New Canadian alcohol consumption guidelines were published in August of 2022. It is now recommended to drink no more than two drinks weekly to minimize alcohol-related injuries.1 This recommendation is significantly lower than past guidelines.
For comparison, a 2011-updated report from Health Canada recommended that men consume three or fewer drinks daily, for 15 drinks weekly.1 For women, it was suggested they drink two or fewer drinks daily for a weekly total of ten alcoholic beverages.1
The new restrictions show a significant reduction in consumption guidelines. But is this reduction valid?
Limiting alcohol intake for better health
Living an alcohol-free lifestyle may not be realistic, but alcohol consumption reduces the chances of good health for many. Alcohol intake above the recommended amounts contributes to Canada’s leading causes of death.1
Drinking alcohol in excess contributes to heart disease, stroke, and coronary artery disease. Alcohol intake is also a factor in at least seven different types of cancer, including,
- mouth & throat
- and liver cancer.
According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction1, consuming two or fewer weekly drinks does not affect the risk of these illnesses. Drinking 3-6 alcoholic beverages weekly increases the risk of developing cancer. Consuming seven or more drinks weekly increases the risk of heart disease.1
Too much alcohol can lead to violence
Drinking an excess of alcohol can lead to alcohol dependence, abuse, and violence2. While concerns about violence are one of the main reasons for updating the alcohol consumption guidelines, there is no exact quantitative relationship between violence and the amount of alcohol consumed.1
Why guidelines are updated now
Past health sources have promoted the idea that drinking alcohol, and wine, in particular, could reduce the risk of heart disease.1 New research using improved research methods demonstrated that previous guidelines needed improvement.1 Recent data also shows that Canada’s alcohol-related cancer is responsible for 7,000 deaths annually.1
Do we need these restrictions?
Dan Malleck, a professor of Health Sciences at Brock University and expert in Canadian liquor laws, says, “these new guidelines should not be taken as the end-all-be-all.”3 Malleck points out that the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction cited third-party studies that focused only on the potential relationship between alcohol and heart disease. Researchers must consider a holistic approach to their research and consider that other lifestyle choices may cause the condition.3
Malleck also notes that the guidelines use relative terms (i.e., higher risk), but actual numbers or markers are minimally provided. Non-specific evidence creates public confusion surrounding alcohol-related risks and what it can mean to have an additional weekly drink.3
Future recommendations for drinking alcohol
Members of the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction1 suggest drinking one glass of water for every alcoholic drink. Choosing beverages with lower alcohol content and taking small sips is also recommended.
Other recommendations are for Health Canada to regulate the labelling of alcoholic beverages. For example, the labels should clearly show the number of standard drinks within the beverage.1 The hope is to help Canadians track their alcohol intake.
- Paradis, C., Butt, P., Shield, K., Poole, N., Wells, S., Naimi, T. Sherk, A., & the Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines Scientific Expert Panels. (2022). Update of Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines: Final Report for Public Consultation. Ottawa, Ont.: Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction.
- Dostanic, N., Djikanovic, B., Jovanovic, M. et al. The Association Between Family Violence, Depression and Anxiety Among Women Whose Partners Have Been Treated for Alcohol Dependence. J Fam Viol 37, 313–324 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10896-020-00238-1
- St. Dennis, Maryanne. (2022). Brock prof weighs in on proposed Canadian alcohol guidelines. The Brock News. Accessed Sept. 15, 2022. Retrieved from https://brocku.ca/brock-news/2022/09/brock-prof-weighs-in-on-proposed-canadian-alcohol-guidelines/