Drinking less is best for health: Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health

Public Health 101

1 Aug 2023

In today’s fast paced world, it’s common to unwind with an alcoholic drink, or especially now that the warm weather is here, raise a few glasses in celebration with friends. It is important however, to be mindful of the health risks associated with alcohol.

Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health

Recently, Canada's Guidance on Alcohol and Health has shed new light on the topic of alcohol and the causally-associated health risks, including cancer, heart disease, and stroke. This new report provides guidance based on the most up to date evidence on alcohol, to support people in Canada in making more informed decisions about their health. 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.”

As science is ever-evolving, and the previous recommendations about alcohol use were released over a decade ago, the message behind the updated guidance is that, if you drink alcohol, drinking less is better for health. The updated guidance presents a continuum of risk:

  • 0 standard drinks a week – not using alcohol has benefits, including better health and better sleep;
  • 1 to 2 standard drinks a week – you are likely to avoid alcohol-related consequences at this level;
  • 3 to 6 standard drinks a week – your risk of developing several types of cancer, including breast and colon cancer, increases at this level;
  • 7 or more standard drinks a week – your risk of heart disease and stroke increases significantly at this level. At this use level, each additional standard drink radically increases the risk of alcohol-related consequences.

The guidance also recommends that if you drink more than 2 drinks a week, make sure you don’t exceed 2 drinks on any day to reduce the risk of injuries or violence.

Tips to Help You Stay on Target

We know that it can be difficult to cut out alcohol altogether, especially when adult social gatherings are often centered on friends, food, and drink. But, if you use alcohol, the guidance provides tips and tricks to support you to stay on target to drink less. These include:

  • Set a weekly drinking target, and stick to the limits you’ve set for yourself
  • Drink slowly and 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 are drinking
  • Have alcohol-free weeks or do alcohol-free activities


Public Health Ontario Alcohol Resources

At Public Health Ontario (PHO), we provide expertise and resources on developing, planning and implementing alcohol-related interventions including policy, screening, labelling and advertising.

Our recent report, produced in collaboration with Ontario Health, provides information on the burden of disease and injury linked to alcohol and smoking across Ontario, including estimates of the number of deaths, hospitalizations and emergency department visits caused by smoking and alcohol consumption for Ontario and by public health unit (PHU).

Our alcohol snapshots provide information on alcohol use and alcohol harms by age and gender. PHO Snapshots are a collection of interactive map-based dashboards showing both geographic and temporal trends for key public health indicators by PHU and Ontario overall.

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Published 1 Aug 2023