Healthy coping strategies to counter unhealthy substance use during COVID-19

July 20, 2020 – Defence Stories

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on many people’s mental and physical well-being. One side effect of COVID-19 has been increased alcohol consumption amongst Canadians.

According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (leaving the Government of Canada website), 1 in 5 Canadians who drink alcohol have reported drinking more since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The main reported factors influencing this increase in drinking are stress (44%), boredom (49%), and lack of a regular schedule (51%).

Furthermore, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (leaving the Government of Canada website) found that from May 29 to June 1, 2020, 31.2% of Canadian males and 18.0% of females engaged in binge drinking. Of those who reported to have engaged in binge drinking, they attributed this to their worries about finances, the virus itself, the impact on their employment, and the potential risk of exposure to / contracting of COVID-19 at their workplace.

We are all learning to adapt to a new lifestyle that has been imposed upon us for public health and safety reasons and this can be causing stress and anxiety. Do you find yourself consuming alcohol and/or other substances more frequently than you normally would? If you drink alcohol, drinking it in moderation can help to lower the risks of alcohol-related harm. Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines (PDF - leaving the Government of Canada website) can support individuals in making informed choices about alcohol consumption and reducing the short and long-term health risks.

It is important to practice healthy coping strategies during these difficult times. Take some time to reflect on what these may be for you. Some examples may include exercise, healthy eating, hobbies, and social connectedness – both virtual and in-person when safe to do so. Individuals have their own preferences and it is worth exploring what works for you when it comes to reducing stress.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction provides numerous tips on how to cope with stress and anxiety when substance use is a concern:

  • Stay active and take care of your body. Distract yourself with activities you enjoy that will benefit your mental health. Nourish your body with healthy foods, sleep well, and take some time to practice mindfulness.
  • Find a balance and be kind to yourself. This pandemic is difficult to manage. Remind yourself that you are doing your best and that it’s ok to not always feel like yourself.
  • Never hesitate to reach out for help. When you need to access help, seek professional support or reach out to a family member, a friend, or a colleague. The support you need is available.

Get help

The Department of National Defence (DND) and Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) have programs and support services for Defence Team members. If you require immediate support please contact the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or the Canadian Forces Member Assistance Program (CFMAP). CAF members may also contact their local health care clinic for support and assessment.

Civilian employees

Civilian employees struggling with substance use can get support through their local provincial and territorial resource.

CAF members

The CAF also has various programs and services available for members struggling with substance use:

  • Addiction awareness and prevention – Issues related to cannabis, alcohol, drugs, gambling, and tobacco consumption. Live an addiction-free lifestyle within the CAF.
  • Addiction Treatment Programs - Provides assessment and treatment to CAF members struggling with alcohol, drugs, and gambling, as well as other addictions.
  • Canadian Forces Member Assistance Program - CAF members, Veterans, and their families can access free, confidential counselling, 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-268-7708 or TDD 1-800-567-5803 (hearing impaired).

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