Skip to main content
Canadians increasing alcohol and drug use to cope with mental strain; parents at highest risk

A transformational journey. LifeWorks becomes TELUS Health. Visit our About Us page to learn more.

Corporate / Canada

Canadians increasing alcohol and drug use to cope with mental strain; parents at highest risk

Survey by LifeWorks and Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation reveals many Canadians are unaware of substance use resources offered by their employers

LifeWorks, a leading provider of technology-enabled total wellbeing solutions, today released its monthly Mental Health Index™ report, revealing a negative mental-health score among Canadians for the 14th consecutive month. The Mental Health Index™ score for May is -11.2 compared to the pre-pandemic benchmark. This is lower than the April 2021 mental-health score (-10.7), reversing a trend of steady inclines that began in December 2020 (-11.8). LifeWorks partnered with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in May to release this special edition of the Index, focused on substance use.

The research revealed that one third (34 per cent) of respondents who use alcohol reported an increase in alcohol consumption during the pandemic, while one quarter (25 per cent) of Canadians who use other drugs reported an increase in their drug use. This trend is of particular concern among parents, as they are twice as likely to report an increase in drug use when compared to non-parents. This can negatively affect home dynamics, with parents who use alcohol or other drugs three times as likely as non-parents to report that substance use has made it difficult to complete home- or family-related tasks and responsibilities.

“Mental strain has been felt across all demographics over the last year, however, the new demands and pressure that parents have faced have more negatively impacted their wellbeing,” said Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice president, research and total wellbeing, LifeWorks. “Parents are expected to stay strong and act as caregivers to their family, while at the same time maintaining a professional appearance at work. Self-care and support are important given the demands and concerns they have. Unfortunately, unhealthy coping strategies, such as substance use, make things more difficult.”

Many Canadians unaware of substance use resources offered by their employers

In May, the research found that an equal number of respondents reported that their employer does (27 per cent) or does not (27 per cent) provide resources to help those who are experiencing challenges related to substance use. Although best practices include providing employees and their family members with access to treatment and support resources, 40 per cent of respondents reported that they either do not know if their employer offers resources or are not sure what resources are available.

“The pandemic has highlighted the critical value of holistic and accessible behavioural health care and recovery support, as well as the need to make Canadians more aware of the services and resources available,” said Dr. Quyen Ngo, executive director of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation’s Butler Center for Research. “Employers should recognize that mental health and substance use disorders are common, that many employees are struggling behind closed doors, and that people who get help and support often become your best employees. I hope employers see the great impact they can have by making resources available for the full spectrum of wellbeing concerns, and proactively communicating the path for their employees to access support.”

The full Canadian Mental Health Index™ report can be found here. This month, the report includes additional insights on substance use disorder treatment resources for employees, reasons people do not seek treatment, the impact of alcohol and other drug use on workplace absenteeism, and more.

About the Mental Health Index

The monthly survey by LifeWorks was conducted through an online survey in English and French from April 24 to May 6, 2021, in partnership with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation’s Butler Center for Research and with 3,000 respondents in Canada. All respondents reside in Canada and were employed within the last six months. The data has been statistically weighted to ensure the regional and gender composition of the sample reflect this population. The Mental Health Index™ is published monthly, beginning April 2020, and compares against benchmark data collected in 2017, 2018, 2019.

About LifeWorks

LifeWorks is a global leader in delivering technology-enabled solutions that help clients support the total wellbeing of their people and build organizational resiliency. By improving lives, we improve business. Our solutions span employee and family assistance, health and wellness, recognition, pension and benefits administration, retirement and financial consulting, actuarial and investment services. LifeWorks employs approximately 7,000 employees who work with some 24,000 client organizations that use our services in more than 160 countries. LifeWorks is a publicly traded company on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX: LWRK). For more information, visit

About Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation

The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation is a force of healing and hope for individuals, families and communities affected by addiction to alcohol and other drugs. As the nation’s leading nonprofit provider of comprehensive inpatient and outpatient addiction and mental health care for adults and youth, the Foundation has treatment centers and telehealth services nationwide as well as a network of collaborators throughout health care. With a legacy that began in 1949 and includes the 1982 founding of the Betty Ford Center, the Foundation today also encompasses a graduate school of addiction studies, a publishing division, an addiction research center, recovery advocacy and thought leadership, professional and medical education programs, school-based prevention resources and a specialized program for children who grow up in families with addiction. Learn more at and on Twitter.


Heather MacDonald

Angela Pinzon
Kaiser & Partners

Jeremiah Gardner
Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation

Source: LifeWorks