BACKGROUND: In 1996 the number of deaths and admissions to hospital in Canada that could be attributed to the use of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs were estimated from 1992 data. In this paper we update these estimates to the year 1995. METHODS: On the basis of pooled estimates of relative risk, etiologic fractions were calculated by age, sex and province for 90 causes of disease or death attributable to alcohol, tobacco or illicit drugs; the etiologic fractions were then applied to national mortality and morbidity data for 1995 to estimate the number of deaths and admissions to hospital attributable to substance abuse. RESULTS: In 1995, 6507 deaths and 82,014 admissions to hospital were attributed to alcohol, 34,728 deaths and 194,072 admissions to hospital were attributed to tobacco, and 805 deaths and 6940 admissions to hospital were due to illicit drugs. INTERPRETATION: The use and misuse of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs accounted for 20.0% of deaths, 22.2% of years of potential life lost and 9.4% of admissions to hospital in Canada in 1995.