Canada has overhauled its alcohol consumption guidance, and the difference between the new and old recommendations is stark.
The latest round of recommendations published by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) is the first update to the guidelines in 11 years. CCSA released a report containing the guidelines on Tuesday.
While acknowledging that 40 per cent of people living in Canada aged 15 and older consume more than six standard drinks per week, the report warns that no amount of alcohol is safe to consume. It recommends a new cap on weekly alcohol consumption that is significantly lower than the previous one and lays out new guidelines for people who are breastfeeding or trying to conceive.
Here is a summary of what we know about the new guidelines.
WHATS BEHIND CANADAS NEW ALCOHOL GUIDANCE?
The CCSA announced in September 2020 that it would launch an initiative to bring the existing Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines – released in 2011 – in line with the latest evidence on alcohol consumption health and safety risks.
The new guidance would also address the specific needs of groups facing a higher risk from the harms associated with alcohol, including youth, women, older adults and people with chronic diseases.
“The current Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines are a vital tool to support Canadians in assessing their alcohol consumption, said Rita Notarandrea, CEO of CCSA, in a media release published on Sept. 17, 2020.
Since they were first developed in 2011, the evidence on the impact of alcohol on health and its contribution to social harms has advanced considerably. This update to the guidelines will reflect the most recent evidence available and put Canada on the leading edge of the research.
Aided by funding from Health Canada, the CCSA spent 20 months updating the guidelines with scientists, researchers and representatives from federal, provincial and territorial governments and national organizations. The new guidelines, titled Canadas Guidance on Alcohol and Health, now officially replace Canadas previous Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines.
WHAT ARE THE NEW GUIDELINES FOR ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION?
Rather than laying out strict rules around drinking, the new CCSA guidance provides a continuum – or scale – of risk associated with various levels of alcohol use to help people make healthier choices.
The new continuum defines the health and safety risks associated with drinking as negligible-to-low for people who have two standard drinks or less per week; moderate for those who have between three and six standard drinks per week; and increasingly high for those who consume more than six standard drinks per week.
In other words, to minimize the risk associated with drinking, the CCSA recommends consuming no more than two alcoholic drinks per week, a dramatic reduction from the previous cap of 15 drinks for men and 10 drinks for women.
The report refutes the popular belief that drinking a small amount of alcohol can provide sleep and health benefits, and warns that as few as three to six drinks per week can increase the risk of developing certain cancers. It warns consuming more than seven drinks per week increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, with the danger increasing with each additional drink.
The new guidelines recommend people who are pregnant, trying to conceive or breastfeeding avoid drinking alcohol entirely, even in small amounts.
The report also warns that a disproportionate number of injuries, violent incidents and deaths result from mens drinking, while women face steeper health risks above low levels of alcohol consumption than men.
The report urges authorities to require drink containers – such as bottles and cans – to include labels that tell people how many standard drinks are contained in each, as well as health warnings and nutrition information.
WHAT IS A STANDARD DRINK?
According to the CCSA, a standard drink in Canada is defined as:
- A 12-oz. (341 ml) bottle of 5 per cent alcohol beer or cider
- A 5-oz. (142 ml) glass of 12 per cent alcohol wine
- A 1.5-oz. (43 ml) shot glass of 40 per cent alcohol spirits
IS THE LEGAL DRINKING AGE IN CANADA CHANGING?
In Canada, each province and territory defines the age at which people can legally purchase, possess, consume and supply alcohol; the minimum legal drinking age.
The current minimum legal drinking age in most Canadian provinces and territories is 19, with the exception of Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec, where the minimum legal drinking age is 18.
The CCSAs new guidance does not include a recommendation to change the minimum legal drinking age in Canada.
WHAT ARE THE CRITERIA FOR ALCOHOLISM?
Canadas Guidance on Alcohol and Health warns that drinking any more than two alcoholic beverages per week can pose a moderate health and safety risk, but does not wade into any criteria for alcohol use disorders.
The report does state that, although most people who engage in binge drinking do not meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder, virtually all people with an alcohol use disorder engage in binge drinking.
It defines binge drinking as drinking five or more standard drinks in a sitting for men and four or more for women.
To read the guidelines for yourself, visit ccsa.ca.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction or mental health matters, the following resources may be available to you:
- Hope for Wellness Helpline for Indigenous Peoples (English, French, Cree, Ojibway and Inuktitut): 1-855-242-3310
- Wellness Together Canada: 1-866-585-0445 and ca.portal.gs/
- Drug Rehab Services: 1-877-254-3348
- SMART Recovery: meetings.smartrecovery.org/meetings/
- Families for Addiction Recovery: 1-855-377-6677
- Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868