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Learn about alcohol and its impacts.

Please note

The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) recently released new guidance on the drinking of alcohol and health. Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health (external link) is based on the latest research on alcohol-related risks. It is an update of the 2011 Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines. Extensive evidence that was reviewed confirms that when it comes to drinking alcohol, less is better. The new CCSA guidance provides people with the information they need to make informed decisions about alcohol use and their health.

Alcohol and your health

Drinking alcohol has many health risks. The more you drink, the greater the risk for alcohol related harms such as;

Chronic Diseases:

  • Seven types of cancer including mouth, throat, larynx, esophageal breast, liver, colon and rectum
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Liver disease

Other health and social impacts of drinking alcohol can include:

  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) (external link)
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Alcohol dependence
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Falls
  • Accidental drowning
  • Burns
  • Physical and sexual assault
  • Parenting, family or marriage problems
  • Verbal abuse
  • Property damage and vandalism
  • Public intoxication

Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health

Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health advises that all levels of alcohol consumption are associated with some risk, so any reduction in alcohol use is beneficial.

Drinking less is better for everyone.

  • For healthy individuals, the guidance presents a range of risks related to 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 drinking occasion means an increased risk of harms to self and others, including injuries and violence.
  • There is no known safe amount of alcohol use when pregnant or trying to get pregnant.
  • Not drinking alcohol is safest when breastfeeding.
  • The health risks increase more steeply for women than for men when consuming above moderate levels of alcohol.
  • Far more injuries, violence, and deaths result from men's alcohol use, especially for per occasion drinking, than from women's alcohol use.
  • Young people should delay alcohol use for as long as possible.
  • Individuals should not start to use alcohol or increase their alcohol use for health benefits.

For more information, please visit Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health (external link).


More information on alcohol and reducing your risk

As shared in Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health (external link), a standard drink is 17.05 ml or 13.45 grams of pure alcohol, which is equivalent to:

  • 341 ml (12 oz.) bottle 5 per cent alcohol (beer, cider, coolers).
  • 43 ml (1.5 oz.) shot of 40 per cent hard liquor (vodka, rum, gin, whiskey).
  • 142 ml (5 oz.) glass of 12 per cent wine.

Binge drinking is defined as consuming five standard drinks or more for men, or four standard drinks or more for women in one setting for the purpose of getting drunk. This level of alcohol use can lead to legal impairment for most people.

On any drinking occasion, the risk of unintentional injuries and violence is strongly associated with consuming larger amounts of alcohol and a reduced ability to think clearly or perform certain activities.

Risk of death

Binge drinking can lead to death from many causes, including injuries, violence, heart disease and high blood pressure, swelling of the gastrointestinal system, and the development of an alcohol use disorder (e.g., alcohol dependence).

Violence, child abuse and neglect

Many of the complications that arise from acute alcohol impairment and binge drinking involve second-hand effects that affect someone other than the person who drinks alcohol (e.g., violence, child abuse and neglect).

According to Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health (external link):

  • gender-related (social) factors contribute to the negative impacts of alcohol in real life, increasing vulnerability to marketing exploitation, stigma, sexual assault and intimate partner violence (IPV).
  • sex, gender and factors such as trauma and poverty interact and make dependence on alcohol, treatment and recovery more difficult for women.
  • men drink more alcohol than women do and are more likely to drink in excess. Overall, they suffer more injuries, violence and deaths.

Men are more likely to:

  • be involved in impaired driving collisions;
  • be treated in hospitals and hospitalized for alcohol-related medical emergencies and health problems;
  • be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder;
  • take other risks including the use of other substances;
  • die from alcohol-related causes; or
  • commit acts of violence against family or women.

Health harms increase more steeply for women than for men when they consume more than low levels of alcohol.

Women are more vulnerable to alcohol risks because:

  • on average, women weigh less and people who weigh less reach higher blood alcohol levels compared to people who weigh more.
  • women have more adipose tissue (fat), causing alcohol to be absorbed more slowly and the effects of alcohol to take longer to wear off.
  • women have less water in their bodies to dilute alcohol. If a woman and a man of the same weight drink an equal amount of alcohol, a woman's blood alcohol concentration will be higher.
  • women have lower levels of the enzymes that break down alcohol. This lower level of enzymes means that alcohol remains in a woman's system longer.

These factors cause faster intoxication, more risk for disease (including breast cancer), and more long-term harm (such as liver damage and injury) using lesser amounts.

Older adults (65+ years) process alcohol more slowly and are more sensitive to the effects of alcohol. They are at increased risk of accidents, falls and worsened health issues. Older adults should avoid alcohol while taking medications.

There is no known safe amount of alcohol use when pregnant or trying to get pregnant.

Risks include:

  • possible increases in miscarriage, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy and placental abnormalities.
  • alcohol can cause birth defects.
  • alcohol can lead to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome with lifelong learning, health, and social problems. These effects can occur with both low levels of exposure or short-term exposure to high levels of consumption. It is safest to not to drink at all while pregnant and during the pre-conception period (Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, 2022).

Refer to How to Have a Healthy Pregnancy for more information.

According to Canada's Guidance on Alcohol and Health (external PDF), teens should delay alcohol use as long as possible. Alcohol use is a leading risk factor for death and social problems among youth. Even when the same amount of alcohol is consumed on a particular day, the risk of adverse outcomes from alcohol use are greater for youth than for adults.

Even in small quantities, alcohol can be harmful to your health.

  • Keep track of how many standard drinks you have per week to understand your drinking habits.
  • Set a target to reduce your drinking if it is above the low-risk range of two drinks.
  • Stick to the limits you have set for yourself.
  • Choose drinks with a lower percentage of alcohol.
  • Drink slowly in small sips.
  • Drink lots of water.
  • For every drink of alcohol, have one non-alcoholic drink.
  • Eat before and while you are drinking.
  • Know that it is okay not to drink alcohol. Healthy choices need no explanation.
  • Never drink and drive or ride with someone who you suspect is impaired.

Don’t drink when you are:

  • pregnant or planning to become pregnant.
  • driving a vehicle or using machinery and tools.
  • about to breastfeed.
  • taking medicine or other drugs that interact with alcohol.
  • doing any kind of dangerous physical activity.
  • living with mental or physical health problems.
  • living with alcohol dependence.
  • responsible for the safety of others.
  • making important decisions.
  • Consult your Health Care Provider for alcohol use concerns and or mental physical health concerns from use.
  • ADAPT (external link): Halton Alcohol Drug and Gambling Assessment Prevention and Treatment Services have addiction counsellors to provide ongoing support to clients who are struggling with their substance use.
  • Hope Place Centres (external link) help individuals struggling with challenges related to the misuse and abuse of alcohol and other drugs.
  • ConnexOntario (external link) is a 24-hour help line providing access to Addiction, Mental Health, and Problem Gambling Services.
  • Al-Anon Family Groups (external link) provide online and in-person resources to support anyone affected by a relative or friend’s drinking. Alateen provides support for younger relatives and friends of alcoholics through age nineteen.
  • Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) (external link) support for those with substance use and mental health issues.
  • Breaking Free Program (external link) is a free, online, evidence-based well-being and recovery program for alcohol and drugs for those 16 years and older.
  • Rethink Your Drinking (external link) is an online awareness campaign that encourages moderation or low-risk drinking to support healthy lifestyle choices and reduce short and long-term risks associated with alcohol consumption.
  • Knowing Your Limits with Alcohol (external link) is a self-assessment and guide resource for individuals interested in knowing about their personal alcohol use risk and how to reduce it.