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alcohol

Did you know?

  • Did you know that 79% of Albertans age 15 and over drink alcohol?
  • Did you know that alcohol affects different people in different ways?
  • Did you know that alcohol is a depressant drug?

It's all true.

Alcohol is the drug that Albertans use most, and it is so much a part of social events that it is not usually thought of as a drug, but it is.

While most Albertans who choose to drink do so in moderation, by following Canada’s Low Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines there are still risks.

AHS is here to help reduce harm.

Know Your Limits

If you choose to drink alcohol, to reduce your risk know your limits and know when not to drink alcohol at all.

How do I figure out my own limits? Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines (LRDG) can help.

If you choose to drink alcohol:

  • Reduce your short-term harm (injuries like falls and illnesses like alcohol poisoning) and drink no more than:
    • 3 drinks on a single occasion for women
    • 4 drinks on a single occasion for men
  • Reduce your long-term health risks from multiple chronic diseases and drink no more than:
    • 10 drinks a week for women, with no more than 2 drinks a day most days
    • 15 drinks a week for men with no more than 3 drinks a day most days
  • To avoid a habit or dependency everyone should plan non-drinking days every week
  • If pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or about to breastfeed, the safest choice is to not drink any alcohol
  • Do not drink when:
    • Driving a vehicle or using machinery and tools
    • 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

Alcohol changes the way a person thinks and feels and how alcohol affects people depends on many factors including a person’s weight, biological sex, age, whether they’ve eaten and if they’ve taken any substances (e.g., prescription drugs, over-the-counter-medicine, cannabis or other drugs).

The size of a drink, the amount of alcohol in the drink and how fast a person drinks also contribute to alcohol’s effects. Alcohol can affect ones coordination, balance, reaction time, judgment and ability to make decisions.

Studies show that many of us underestimate the amount we drink. To better understand our limits and be aware of how much we drink, we need to know what a standard drink is in every form (beer, wine, cider, spirits and pre-mixed drinks such as coolers).

One standard drink equals:

  • One bottle or glass of beer/cider/cooler 341 ml (12 oz.) 5% alcohol content
  • One shot of distilled alcohol (“spirits” like vodka, rum, gin, etc., ) 43 ml (1.5 oz.) 40% alcohol content
  • One glass of wine 142 ml (5oz.) 12% alcohol content

No matter which you drink, it is all the same to your body.

Understanding your limits and following the LRDG can help reduce immediate and long-term alcohol-related harm. The LRDG are intended for adults aged 25 to 65 years who choose to drink.

It is important to recognize that these are low-risk, not no-risk, guidelines and the guidelines set limits, not targets, for alcohol consumption.

Tips for Safer Use

Drinking and driving

Alcohol is one of the main causes of death on Alberta roads. Approximately one in six drivers involved in a fatal collision had been drinking prior to the collision. According to Mothers against Drunk Driving Canada, motor vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death in 16- to 25-year-olds and alcohol is involved in 55% of these collisions.

  • Never drive impaired or ride with an impaired driver
  • Plan a safe ride home, call a cab, arrange a designated driver, take public transit, or stay the night
  • Call 911 if you see a driver you suspect is impaired. For information on the signs of an impaired driver and what to do, visit MADD Canada’s Campaign 911 page

There are several things you can do if you choose to drink alcohol to stay safer, for example:

  • Set limits for yourself and stick to them
  • Drink slowly and for every drink of alcohol, have a non-alcoholic drink
  • Eat before and while drinking
  • Consider your age, body weight and health problems that might suggest lower limits
  • Don't try to keep up with other drinkers and don’t play drinking games
  • Know when you've had enough and tell others
  • Don't let other people top up your drinks and finish one drink before you start another one
  • Consider other activities that don’t include alcohol. Watch a movie, play or watch sports, volunteer, or spend time outdoors
  • Decide who the designated driver is before you go out and only get in a vehicle with a sober driver
  • Only drink alcohol with good friends
  • Watch out for each other. If you see a friend that looks like they have had too much, offer help
  • Never leave your drink unattended

Choosing not to drink alcohol

For some people letting others know they don’t want to drink alcohol is easy and they know their friends will respect their choice. For others this may be more difficult. Here are some responses to decline alcohol:

  • I’m driving
  • I’ve had my limit for tonight
  • I don’t drink, but thank you
  • I don’t like the taste
  • I have more fun sober
  • I’m taking medication, so I can’t drink alcohol

You can also make your own drinks without alcohol or order non-alcoholic drinks for yourself.

Be a Responsible Host

When an occasion calls for a gathering of friends, it also calls for a responsible host. You can consider having a party without alcohol, but if you do choose to serve it here are a few tips to ensure your guests feel supported (whether they choose to drink alcohol or not) and get home safely.

  • Serve food
  • Have non-alcoholic drinks
  • Measure drinks (remember what a standard drink is)
  • Don’t force drinks. Respect a guest’s right not to drink at all, or to drink very little.
  • Don’t rush to refill guests’ glasses the minute they are empty
  • Plan activities where drinking is not the main focus
  • Stop serving alcohol at least an hour before your party is to end
  • Arrange for designated drivers
  • Allow guests to stay over if needed

Making educated decisions about drinking alcohol can help prevent alcohol from being a problem in your life. Understanding the effects of alcohol and the risks of alcohol use can help you make an informed decision about whether or not to drink and make safer decisions about drinking if you choose to drink.

Health Effects

When use is long-term, even as little as one or two drinks daily, the risk of cancer of the breast, liver, mouth, esophagus, larynx, pharynx, colon and rectum increases. Long-term average alcohol use also increases risk of heart disease, stroke, liver cirrhosis, high blood pressure and diabetes. These facts underline the caution that following the guidelines does not eliminate risk.

In the short-term, every drink increases a person’s chances of being injured, of being involved in motor vehicle collisions, of being involved in violence and of harm from risky sexual behaviour.

Alcohol can also impact brain development for people under 25. That’s because, up until that point, your brain is still developing – including the part of the brain responsible for planning, organizing, impulse control, concentration and attention.

Heavier drinking, even if occasional, poses the possibility of alcohol poisoning, and increases the chances of the cancers and other chronic diseases described above.

For more information about the health effects of alcohol, visit Alcohol and Health Series: Cancer and Other Chronic Disease and Alcohol Use and Health Risks. Alcohol Use and Health Benefits

Know the risks

Reduce long-term health risks for multiple chronic disease with these specific LRDG:

Reduce your long-term health risks by:

  • Drinking no more than 10 drinks a week for women with no more than 2 drinks a day most days
  • Drinking no more than 15 drinks a week for men with no more than 3 drinks a day most days
  • Planning non-drinking days every week to avoid developing a habit or dependency

If you want to specifically reduce your risk of developing cancer, the Canadian Cancer Society recommends:

  • Less than 1 drink per day for women
  • Less than 2 drinks per day for men
    AND
  • Planning non-drinking days every week to avoid developing a habit

Be aware that small amounts of alcohol increase the risk of certain cancers, so the less alcohol you drink, the more you reduce the risk of developing cancer.

Reduce short-term harm (injuries like falls and illnesses like alcohol poisoning) with this specific LRDG:

  • Women should have no more than 3 drinks on a single occasion
  • Men should have no more than 4 drinks on a single occasion
  • Stay within the weekly limits outlined in “reduce your long term health risks” and plan non-drinking days every week to avoid developing a habit or dependency

It is important to recognize that these are low-risk, not no-risk, guidelines and the guidelines set limits, not targets, for alcohol consumption.

Under 25

I’m under 25. Why is alcohol use different for me?

Young adults between the ages of 20 and 24, who identify as "current drinkers," (i.e., they have drank alcohol in the past 12 months), drink alcohol at higher rates than the rest of the population.

Young adults also have higher rates of risky drinking, meaning that they have a higher risk of long-term health harm and for injuries and alcohol poisoning.

Alcohol can impact brain development for people under 25. That’s because, up until that point, your brain is still developing – including the part of the brain responsible for planning, organizing, impulse control, concentration and attention.

From legal drinking age to age 24, the guidelines recommend that young people follow the same rules as those of adults aged 25 to 65, with one difference: those under 25 should never on a single occasion exceed two drinks for women and three drinks for men.

It is important to recognize that these are low-risk, not no-risk, guidelines and the guidelines set limits, not targets, for alcohol consumption.

Youth

While a slight majority, of Alberta youth (youth in grades 7 – 12) do not drink alcohol. Approximately, 47% of Alberta youth reported having a drink of alcohol and 61% of them said they binge when they drink. Binge drinking means having five drinks or more on one occasion.

Evidence shows that because a youth’s brain is still developing, drinking may have a greater effect on planning, organizing, impulse control, concentration and attention in youth than adults. Further, the younger a person starts to drink alcohol the more likely they are to have an alcohol-related problem in the future.

If youth do decide to drink Canada’s LRDG recommend that youth:

  • And their parents know that if youth are under the age of 18, they are below Alberta’s legal drinking age
  • Postpone trying alcohol for as long as possible to reduce harm
  • Talk to their parents about alcohol and drinking to better understands effects
  • Stick to one or two drinks on a single occasion
  • Never drink more than twice in a week
  • Understand that these guidelines decrease but do not eliminate risk

To learn more about drinking and youth, the health risks, how adults can be positive role models, and what to do if you are concerned about youth drinking see Alcohol and Adolescents and Youth and Alcohol.

Resources

Canada’s Low Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines

Alcohol and Alberta

Alcohol and Your Health

Alcohol and Youth

Alcohol and Young Adults

Alcohol and Older Adults

Drinking and Driving

Problem Drinking

help and support

If you need help or are concerned with someone else’s substance use, call:

Health Link at 811 or
1-866-332-2322 the Addiction Helpline
(available 24 hours a day, seven days a week)