Highlights: Alcohol and Other Drugs Use by Canadian Youth

         A National Alcohol and Other Drugs Survey (1989) Report


Marc Eliany, Scot Wortley and Ed Adlaf





n     Telephone interviews were conducted in March 1989 with 11,634 adult Canadians aged 15 years and older, selected at random from all ten provinces.  The response rate to the survey was 79%, indicative of a highly representative sample of Canadians.


n    This report focuses specifically on questionnaire responses provided by 1,887 youth and young adults aged 15 to 24. Selected comparisons are also made between youth and older respondents.







n     About eight in ten (81%) Canadians aged 15 to 24 are current drinkers; that is, they have consumed alcohol at least once during the 12 months prior to the survey.  An additional 11% are former drinkers, having consumed alcohol at some time in their life, but not within the previous 12 months, while 8% report that they have never consumed an alcoholic beverage.


n     Fewer young Canadians are drinking and those who are drinking are drinking less.  The percentage of current drinkers declined from 81% in 1985 to 74% in 1989 among 15- to 19-year-olds and from 92% in 1985 to 88% in 1989 among 20- to 24-year-olds.


n    The amount of alcohol consumed has also declined.  Among 15- to 19-year-old drinkers, the average number of drinks consumed during the seven days prior to the survey declined from 3.3 drinks in 1985 to 2.4 in 1989.  Among 20- to 24-year-old drinkers, consumption declined from 6.0 drinks in 1985 to 4.3 in 1989.




n    Most drinkers aged 15 to 24 drink infrequently.  About 29% drink less than once per month, 28% drink one to three times per month, 21% drink about once a week, and 22% drink two or more times per week.




n    On average, current drinkers consumed 3.4 drinks during the seven days prior to the survey.


n     About half (52%) of all drinkers aged 15 to 24 did not drink during the seven days prior to the survey.  One-third (34%) consumed between one and seven drinks, and 14% consumed eight drinks or more.




Patterns of Alcohol Use




n    The proportion of Canadians aged 15 to 24 who are current drinkers tends to increase from east to west, with the Atlantic provinces having the lowest rate (75%), followed by Ontario (78%), Quebec (83%), the Prairie provinces (87%) and British Columbia (86%).


n     Canadians from the Atlantic provinces also consume less alcohol than those from other regions.  On average, the number of drinks consumed per week by people in Atlantic Canada was 2.5 drinks, followed by Quebec (3.0 drinks), Ontario and British Columbia (3.6 drinks) and the Prairie provinces (4.1 drinks).




n    Male youth are more likely to be current drinkers than are their female counterparts (85% vs. 78%), and differences between males and females tend to increase with age.


n    Male drinkers consume more alcohol and consume it more frequently than do female drinkers.  Over half (55%) of male drinkers consume alcohol weekly compared to 30% of female drinkers.  Males consume, on average, 4.3 drinks per occasion, compared to 3.0 drinks among females.  Males consumed 4.8 drinks during the seven days prior to the survey versus 1.9 drinks among female drinkers.


n     Males also drink more heavily than do female drinkers.  Forty-three percent of male drinkers consumed five or more drinks on six or more occasions in the year prior to the survey, compared to 20% of female drinkers.




n     Alcohol consumption increases with age.  Some 63% of Canadians aged 15 or 16 consumed alcohol in the year prior to the survey, compared to 80% of 17- to 19-year-olds and 88% of 20-to 24-year-olds.


n     Older youth, those aged 20 to 24 years, report more frequent and heavier drinking than do younger youth.  Twenty-eight percent of 20- to 24-year-olds drink at least twice a week versus 7% of 15- and 16-year-olds.  On average, 20- to 24-year-olds consume 4.3 drinks per week, followed by 3.0 drinks among 17- to 19-year-olds and 1.0 drink among those aged 15 and 16.  Seventy-one percent of 20-24 year old drinkers report consuming five or more drinks on a single occasion versus 53% of 15- and 16-year-olds.



Alcohol-related Problems


Problems Due to Own Use


n     About one-quarter (23%) of drinkers aged 15 to 24 report experiencing an alcohol-related problem in the year preceding the survey.


n    The most frequently cited problems among drinkers were physical health (11%), followed by problems with friends and social relations (9%), financial problems (9%), happiness and outlook (6%), work or school (5%) and home life (5%).


n     Among drinkers aged 15 to 24, males are more likely than females to report alcohol-related problems (28% vs. 18%).


n     Drinkers aged 15 to 24 report the highest rate of experiencing an alcohol problem (23%) versus all other age groups (13% among 25- to 34-year-olds, 11% among 35- to 44-year-olds, 8% among 45- to 54-year-olds, 5% among 55- to 64-year-olds, and 4% among those 65 and older).


n    Five percent of drinkers aged 15 to 24 report experiencing three or more alcohol-related problems during the 12 months prior to the survey.


Drinking and Driving


n     About one in five (21%) drivers aged 15 to 19 and one-third (30%) of drivers aged 20 to 24 report driving within an hour of consuming two or more alcoholic beverages.

n     Regardless of age, male drivers are more likely than female drivers to drink and drive.


Problems Due to Others' Drinking


n     Sixty-nine percent of young Canadians surveyed report experiencing at least one of ten problems caused by other people's drinking during the 12 months prior to the survey.  The most commonly cited problems were being humiliated or insulted (38%), being disturbed by loud parties (35%), having arguments (32%), being the passenger with a drinking driver (23%), being pushed, hit or assaulted (18%).


n     Female youth were more likely than male youth to experience family problems due to someone else drinking (17% vs. 7%), while male youth were more likely to report being a passenger in a car with a drinking driver (27% vs. 19%), or being pushed, hit or assaulted (21% vs. 14%).



Reasons for Drinking


n    The most common reasons given by youth for their drinking were to be sociable (69%), to feel good (42%), to relax (39%), to enjoy meals (32%), to feel less inhibited or less shy (23%), and to forget worries (16%).


n     Drinking for sociability or relaxation increases with age, while drinking to forget worries and to feel less inhibited or shy decreases with age.


n     Reasons for drinking are related to consumption.  Youth who report drinking to forget worries consume more drinks per week (6.5 drinks) compared with those who report drinking for social reasons (3.8 drinks).


Drinking Companions and Settings


n     Drinking among youth is a social activity.  The majority of drinkers (84%) report never drinking alone; 8% drank alone less than once a month, and 7% drank alone at least once a month.


n     Friends are by far the most frequent drinking companions of youth.  About two-thirds (65%) of drinkers consumed alcohol with friends at least once a month, followed by family members (24%), and co-workers or students (19%).


n     Regardless of age or gender, youth are most likely to drink when they engage in the following activities: go to a bar or tavern; attend a party, social occasion or wedding; engage in an outdoor leisure activity; or attend a concert, sports game or festival.


Attitudes toward Drinking


n    The majority of Canadian youth believe that at least some drinking is acceptable at bars, parties and with friends at home.


n     Drinking is less accepted for co-workers having lunch, with people at sports events, and with friends after work.


n     Young males tend to hold less restrictive attitudes about drinking than do female youth.






n     Thirty percent of Canadians aged 15 to 24 are current smokers; and 14 percent are former smokers (i.e., smoked in their lifetime but not in the 12 months prior to the survey).  Among smokers, 35% smoked less than 11 cigarettes daily, 58% smoked between 11 and 25 cigarettes, and 4% smoked 25 or more cigarettes daily.


n     Current smoking is highest among youth in the Prairie provinces (35%), followed by the Atlantic provinces (34%), Quebec (31%), Ontario (29%) and British Columbia (20%).  However, smoking more than 25 cigarettes daily is highest among youth smokers from Quebec (6.3%) and British Columbia (6.0%), followed by the Atlantic provinces (5.4%), Ontario (3.0%) and the Prairie provinces (1.9%).


n    The prevalence and level of smoking increases with age.  Thirteen percent of 15- to 16-year-olds are current smokers, compared to 28% of 17- to 19-year-olds and 37% or 20- to 24-year-olds.


n     Rates of current smoking vary little by gender; about one-third of males and females report current smoking.




n     About one-third (34%) of Canadian youth report having used  an illicit drug at some point in their life.  Use of an illicit drug is more likely among males (37%) than females (30%), and increases with age (15% among 15- to 16-year-olds, 28% among 17- to 19-year-olds and 43% among 20- to 24-year-olds).


n     Cannabis (marijuana or hash) is the most commonly used illicit drug, used by 34% of young Canadians during their lifetime and by 16% during the 12 months prior to the survey.  Use of cannabis during the year prior to the survey was more common among males than females (19% vs. 12%) and increases with age (11% among 15- to 16-year-olds, 13% among 17- to 19-year-olds and 18% among 20-to 24-year-olds).  Cannabis use is most common in British Columbia (28%), followed by Quebec (17%), and the Prairie and Atlantic provinces and Ontario (all 13%).  Similar relationships hold for frequency of cannabis use.


n     About 5% of Canadian youth reported using cocaine during their lifetime, and 3% reported use during the 12 months prior to the survey.  Cocaine use does not vary significantly by gender, but does increase with age (3.5% among 17- to 19-year-olds vs. 7.0% among 20- to 24-year-olds).  Cocaine use during the respondent's lifetime is highest among youth in British Columbia (9%), followed by Quebec (7.5%), the Prairie provinces (4.3%), Ontario (3.1%) and the Atlantic provinces (1.3%).


n    LSD, speed (methamphetamine) or heroin were used by 4.6% of youth at least once in their lifetime, and 1.6% used one of these substances during the 12 months prior to the survey.





n     Among those aged 15 to 24 the most prevalent licit substance used during the 30 days preceding the survey were narcotic analgesics - codeine, demerol or morphine - used by 5.6%.  Other licit substances were used by 1% or less.


n    Use of licit substances were more commonly used among older adults than among younger adults and youth.





n    The pattern of alcohol and other drug use between youth (15 to 19) and young adults (20 to 24) differ in important ways.  Compared to youth, young adults were less likely to use no drugs (20.9% vs. 8.5%), were more likely to use alcohol and tobacco (11.8% vs. 20.7%), were more likely to use alcohol, tobacco and a medical substance (0.9% vs. 3.3%), and were more likely to use alcohol, tobacco and cannabis (3.8% vs. 7.9%).