels in the Vancouver (7.53) and Fraser (7.09) Health Authorities. Consumption in the Interior is almost double that in Fraser. 

Consumption was up in 2020 over 2019 in four of the five Health Authorities, with Vancouver Coastal seeing a reduction of 0.84L, or around 11 percent. The largest increase was in Fraser Health (0.4L).

For detailed interactive maps and historical consumption data, please visit our AOD Trend Analyzer tool.

 

A map of alcohol consumption in BC by Health Service Delivery Area

The Health Service Delivery Areas with the highest per capita alcohol consumption in 2020 were both in the Interior: Okanagan (14.44L) and East Kootenay (13.86L). Consumption was lowest in Fraser North (6.3L) and Richmond (4.04L).

For detailed interactive maps and historical consumption data, please visit our AOD Trend Analyzer tool.

Interior Health

per capita alcohol consumption by LHA in Interior Health

The LHAs with the highest per capita alcohol consumption in BC are both located in Interior Health: Southern Okanagan (27.05L) and Windermere (23.31L). Armstrong/Spallumcheem (8.88L) and Kettle Valley (10.96L) had the lowest per-capita consumption, but Kettle Valley was still above the provincial average.

 Consumption at the LHA level may not be as accurate as at the HSDA or HA level, as estimates are based on the sales data that might be largely affected by tourists, liquor store locations and other factors. The estimates thus may not reflect real consumption, particularly in LHAs with small population sizes.

For detailed interactive maps and historical consumption data, please visit our AOD Trend Analyzer tool.

Fraser Health

per capita alcohol consumption by LHA in Fraser Heatlh

Hope (15.24L) and Langley (10.91L) had the highest levels of per capita consumption in Fraser Health, with both being above the provincial average. Surrey (4.62L) and Burnaby (4.91L) had the lowest rates, and were some of the lowest-consuming LHAs in the province.

Consumption at the LHA level may not be as accurate as at the HSDA or HA level, as estimates are based on the sales data that might be largely affected by tourists, liquor store locations and other factors. The estimates thus may not reflect real consumption, particularly in LHAs with small population sizes.

For detailed interactive maps and historical consumption data, please visit our AOD Trend Analyzer tool.

 

Vancouver Coastal Health

per capita alcohol consumption by LHA in Vancouver Coastal Health

In Vancouver Coastal Health, consumption was often much higher in more rural areas versus urban ones. Howe Sound (16.26L) and Central Coast (16.11L) were the LHAs with the highest per capita consumption levels. Richmond (4.01L) and Vancouver-South (4.3L) had the lowest rates in Vancouver Coastal and some of the lowest in BC overall.

Consumption at the LHA level may not be as accurate as at the HSDA or HA level, as estimates are based on the sales data that might be largely affected by tourists, liquor store locations and other factors. The estimates thus may not reflect real consumption, particularly in LHAs with small population sizes.

For detailed interactive maps and historical consumption data, please visit our AOD Trend Analyzer tool.

Island Health

per capita alcohol consumption by LHA in Island Health

Cowichan Valley West (19.27L) and Southern Gulf Islands (14.76L) were the LHAs with the highest per-capita consumption levels in Island Health for 2020. The lowest were Cowichan Valley North (8.03L) and Greater Victoria (9.88L).

Consumption at the LHA level may not be as accurate as at the HSDA or HA level, as estimates are based on the sales data that might be largely affected by tourists, liquor store locations and other factors. The estimates thus may not reflect real consumption, particularly in LHAs with small population sizes.

For detailed interactive maps and historical consumption data, please visit our AOD Trend Analyzer tool.

Northern Health

per capita alcohol consumption by LHA in Northern Health

Stikine (19.87L) and Haida Gwaii (15.69L) had the highest levels of per capita  alcohol consumption in Northern Health. Nisga’a and Telegraph Creek both reported 0L of alcohol consumption in 2020 due to a lack of sales data.

Consumption at the LHA level may not be as accurate as at the HSDA or HA level, as estimates are based on the sales data that might be largely affected by tourists, liquor store locations and other factors. The estimates thus may not reflect real consumption, particularly in LHAs with small population sizes.

For detailed interactive maps and historical consumption data, please visit our AOD Trend Analyzer tool.

Alcohol consumption in BC by venue

ac-estimates-by-venue

In 2020/21, private liquor stores accounted for 55% of the per capita alcohol consumption, or 22.5 million litres of the total volume of pure alcohol sold in the province. This is a large increase over 2019/20, where 47% of alcohol consumed in BC was purchased in private liquor stores. This is a continuation of trends we observed in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the pandemic began, BC loosened regulations and expanded services offered by off-premise alcohol outlets, particularly private liquor stores, including increased hours of operation, ramping up of home delivery options, and provincial funding for businesses to develop better online ordering options.

Government liquor stores also saw an increase in sales, but not as large as what was measured at private stores. Private stores  became overtook government liquor stores as the leading purveyor of alcohol in BC in 2010. Our previous BC research shows how private liquor stores contribute to increased consumption and harm.

In contrast to off-premise alcohol outets like liquor stores, on-premise establishments such as restaurants and bars saw their alcohol consumption drop markedly, with restaurants experiencing a 46% decrease and bars a 60% decrease in 2020/21 over 2019/20. This is likely due to forced closures and capacity limits enacted at various stages of the pandemic.

While off-premise consumption has gone up and on-premise has gone down, it is worth noting that the increase in consumption attributed to government and private liquor stores is larger than the decrease experienced by bars and restaurants, hence the increase in overall per capita alcohol consumption for 2020/21.

Alcohol consumption in BC by beverage type

Per capita litres of alcohol consumption by beverage type in BC

  • Data is reported in litres of absolute alcohol. 1 Litre of Absolute Alcohol = 58.65 Standard Drinks
  • Want to know how many standard drinks are in an alcohol container? Try our drink calculator.

Beer continues to be the beverage type most consumed in BC, although its relative market share has been decreasing since 2016/17. Spirits and wine are almost identical in terms of consumption rates (2.56L for wine and 2.53L for spirits). Coolers have been steadily increasing in popularity the past few years, although have the smallest share of consumption.

Alcohol outlets in BC

alcohol outlets in bc

 Number of alcohol outlets per capita, byyear

 

As of March 31, 2021, there were a total of 6,208 alcohol outlets in BC that were actively involved in sales on a monthly basis, including restaurants, bars, and government and private liquor stores. This is a decrease of 1,719 venues over 2019/20 numbers, due to large decreases in the numbers of bars and restaurants that were in active operation during any month.

However, the number of private liquor stores, where most alcohol in BC is sold, has been steadily increasing. There has been a 160% increase in private stores since 2001, with an increase of nearly 50 in the past year alone, bringing the total to 1,442 outlets, or 33.14 outlets per person aged 15+ in BC. The ratio of private to government-owned stores has increased from 2.5:1 to 7:1 over the past 20 years, and private liquor stores now outnumber bars in BC for the first time ever.

Alcohol consumption in BC during COVID-19

We estimated per capita alcohol consumption using alcohol sales data from the British Columbia (BC) provided by the British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch (BCLDB) and the population data projected by BC Stats during the period from January to December 2012-2019 and January to July 2020.

Estimates were made of the monthly number of standard drinks (SD=17.05 mL or 13.45 g of pure alcohol) consumed per adult aged 15 years or older in total, by type of outlets (restaurant, bar, government liquor store and private liquor store) and type of alcoholic beverages (beer, cooler, spirit and wine) during the period from January to December 2012-2019 and January to July 2020. Given that the sales data here represents when the BCLDB sold wholesale products to outlets and not when someone purchased the product at a licensed establishment or liquor store, there is a delay between the sale to the outlet and the purchase by the individual consumer.

A line chart of alcohol consumption during COVID-19
So far, alcohol consumption during the pandemic in 2020 has tended to have a different pattern than previous years.

The above chart shows estimates of per capita monthly standard drinks of total alcohol consumption during the pandemic period from January to July 2020, January to December 2019 and average of per capita monthly standard drinks in 2012-2019. There have been seasonal changes in alcohol consumption in BC over years, with lowest consumption in January and February of every year, with peaks over the summer and in December. However, consumption during the pandemic in 2020 tended to have a different pattern. There was a marked increase in March, a slight decrease in April and gradually increased since May. This suggests an effect related to the pandemic and related restrictions declared by the provincial and federal governments. Further research is needed.

In July 2020, the most recent month for which we have sales data, alcohol consumption peaked at about 50 standard drinks per month for every person aged 15+ in BC, which is almost two drinks a day. According to the 2017 Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drug Survey, the current male and female drinkers accounted for 77.29% and 73.34% of population aged 15. Adding unrecorded alcohol consumption such as home-made to the estimates would further increase average consumption. Current low-risk drinking guidelines recommend no more than 10 standard drinks per week for women and 15 for men, meaning that many British Columbians are drinking above these limits, especially when we consider that this number includes all people over the age of 15 in BC, not just drinkers of legal drinking age. Monthly alcohol consumption in BC in the first half of 2020 was mostly higher compared with previous years.

Consumption by BC Restart Phase

A line chart of alcohol consumption by week in BC

This figure shows per capita weekly 2020 consumption compared to that of 2019, with various Phases of BC’s Restart Plan marked. As we can see, the largest increase in consumption (over 40 percent) was immediately after Phase 1 in March (the first major lockdown) was announced, although it was also the phase with two weeks of the lowest consumption drops, likely due to stockpiling early on in the phase. However, overall consumption in this phase remained above 2019 levels, with slight dips in Phase 2 and the beginning of Phase 3, with consumption starting to go above 2019 levels by July.

Deseasonalized monthly consumption

A line graph of deseasonalized alcohol consumption in BC

 

This chart and all following figures all present ‘de-seasonalised’ data to see how monthly alcohol consumption compares with the levels typically seen previously for that time of year. This figure shows a peak of increased consumption during the lockdown in March 2020, followed by levels that were mostly equal to or higher than in 2019.

Consumption by venue

A line chart of monthly alcohol consumption by venue

This figure presents the estimates of per capita monthly standard drinks by establishments (restaurant, bar, government liquor stores and private liquor stores) in January-July of 2020 and all of 2019. After removing the seasonality, we see that private liquor stores had the largest sales increase over 2019, with government stores seeing a small increase after a March bump. Sales at bars and restaurants declined during COVID-19, which is unsurprising given the closure of many on-premise venues at the beginning of the lockdown.

As lockdown measures were relaxed, in-person dining was allowed to resume and restaurants were allowed to sell take-away alcohol with food orders, restaurants and bars did see some sale increases over the summer, but only to about half of what they were during the same period in 2019. While both private and government liquor stores saw a large increase in sales at the beginning of the lockdown in March, the greatest increase in alcohol sales occurred for private liquor stores.

Private stores saw their sales peak in April (government stores saw their peak in March, which may be because data for government sales is point-of-sale, as opposed to when venues purchasing from the government wholesaler) and have remained well above their average for the same time period in 2019. This may be due to the fact that private stores have expanded services such as home deliveries, many of which require minimum order thresholds which could encourage bulk buying. Private stores were also permitted to change their operating hours from 7am-11pm, although it is unclear if many outlets have taken advantage of this. Alcohol delivery from liquor stores has also been increasingly available on food-delivery apps, but not for government liquor stores. Further research is needed.  

Consumption by beverage type

A line graph of alcohol consumption in BC by beverage type

This chart presents the estimates of per capita monthly standard drinks by types of alcoholic beverages (beer, cooler, spirit and wine) in January-July of 2020 and for all of 2019. Compared to monthly 2019 data, spirits and coolers showed the most consistent increase in sales, with wine and spirits experiencing a noticeable bump in March 2020 when lockdown orders came into effect (wine sales have varied slightly compared to the same monthly periods in 2019, but are seeing stronger sales overall). Beer sales have declined compared to 2019 since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.