Tobacco, alcohol and drugs

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A Léger survey found that 1 in 5 respondents  said they had consumed somewhat or much more alcohol since the confinement began.

Published May 11, 2020

This article is part of our “Determinants and the pandemic” series, which examines certain determinants of school perseverance in light of the current crisis and its attendant measures.

Determinant | Impacts of the health crisis and concerns | Resources | References


According to certain studies, the use of psychoactive substances can affect adolescents’ motivation and performance and contribute to their dropping out.[1]

The Québec Health Survey of High School Students indicates a high rate of consumption of such substances among Montreal youth:

  • Cigarettes: 8%[2]
  • Alcohol: 47%
  • Cannabis: 19%[3]

A recent study by the Institut de la statistique du Québec (ISQ) highlighted a list of individual, family, and social factors associated with the introduction of grade 6 elementary students to tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. Among such factors, the two most important are:

  • Living in an underprivileged environment. This comes with a significant risk of early exposure to tobacco, alcohol, and the consumption of psychoactive substances.

The transition from elementary to high school. This crucial stage is characterized by a rather significant increase in the number of young people who try smoking, alcohol, and drugs.[4] For instance, the percentage of students who have consumed alcohol in the past 12 months rises from 17% in secondary 1 to 75% in secondary 5[5].

Consequences on educational success

Also according to the ISQ, early introduction to such substances, and especially substance abuse, can have a range of consequences, such as:

  • A weaker attachment to school
  • Poorer grades in mathematics and in English/French (depending on language of instruction)
  • Lower educational goals

[More about the determinant “Tobacco, alcohol and drugs”]


Further studies are needed to answer this question; however, a Léger survey of Québec adults found that one in five respondents (18%) said they had consumed somewhat or much more alcohol since the confinement began.[6] The survey also found that 29% of Quebecers have consumed more cannabis since the start of the crisis.[7]

The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction also found that “[t]he conditions around COVID-19 may lead people to increase alcohol and cannabis use…” These conditions include:

  • Feeling more stress and anxiety from the pandemic and economic downturn 
  • Blurring of families’ daily and weekly routines because of the closing of non-essential workplaces
  • Feelings of social isolation and loneliness due to physical distancing

More alcohol and cannabis in the home from stockpiling[8]


Reports from a number of community organizations have led to a consideration of various potential impacts of the crisis, such as:

Initiation to these substances and the risk of substance abuse

We know that some young people begin using psychoactive substances out of boredom, so the confinement and subsequent reduction in the diversity and availability of leisure activities is clearly cause for concern.[9] Could boredom influence some young people’s habits and potentially lead to substance abuse?

Product unavailability

Sources of tobacco, vaping products, alcohol, and drugs have changed during the confinement period, especially for young people who were already procuring these products illegally. What types of products might young people be tempted to use at home, and how do they get them?

Difficulty connecting young people with support services

When young people attend school, various stakeholders can detect students who need help and intervene quickly when necessary. However, during the confinement period, youth with substance abuse problems are much harder to identify and assist. It is also harder to connect them with support resources while maintaining confidentiality.

Risk of overdosing after taking a break

Because people can develop a tolerance for substances they consume regularly, they can be at greater risk of an overdose after an unwanted withdrawal period. So substance users may try to consume the same amount as before the confinement, but their body’s tolerance to the substance will have diminished.[10]

Weaker influence of protective factors

It is hard to predict the effects of social networks and the family environment on substance use in this particular situation. Has screen time increased, and how might greater screen time affect youth behaviour, including substance use habits? Are youth being exposed to different role models? Are they getting less exposure to positive role models they would normally encounter at school, in community organizations, or their friends, and how might this affect them?

Might there be positive impacts?

Could the current situation have positive impacts for some young people? Given that the confinement could bring families closer together, promote parental dialogue and support, and reduce access to certain substances for many young people, might we observe a reduction in initiation to such substances or in their use among those who were only in an experimental phase?

Only studies on this subject after the crisis will elucidate its positive and negative effects on substance use.


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More food for thought


Our thanks to Marie-Claude Sauvé, director of Cumulus, for her assistance with finding sources of data on the determinant “Tobacco, alcohol and drugs.”

Thank you also to Isabelle Archambault, associate professor at Université de Montréal; Canada Research Chair on School, Child Well-Being, and Educational Success; and co-holder of the Myriagone – McConnell-Université de Montréal Research Chair in Knowledge Mobilization Among Youth for her assistance in reviewing the article on the determinant “Tobacco, alcohol and drugs.”

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[1] Gagnon, H. and L. Rochefort (2010), L’usage de substances psychoactives chez les jeunes Québécois: conséquences et facteurs associés, Institut national de santé publique du Québec, no. 1102, 43 pp.

[2] Agence de la santé et des services sociaux de Montréal. (2014). L’usage de la cigarette chez les jeunes du secondaire à Montréal. 7.

[3] CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montréal. (2018). Consommation d’alcool et de drogues chez les élèves du secondaire à Montréal: Quelques données. 14.

[4] Réunir Réussir, Taking Effective Action on the Determinants of School Perseverance and Educational Success, Fact sheet 5: Tobacco, alcohol and drugs, 2013

[5] CIUSSS du Centre-Sud-de-l’Île-de-Montréal. (2018). Consommation d’alcool et de drogues chez les élèves du secondaire à Montréal: Quelques données. 3. 

[6] Léger survey sponsored by the Association pour la santé publique du Québec

[7] ;


[9] Institut national de santé publique du Québec. (2010). L’usage de substances psychoactives chez les jeunes Québécois, Conséquences et facteurs associés.  15. 

[10] – s1