ALCOHOL AND YOUR HEALTH
In 2019, 77% of people living in Alberta drank alcohol in the past 12 months.1 Yet most people don’t think about the health effects of drinking alcohol.
Alcohol can increase your risk for many serious health problems including heart disease, stroke and seven types of cancers. No amount or kind of alcohol is good for your health.
Drinking less is better for your health. Take a few moments to learn why every drink counts and why any reduction in your alcohol use benefits your health.
Health Condition Specific Information
Choose from one of the health conditions below to see how lifestyle choices can impact your risk of developing that health condition.
A STANDARD DRINK
In Canada, a standard drink is 17.05 milliliters or 13.45 grams of pure alcohol, which means:
- 341 ml or 12 oz of beer, cider, cooler, or ready-to-drink with 5% alcohol content
- 142 ml or 5 oz of wine with 12% alcohol content
- 43 ml or 1.5 oz of hard liquor (rye, gin, rum etc) on its own or in a mixed drink.
NOTE: Each of these drinks have the exact same alcohol (ethanol) content. If your beer or wine has a higher alcohol % then the size of a standard drink for this beer or wine would be smaller.
Alcohol is a depressant that impairs your perception, coordination and judgement even before you physically notice the effects.
CANADA's GUIDANCE on ALCOHOL AND HEALTH
The following guidance provides information to help you reduce your risk if you choose to drink alcohol. No amount or kind of alcohol (beer, wine, cider, distilled) is good for your health.
Canada's Guidance on Alcohol and Health is designed for those of legal drinking age and does not apply to youth under the age of 18.
To reduce the risk of harms, youth should delay alcohol use for as long as possible.
Consider your risk
The more alcohol you drink per week, the higher your risk of health problems.
No Risk: 0 drinks per week
-Not drinking has benefits such as better health and better sleep.
Low Risk: 1-2 standard drinks per week
-You will likely avoid alcohol-related consequences for yourself and others.
Moderate Risk: 3-6 standard drinks per week
-Your risk of developing cancer increases, including cancers of the breast, colon, rectum, mouth and throat, liver, esophagus, and larynx.
Increasingly High Risk: 7 or more standard drinks per week
-Your risk of heart disease or stroke increases – including heart failure, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat and stroke.
Each additional standard drink increases the risk of these alcohol-related consequences.
For more information visit Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health, Public Summary: Drinking Less Is Better
drinking less is better
- Drinking more than 2 standard drinks per occasion increases the risk of harm to yourself and others.
- Alcohol-related harms to others can include violence, road crashes, child abuse and neglect.
- Remember, alcohol affects reaction time and decision-making skills.
- Every drink counts: any reduction in alcohol use has benefits.
- Set a weekly target to drink less standard drinks in a week and stick to it.
Here are some tips to help you stay on target:
- Drink slowly.
- 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're drinking.
- Have alcohol-free weeks or do alcohol-free activities.
zero's the limit
There are times when no alcohol use is safest. Avoid alcohol when:
- Pregnant or planning to be pregnant.
- Driving a motor vehicle (e.g., car, truck, motorcycle, ATV/quad, boat).
- Using machinery and tools.
- Taking medicine or other drugs that interact with alcohol.
- Playing sports or doing any kind of dangerous physical activity.
- You are responsible for the safety of others (e.g., at home, on the job, on vacation).
- Making important decisions (e.g., in relationships, in workplaces, at school).
Talk to your doctor if you are living with a serious illness to determine what’s right for you.
trying to become pregnant, pregnant or breastfeeding
- When pregnant or trying to become pregnant, there is no known safe amount of alcohol use.
- Alcohol use can increase the risk of miscarriage, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy and placental abnormalities.
- Alcohol use during pregnancy can cause harms to the fetus including brain injury, and birth defects, and is related to the development of behavioural problems, learning disabilities and other health problems typically referred to as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).
- When breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is safest.
- Alcohol passes through breastmilk to your baby and can be harmful.
- Alcohol consumption can cause a decrease in milk production, affecting your ability to breastfeed your baby.
- If you are breastfeeding and choose to have an occasional drink, plan ahead. After drinking, it takes about 2-3 hours for your body to clear the alcohol from one standard drink.
- Breastfeed your baby before having a drink.
- Have expressed breastmilk on hand in case your baby is hungry before the alcohol has left your breastmilk.
- If you need to pump off some breastmilk to relieve some pressure during this time, throw this milk away.
For more information on pregnancy and breastfeeding visit Healthy Parents Healthy Children.
For more information on planning to become pregnant visit Ready or Not Alberta.
Delay your drinking if you are under 18
- Alcohol can harm the way the body and brain develop.
- The risk of harms from alcohol are greater for youth than for adults.
- Teens should speak with their parents about drinking and the impacts on health.
- To reduce the risk of harms, youth should delay alcohol use for as long as possible.
Drinking even a small amount of alcohol can be harmful regardless of age, sex, gender, ethnicity, tolerance for alcohol or lifestyle.
Drinking red wine is good for my heart.
Evidence shows that drinking a small amount of alcohol does not protect against heart disease.
Drinking alcohol increases your risk of the following cardiovascular diseases:
I just had a huge meal, so I can’t get drunk.
A full stomach only delays the absorption of alcohol into your bloodstream. You still can get drunk without even noticing.4
Hard liquor will get you drunk faster than beer or wine.
One regular beer (340 ml), one glass of wine (140 ml) and one glass of hard liquor (45 ml) all contain the same amount of alcohol.4
Switching between different kinds of alcohol will make you drunker than sticking with one kind.
Your blood alcohol concentration determines how intoxicated you are, not the kind of alcohol you drink.4
HOW ALCOHOL AFFECTS YOU
Alcohol may affect each person differently. Many factors can change or increase how alcohol affects your body. Alcohol will affect you, even if you don't notice it at first.
How Fast You Drink
- It takes 1-2 hours for your body to break down 1 standard drink.
- If you drink faster than your body can break down alcohol, your blood alcohol concentration builds up.
- The amount of alcohol you drink determines your blood alcohol concentration, not the kind of alcohol consumed.
- Only time will sober you up—coffee and a cold shower won’t affect your blood alcohol concentration.
- Eating food before and while drinking is better than drinking on an empty stomach to slow absorption.
- Food with higher fat or protein content slows down alcohol absorption since your stomach is busy digesting.
- Keep in mind that a full stomach won’t stop you from feeling the effects of alcohol or becoming impaired.
- Alcohol can intensify your mood and can increase feelings such as depression or anger.
- Even small amounts of alcohol can make a person feel sleepy.
how often you drink
- People who drink a lot of alcohol in a short time can become intoxicated quickly, leading to nausea and vomiting and, in some cases, coma and death. This is called alcohol overdose or poisoning.
- Drinking more often increases your tolerance, which means you’ll need to drink more alcohol to experience its effects.
- A tolerance to alcohol can be a warning sign for dependence.
- Some medications can interfere with how your body processes alcohol.
- Medication can increase or mask the effects of alcohol.
- Alcohol can make some medications less effective, useless, or toxic.
alcohol and others
Talking to your child about alcohol:
Alcohol not only affects your body but can affect your relationships. Parents should be aware of how their alcohol use can affect their children. You can help set boundaries and expectations around alcohol by talking to your children about alcohol and modelling healthy choices around alcohol use. For more information on talking to children about alcohol, download the Alcohol and Health Series booklet: Talk With Youth About Alcohol
Make sure you are aware of the people drinking around you. If someone passes out from alcohol, do not leave them alone. If they become unresponsive, call 911 for medical assistance. While waiting for help to arrive, roll the person onto their side and keep their head to the side to avoid choking.
Self Assessment & Treatment Services
For those living with alcohol dependency.
Alcohol withdrawal can sometimes require medical supervision. Speak to a health care provider if you are planning to make a change to your alcohol use.
Call the Addiction Helpline to talk about substance use, and supports available
If you’re concerned about your own or someone else's use of alcohol, cannabis or other drugs, please contact the Alberta Health Services Addiction Helpline at 1-866-332-2322 (available 24 hours a day, seven days a week).