Alcohol is generally a socially accepted part of Canadian culture. Many people are exposed to alcohol through their friends, family and through the media. In fact, alcohol is the top psychoactive substance used by Canadians. The issue is not whether or not people should drink alcohol, but the lack of information the public has on the recommended Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines. Drinking alcohol is linked to chronic diseases such as cancers, high blood pressure and stroke. Alcohol is also linked to injuries and deaths because of falls, motor vehicle crashes, violence, suicide, sport injuries and fires.
Drinking more than what is recommended in the Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines can also lead to addiction and other problems for individuals, families, friends, workplaces, schools and communities.
Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines
Canada’s Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines aren’t about abstinence: they’re about rethinking your drinking to keep you healthy and safe in the short and long-term. These guidelines are designed to provide consistent, evidence-based recommendations for Canadians of legal drinking age who choose to consume alcohol.
Purpose of the Guidelines
According to a 2002 study from the Canadian Centre of Substance Abuse, alcohol related injuries cost Canada $14.6 billion each year. The new guidelines, developed by the National Alcohol Strategy Advisory Committee (NASAC), are intended to provide consistent information across the country to help Canadians moderate their alcohol consumption and reduce their risk of immediate and long-term alcohol-related harm.
Canada’s Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines suggest you can reduce long-term health risks by consuming no more than:
- 10 standard drinks a week for women, with no more than 2 drinks a day on most days
- 15 standard drinks a week for men, with no more than 3 drinks a day on most days
- And planning non-drinking days each week to avoid developing a habit.
The guidelines also recommend limits to reduce injury and harm on single occasions, and highlights situations where alcohol should be avoided altogether, such as when taking certain medications and driving.
For women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, or before breastfeeding, the safest choice is to not consume any alcohol.
According to the guidelines, a standard drink is defined as:
- 341 mL (12 oz.) bottle of 5% alcohol beer, cider or cooler
- 142 mL (5 oz.) glass of 12% alcohol wine
- 43 mL (1.5 oz.) serving of 40% distilled alcohol (rye, gin, rum, vodka, etc.)
Remember, beers, coolers, ciders and fortified wines with a high alcohol content contain more than one standard drink.
Alcohol consumption tips
- Set limits for yourself and abide by them.
- Drink slowly. Have no more than two drinks in three hours
- For every alcohol drink consumed, have one non-alcohol drink
- Eat before and while you are drinking
- Always consider your age, body weight and health problems that might suggest lower limits
- While low levels of alcohol consumption provide health benefits for certain groups of people, do not start to drink or increase your drinking for health benefits.
- Download the CAMH “Saying When” app to help track/reduce your alcohol consumption
Growing up can be tricky in today’s world. There are so many things competing for young people’s time and attention: friends, family, school, sports, jobs, etc.
Alcohol and drugs are serious pressures that youth have to navigate. Getting the correct information is a great way for teens to make an educated choice when it comes to these pressures.
Parents are the #1 influence in a child’s life. Take the time to talk about your family’s expectations regarding alcohol and other drug use. Creating a unique plan together as a family can help build agreement and reduce conflict when it comes to alcohol use.
Do you know what substances youth tend to use most often in Ontario?
- Alcohol (42.5%)
- Energy drinks (34.2%)
- Binge drinking (16.9%)
- Cannabis (19%)
- Non-Medical Use of Opioid Pain Relievers (10.6%)
- Cigarettes (7%)
It’s never too early to start talking about alcohol and drugs:
Research shows that men who drink alcohol can face more health and social problems that those who don’t.
Alcohol related risks
Drinking alcohol can lead to increased risk of:
- Violence, injury and addiction
- Unplanned or unprotected sex, which increases risk for sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancy
Reduce your alcohol risks
The best way to decrease alcohol-related risk is to monitor the amount you drink. Follow Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines to reduce most alcohol-related health problems, which includes a recommendation of no more than three standard drinks per day and no more than 15 drinks per week.
Women are more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol even after drinking small amounts. Overall, women are more likely to exhibit major health problems related to alcohol in a shorter period of time.
Factors that make women more at risk
- On average, women have lower body weight than men, which means it takes less alcohol to produce the same level of intoxication
- Women’s bodies contain less water and more fatty tissue than men. Since fat holds alcohol longer and water dilutes it, alcohol remains at a greater strength for longer periods of time in a woman’s body.
- Women have lower levels of an enzyme (alcohol dehydrogenase) in their stomach that metabolizes (breaks down) alcohol. Because of this, women absorb more alcohol into the bloodstream than men.
- Changing hormone levels affect how a woman metabolizes (breaks down) alcohol.
Reduce Your alcohol risks
The best way to decrease alcohol risk is to monitor the amount you drink. Follow Canada’s Low-risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines to reduce most alcohol-related health problems, which recommends no more than two standard drinks per day and no more than 10 drinks per week.
- Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse: Women and alcohol
- Rethink Your Drinking: Risks of alcohol use for women
Pregnancy is an important time in a woman’s life. When you are pregnant, there is no safe time to drink alcohol, no safe type of alcohol and no safe amount of alcohol.
Drinking while pregnant puts your unborn baby at risk for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). FASD is a term used to describe the range of harms that can result from drinking alcohol during pregnancy. It is the leading known cause of preventable developmental disabilities among Canadians.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum disorder is 100% preventable when women don’t drink alcohol during pregnancy.
The safest choice is to not drink any alcohol while pregnant. In fact, it is best to stop drinking even before you become pregnant. Birth defects associated with alcohol use can occur in the first three to eight weeks of pregnancy, before a women may even know that she is pregnancy. Many pregnancies are not planned, meaning some women may have consumed alcohol before they knew they were pregnant.
Risks associated with alcohol during pregnancy
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can put your baby at risk for:
- Brain damage
- Hearing difficulties
- Vision difficulties
- Organ damage
- Slow growth
- Bones and limbs that aren’t properly formed
Other FASD concerns
Other concerns for those with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder range from mild to severe and can include:
- Mental health illnesses (e.g. Depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder)
- Learning disabilities
- Difficulty understanding the consequences of their actions
- Physical disabilities such as kidney and internal organ problems
- Skeletal abnormalities such as facial deformities
- Alcohol and drug problems
Learn more about FASD
To learn more about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, contact:
Alcohol is the number one drug used by Canadians. According to the World Health Organization, drinking is a causal factor in more than 200 diseases and injury conditions. As a community, there are a number of ways we can reduce harms and move towards a culture of low-risk drinking.
Many people believe that alcohol use is a personal choice, and do not realize that policy changes - such as making alcohol more readily available - increases the harm and costs of alcohol consumption. For more information, see Ontario Public Health Association’s Strategies to reduce alcohol-related harms in Ontario.
For more information on how alcohol impacts your community, read out local Community Alcohol Reports: