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Canada’s New Guidance on Alcohol and Health and What It Means for Your Vitality (Part I)

Updated: Feb 24, 2023

This past week Canada updated their low risk drinking guidelines from their previous 2011 recommendations. The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) cut consumption of alcohol to two drinks per week, a dramatic reduction from the previous guidelines of 15 drinks per week for men and 10 drinks per week for women.


That’s a dramatic change.


And before you place your hands over your ears and your eyes, thinking I’m going to tell you to cut your alcohol consumption to two drinks or less per week to optimize your vitality, that’s not what this article is about.


In this article I’ll outline:




The Guidelines

The CCSA determined that even a small amount of alcohol can be damaging to health. The more alcohol you drink per week, the more the consequences add up.

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.


The report also 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 also warns consuming more than seven drinks per week increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, with the danger increasing with each additional drink.


What is a standard drink size in Canada anyway:

  • A 12-oz. (341 ml) bottle of 5 percent alcohol beer or cider

  • A 5-oz. (142 ml) glass of 12 percent alcohol wine

  • A 1.5-oz. (43 ml) shot glass of 40 percent alcohol spirits


The CCSA has put the guidelines, the continuum and the standard drink sizes into a colourful infographic that you can view/download here.



How to Determine For Yourself If Your Habits Need To Change:


As with all research, it’s important to understand that there are multiple variables which are difficult to account for, thus making it challenging to predict a causal relationship (ie that is only the alcohol that accounts for the health risk). It’s easy to miss other potential contributors, such as, are they exposed to second-hand smoke, what is their diet like, what genetic factors may be at play, how do they cope with stress, etc.


Dan Malleck, a professor in the Department of Health Sciences at Brock University, and a medical historian who specializes in drug and alcohol regulation and policy, encourages us to look at the guidelines with some perspective before we throw out our wine collection. He states that persistent research results suggest that abstinence can cause greater health harm than moderate alcohol consumption. And that alcohol can enhance lives in positive social ways - helping us rejoice or mourn, celebrate or commiserate, relax or blow off steam.



These recommendations are guidelines, not absolutes. And it is up to each of you to determine your personal risk-benefit with the guidance of your healthcare professionals.



From a vitality perspective, I’d encourage you to be a non-judgmental observer of yourself and your personal drinking habits and behaviours.


Here are some questions to ask yourself about the effects of your drinking on your vitality:


1. How do you feel when you’ve been drinking (same day and next day)?


2. How do you function when you’ve been drinking (same day and next day)?


3. What effect does drinking have on your food choices?


4. What effect does it have on your sleep?


5. If you are perimenopausal, what effects does it have on your menopausal symptoms?

6. If you are diabetic or pre-diabetic, what effect does your drinking have on your blood sugars?


7. What effect does it have on your mood?


8. If you are feeling resistance at the thought of observing your drinking habits and potentially drinking less, what is that resistance about?



When you observe your habits and behaviours non-judgementally, you are gathering information to help you make an informed choice and to have a baseline to compare to if/when you may choose to drink less.


I encourage you to observe your behaviours and record the answers to the above questions over a period of a week or more and take note of any patterns. The answers to these questions along with information about your lifestyle, nutrition, exercise and health will all help you to make an informed decision that’s right for you.


Next week, we will dive into alcohol’s effects on vitality, hormones and body composition in Part II.



Tips if you’d like to drink less


According to the guidelines, any reduction in alcohol use has benefits. And the recommendation is to aim to drink less.


If you think you would like to aim to drink less, here are a few tips:


Count up how many drinks you have in a week. Set a weekly drinking target that is less than you currently drink. CCSA recommends trying not to exceed two drinks on any day.


Tips to help you stay on target:

  • Track your progress.

  • Recruit an accountability buddy.

  • Set your environment up for success (put the alcohol out of sight and replace it with a non-alcoholic beverage that is in sight).

  • When you drink, drink slowly and mindfully.

  • Drink lots of water.

  • For every alcoholic drink, have one non-alcoholic drink.

  • Choose alcohol-free beverages or low-alcohol beverages more often.

  • Eat before and while you are drinking.

  • Have alcohol free days, activities or weeks.


TL;DR

Canada’s new low-risk drinking guidelines are recommending that you cut alcohol consumption to two drinks or less per week. While there are benefits to limiting alcohol consumption to prevent health risks such as certain cancers, heart disease and stroke, there is also persistent research that suggests that abstinence can cause greater health harm than moderate alcohol consumption. It’s up to each of you to determine your personal risk-benefit by observing and tracking your drinking behaviour and consulting with your healthcare providers.



Health and wellness coaching can help you increase your awareness of your drinking habits, how they impact your health and vitality, and create a plan to align your health habits with your goals. Book a free 15 minute chat to learn more.


What are your thoughts on the new guidelines? Will you aim to drink less?


Stay tuned next week for Part II: How alcohol affects your health, vitality, hormones and body composition.


To read the guidelines for yourself, visit ccsa.ca.


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