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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. There are also a number of risks associated with drinking alcohol.

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.

Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health

Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health provides evidence-based advice on alcohol to support people in making informed decisions about their health. The guidance is based on the latest research on alcohol-related risks and replaces Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines (LRDGs) issued in 2011.

The guidance is based on the principle of autonomy in harm reduction and the fundamental idea behind it that people living in Canada have a right to know that all alcohol use comes with risk.

Key points from the guidance include:

  • There is a continuum of risk associated with weekly alcohol use where the risk of harm is:
    • 0 drinks per week – Not drinking has benefits, such as better health, and better sleep.
    • 2 standard drinks or less per week – You are likely to avoid alcohol-related consequences for yourself or others at this level.
    • 3–6 standard drinks per week – Your risk of developing several types of cancer, including breast and colon cancer, increases at this level.
    • 7 standard drinks or more per week – Your risk of heart disease or stroke increases significantly at this level.
    • Each additional standard drink radically increases the risk of alcohol-related consequences.
  • Consuming more than 2 standard drinks per occasion is associated with an increased risk of harms to self and others, including injuries and violence.
  • When pregnant or trying to get pregnant, there is no known safe amount of alcohol use.
  • When breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is safest.
  • No matter where you are on the continuum, for your health, less alcohol is better.

A Canadian standard drink contains 17.05 ml of pure ethanol.  Alcohol strengths may vary so check the % of alcohol by volume (ABV) listed on the container.  Convert your drinks into the standard drink sizes by using the Standard Drink Calculator.

How does knowing a standard drink affect my drinking choices?  Alcohol is served and sold in a variety of volumes not necessarily following a standard size amount.  When you know the facts, you can make informed personal decisions to protect your health.

Beer

·    340 mL bottle of light beer (3.7% alcohol) = 0.7 standard drinks

·    355 mL can of extra strength beer (8% alcohol) = 1.7 standard drinks

·    473 ml of beer – Tall Boy (16 oz )  = 1.3 standard drinks

·    568 ml or pint of beer = 1.7 standard drinks

·    1.7 Litre or pitcher = 5 standard drinks

Cider

·    500 mL can of cider (4.5% alcohol) = 1.3 standard drinks

Wine

·    750 mL bottle of wine (12% alcohol) = 5.3 standard drinks

·    9 oz glass of wine (14% alcohol) = 2.1 standard drinks

·    375 ml or Half Carafe of wine = 2.5 standard drinks

·    750 ml of wine or a Bottle = 5 standard drinks

Spirits

2 oz shot of spirits (40% alcohol) = 1.3 standard drinks

86 ml of a mixed drink = 2 standard drinks

375 ml or mickey = 8.5 standard drinks

750 ml or bottle of spirit = 17 standard drinks

References:

University of Victoria – Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research

Drinking less benefits you and others. It reduces your risk of injury and violence and many problems that can shorten your life

Where to begin?  You can reduce your drinking in small steps.  Since every drink counts, any reduction in alcohol use has benefits.

Count how many drinks you have in a week now. 

Set a weekly drinking target that is less than that number.  If you’re going to drink, make sure you don’t exceed 2 drinks on any day.

What will your weekly drinking target be?

Tips to help you stay on target:

·    Stick to the limits you’ve set for yourself

·    Drink slowly

·    Drink lots of water

·    For every drink of alcohol, have one non-alcoholic drink.

·    Choose alcohol-free or low-alcohol beverages

·    Eat before and while you’re drinking.

·    Have alcohol-free weeks or do alcohol-free activities

For more information check out Drinking Less is Better.

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 judgement and 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 vision and experience black-outs (no memory of time of period when drinking)Extreme intoxication might include:
  • inability to stand, vomiting, stupor, coma and death 

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, call 911 and stay with them until medical help arrives.

Research shows that drinking any type of alcohol increases your risk of heart disease, liver disease, cancers (mouth, neck, throat, breast, colon and rectum)and violence.

Overall harms to anyone using alcohol can include injury/death (to themselves or others), mental health injuries, cancer and addiction. Harms increase with the amount and frequency of alcohol use. See more information on the harms associated with alcohol use here.

If you are concerned about yourself or someone else, seek help from:

Signs you may need help with your drug use include:

  • Ignoring responsibilities at work, school, or home.
  • Giving up activities that you find important or enjoyable.
  • Using the drug more often.
  • Feeling unable to cut down or manage your use.
  • Changes in mood (e.g., feeling irritable and paranoid).
  • Changing friends.
  • Having difficulties with family members.
  • Being secretive or dishonest.
  • Changing sleep habits, appetite, or other behaviors