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New Health Canada Guidelines on Alcohol and Health

Are you within your healthy limits for consumption?

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Do you drink alcohol? If so, you aren’t alone. Approximately 76 percent of Canadians drink alcohol, and 19 percent of those were classified as heavy drinkers in 2018. However, the definition of “heavy drinker” has changed. New guidelines for alcohol consumption have been published by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA), and they’re a drastic shift from those established in 2011.  

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What are the new guidelines?

With support from Health Canada, CCSA released Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health in early 2023 to reflect current research and replace the Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines. The new guidelines outline a scale of risks associated with consuming alcohol weekly:  

  • 0 drinks per week—likely to promote better overall health and sleep 
  • 2 standard drinks or less per week—unlikely to cause alcohol-related consequences 
  • 3 to 6 standard drinks per week—likely to increase risk of certain types of cancer 
  • 7 standard drinks or more per week—likely to significantly increase risk of heart disease  

A sobering message

Health Canada’s key message is that 2+ drinks per occasion is associated with a higher risk of harm to self or others, and the less alcohol, the better.  

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What’s changed?

According to CCSA and the latest research, low-risk drinking is a two-drink maximum. This is a stark change from the previous guidelines, which allowed for 10 drinks a week for women and 15 for men. CCSA attributes the change to improved research over time.  

The new guidelines encourage Canadians to have a clear-eyed view of various alcohol-related risks, including illnesses like heart disease and cancer, as well as violence. For anyone who needs guidance on how to choose a limit, the new scale serves as a warning to indicate the risks associated with each level of drinking.  

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Do you want to reduce your alcohol intake?

Drinking alcohol can still be enjoyable within a healthy limit, but more and more people are embracing the sober-curious movement. Challenges such as Dry January and Sober October have been on an uprise across social media.   

If you are looking at ways to cut back on alcohol, there are plenty of mocktails and other non-alcoholic drinks that you can try. Cutting back on consuming alcohol may mean just minor modifications: 

  • substitute your dinner drink with a mocktail 
  • review your intentions for drinking and avoiding situations where binge drinking is encouraged 
  • trade social drinking for a healthier social activity, like going to a fitness class, cooking together, or volunteering 
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Matthew Kadey, MSc, RDMatthew Kadey, MSc, RD