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Alcohol

In Canada, alcohol is the most widely consumed psychoactive drug. Alcohol is a depressant which means it slows down the parts of your brain that affect your thinking, behaviour, breathing and heart rate.

Alcohol is most often consumed for enjoyment, to be social, and to celebrate despite awareness of the risks associated with its use. The use of alcohol can lead to stigma or discrimination; particularly to those who suffer from addiction or mental illness. On the other hand, stigma is also associated with abstinence (non-drinkers). Wherever you are on the spectrum of alcohol use, we have health information to help you make informed decisions.

Drinking is a personal choice. If you choose to drink, Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit recommends that you follow Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines. These guidelines can help you decide when, where, why and how much to drink.

The way alcohol affects you depends on many factors including your age, how much and how often you drink, the environment you’re in, or whether you’ve taken any other drugs (caffeine, opioids, prescription/non-prescription or herbal).

Some people feel happy or excited when they drink while others may experience  less desirable effects such as depression or hostility. Women are generally more sensitive to the effects of alcohol as it takes longer for the body to eliminate the alcohol consumed.

Alcohol use impairs judgement and has immediate effects that increase the risk of harm including violence, risky sexual behaviour, alcohol poisoning and unintentional injuries. There is no clear safe limit for alcohol use.

Early signs of alcohol intoxication include:

  • flushed skin
  • impaired judgment
  • reduced inhibition.

Continued drinking increases these effects and causes other effects, such as:

  • impaired attention
  • reduced muscle control
  • slowed reflexes
  • staggering gait
  • slurred speech
  • double or blurred vision

A severely intoxicated person may ‘black out’ and have no memory of what was said or done while drinking.

Extreme intoxication might include:

  • inability to stand,
  • vomiting,
  • stupor,
  • coma,
  • and death.

If you see someone who is unconscious, put them in recovery position or carefully re-position them onto their side and call 911.

Research shows that drinking any type of alcohol increases your risk of developing cancer of the mouth, neck, throat, liver, breast, colon and rectum.

Drinking alcohol while pregnant or breastfeeding can affect the health of you and your baby. There is no safe time, type or amount of alcohol for your growing baby. For more information visit our Healthy Pregnancy – During Pregnancy section.

Preconception health refers to your health during the reproductive years. There is no safe amount or type of alcohol use, if you are planning on getting pregnant. Visit our Sexual Health – What’s Your Plan? section for more information.

Youth and young adults: The use of substances during the teen years up to 25 years of age can cause long-term damage to the brain. For more information on youth and substances, visit our Educators – Substance Use/Addictions – Connecting School to Home section.

Problematic alcohol use accounts for the greatest health and social costs based on the accumulative harms of hospitalizations, death and lost productivity (about 14.6 billion dollars).

One indicator of problematic alcohol use is heavy drinking (men having 5 or more drinks or women having 4 or more drinks on one occasion at least once a month in the past year), which has been reported by about 20% of Canadians 12 years and over.

Here in Leeds, Grenville and Lanark, 91.4% of the overall population who consume alcohol, reported drinking within the low-risk drinking guidelines. 8.6% of the overall population reported having exceeded low-risk drinking guidelines in the week prior to the survey.

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For more information:

Rethink Your Drinking is an awareness campaign to help change the way we think about alcohol use. It is information built on facts and asks you to look at your relationship with alcohol including why, when, and how much you drink alcohol. Rethink Your Drinking will give you more health information about these campaign topics:

  • Cancer Matters
  • Choice Matters
  • Everything Matters
  • Sex Matters
  • Size Matters
  • Time Matters

Please note: The Rethink Your Drinking website has a link to the Check Your Drinking survey. We do not endorse the use of the Check Your Drinking survey because it provides feedback on calorie intake and weight gain when drinking alcohol. At the Leeds, Grenville, and Lanark District Health Unit we support healthy living by focusing on healthy eating, physical activity and mental well-being rather than a focus on weight and calories. We are working to change society’s current focus on weight by promoting the positive areas of health and overall well-being instead of the negative health risks and how we look. Learn more about Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds.