Gender and ethnicity impact rates of problem drinking in Ontario

Research Snapshot by By Matthew Hollingshead

What you need to know:

This is the first study to examine links between drinking, ethnicity, and gender in Ontario. Overall, Ontario residents from Canadian and European ethnic groups are more likely to use alcohol and engage in problem drinking than residents from other ethnic groups. Men are more likely to drink than women, but women from Canadian and European ethnic groups
are more likely to use alcohol and engage in problem drinking than women from other ethnic groups.

What is this research about?

Alcohol is the most commonly used psychoactive substance in Ontario, and despite being one of the world’s most ethnically diverse countries, there is little information about the relationships between drinking, problem drinking, ethnicity, and gender in Canada. To fill these gaps, researchers reviewed survey data to better understand how gender and ethnicity
influence alcohol use in Ontario.

What did the researchers do?

The researchers used information from the CAMH Monitor telephone survey, which monitors substance use and mental health issues in Ontario. The survey has been conducted monthly since 1977, but for this study, the researchers focused on the period between January 2005 and December 2010.
They divided male and female respondents into 12 ethnic categories and examined rates of alcohol use and problem drinking.

What did the researchers find?

The researchers found that Ontario residents from some ethnic groups are more likely to use alcohol or engage in problem drinking than others. People from East Asian, South East Asian, South Asian, and Caribbean ethnic groups were less likely to be problem drinkers than people with Canadian background. People from Canadian or European ethnic groups were more likely to use alcohol or engage in problem drinking.

The researchers found that male residents of Ontario were more likely than women to engage in these behaviours, regardless of ethnicity. But women from the Canadian and
European ethnic groups were more likely to use alcohol or engage in problem drinking than women from other ethnic groups.

Men from the European and Canadian ethnic groups were about twice more likely to engage in problem drinking than women. Men from the South Asian ethnic group were about
four times more likely than women to be risk drinkers.

The researchers note that low rates among certain populations doesn’t mean that they should be ignored. Some people may be less likely to access ‘mainstream’ programs and
services, or accurately report rates of alcohol use due to cultural stigmas.

How can you use this research?

The findings could be useful for researchers, policy makers, or practitioners who deal with issues of alcohol use or misuse and who work with a diverse group of people.

Limitations and next steps

The survey asked about ‘standard drinks,’ which might mean different things to different people.

  • Telephone surveys tend to overemphasize the experiences of people with higher rates of education.
  • The CAMH Monitor survey is conducted in English, excluding people who don’t speak English fluently.
  • Respondents may be unlikely to truthfully self-report stigmatized behaviour, like drinking.
  • Sorting people from many different ethnic backgrounds into 12 general groups based on their geographic origin might conceal important differences.
  • The number of respondents in each ethnic group were fairly small.

About the researchers

Branka Agic is a researcher at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and an Assistant Professor in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto
(U of T). Dr. Robert E. Mann is a researcher at CAMH and an Associate Professor in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at U of T. 
Andrew Tuck is a researcher at CAMH.
Anca R. Ialomiteanu is a researcher at CAMH.

Susan J. Bondy is an Associate Professor in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at U of T.

Laura Simich is a researcher in the Center on Immigration and Justice at the VERA Institute of Justice in New York.

This Research Snapshot is based on their article, “Gender Differences in Alcohol Use and Risk Drinking in Ontario Ethnic Groups,” which was published in the Journal of Ethnicity in Substance Abuse, 2015.


Alcohol, ethnicity, gender

Evidence Exchange Network (EENet; formerly OMHAKEN) has partnered with the Knowledge Mobilization Unit at York University to produce Research Snapshots in the field of mental health and addictions in Ontario. EENet actively promotes the use of research evidence in decision-making by supporting engagement and connections between researchers and mental health and addictions stakeholders across Ontario.


Published March 2016


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