SUDBURY -- Experts fear 'self-medicating' drinking and drug use may be up as people try to cope with the issues presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A recent Statistics Canada survey found an equal number of people were scaling back their drinking compared to the number of people who were drinking more.

But they also noted an increase in heavy drinking.

"I think it makes sense," said Roxane Zuck, CEO of Monarch Recovery Services. "I think there's a lot of give-and-take when it comes to people dealing with the stresses of life. So for some people, the ability to cope with the added stress of isolation and losing employment, there would be an increase in drinking or using any drug in particular."

According to Monarch's figures, in 2020 they admitted 592 people. The year before, they had 655 admissions. While the numbers are down, the waitlists have gone up.

Zuck said they had to reduce the number of clients they were accepting due to COVID-19 protocols.

"For example, for our women's treatment program, we're looking at 2019 where we had 15 people on the waitlist, per average for the year, but for 2020 we had 27 people on the waitlist," she said.

The LCBO is seeing it at the register, too. It tells CTV sales have remained steady all year long with strong sales volumes, particularly being reported in wave one lockdowns.

Calling for help

Local leaders have been calling for additional help and supports to deal with the addiction issue across northern Ontario.

The most recent being Atikameksheng First Nation, where Chief Craig Nootchtai said current resources aren't adequate.

"It's very concerning and this is why we've taken this approach, because we believe our actions can impact Sudbury, as well," said Nootchtai. "We definitely want to collaborate with the officials in Sudbury."

The province says it's invested up to $194 million in emergency funding for mental health and addiction services as a result of COVID. But local leaders say they need more support now.

In the meantime, while the experts are there to help, one thing they suggest that can guide people through the rest of the pandemic is some self-assessment.

"Think about your own healthy coping skills," said Dr. Leslie Buckley, of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

"An example could be, let's say you do lose a job, your reaction could be OK, well I'm going to start working on my resume, start talking to people and reaching out. So you're acting in a positive way to solve the problem."

Buckley said she's not surprised to hear the numbers could be up, and calls it the perfect storm for increased alcohol and cannabis use.

What's important is dealing with it. Her best advice? Use the added time to seize the opportunity to deal with things like stress differently.