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ALCOHOL AND YOUR HEALTH

75% of Albertans have used alcohol in the past year1. Yet most people don’t think about the wide-ranging health impacts of drinking.

For example, an unhealthy diet combined with overconsumption of alcohol puts you at higher risk for cardiovascular disease, hypertension and Type 2 Diabetes. Alcohol of any kind can seriously damage your digestive system, brain, heart, liver, stomach and other vital organs, which in turn, can shorten your life by a number of years. As well, alcohol can interfere with your quality of sleep, which has its own health risks.

Despite all those health risks, people will still drink. That makes alcohol consumption a complex health issue, requiring a better understanding of how alcohol can affect our bodies.

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

  • 341 ml or 12 oz of beer, cider or cooler with 5% alcohol content
  • 142 ml or 5 oz of wine with 12% alcohol content
  • 1.5 oz of hard liquor (rye, gin, rum etc) with 40% alcohol content
  • Mixed drink containing 1.5 ounces of liquor

NOTE: Each of these drinks feature the exact same alcohol content.

Alcohol is a depressant that impairs your perception, coordination and judgement even before you physically notice the effects.

THE CANADIAN LOW-RISK ALCOHOL DRINKING GUIDELINES

This guideline is not an endorsement of alcohol. We recognize people have cultural, religious, health and personal reasons for not drinking. Instead, this guideline helps you make informed choices on setting healthy limits on your drinking.

Guideline 1: Do not drink in certain situations

Avoid alcohol when:

  • Operating any kind of vehicle, tool or machinery.
  • Taking medication or drugs that may interact with alcohol in unforeseen ways.
  • Playing sports or engaged in other potentially dangerous physical activities.
  • On the job.
  • Making important decisions.
  • Pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant.
  • Breastfeeding.
  • Supervising or caring for others.
  • Suffering from serious physical illness, mental illness or alcohol dependence.
Guideline 2: Drink within the average levels
  • Women: 0-2 drinks per day (max of 10 drinks per week).
  • Men: 0-3 drinks per day (max of 15 drinks per week).
  • Always have some non-drinking days per week to minimize tolerance and habit formation.

NOTE: The guideline helps to reduce long term health risks. These averages are intended for adults between the ages of 25 to 65 who conform to the average national body weight. People who fall outside these parameters should approach their alcohol consumption with caution.

Guideline 3: Drink in safe situations and restrict intake
  • No more than three standard drinks in one day for a woman.
  • No more than four standard drinks in one day for a man.
  • Avoid risky situations and activities while drinking.
  • Drinking at these upper limits should only happen occasionally and always be consistent with the week limits above (in Guideline 2).
  • Remember, alcohol affects reactions and decision-making skills.
Guideline 4: Avoid drinking when pregnant or planning to get pregnant
  • Alcohol in the bloodstream can harm a developing fetus.
  • There is no definitively safe amount of alcohol you can drink while pregnant.
Guideline 5: Delay your drinking
  • Alcohol can harm the way the body and brain can develop.
  • Teens should speak with their parents about drinking.
  • If you choose to drink, do so under parental guidance and not more than 1-2 drinks at a time.
  • Plan ahead, follow local alcohol laws and consider safer drinking tips.

Alcohol doesn’t affect us all in the same way. Various factors can change or intensify the effects of alcohol on your body. Regardless, alcohol will have an effect on you, even if you don’t notice it at first.

How Fast You Drink

  • Your body breaks down approximately one drink per hour.
  • Drinking faster means your body is trying to break down the previous drink, so 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, since coffee and a cold shower won’t affect your blood alcohol concentration.

Sex and Size

  • On average, woman have a higher blood alcohol concentration due to their bodies containing a higher percentage of fat and usually weighing less than men.
  • Women tend to have lower water content, resulting in a higher alcohol concentration in the body.

Food

  • When you haven’t eaten, alcohol empties quickly into the small intestines and intensifies its effects.
  • When eating and drinking, alcohol is absorbed into the stomach and slows down the process.
  • Food with higher fat content or high protein foods slows down alcohol absorption since your stomach is busy with the gastric emptying process.
  • Keep in mind that a full stomach won’t stop you from feeling the effects of alcohol or becoming impaired.

Your Mood

  • Alcohol can deepen depression or anger.
  • Even small amounts of alcohol can make a tired person very sleepy.

Experience

  • Inexperienced drinkers who drink more than the average can get drunk quickly, leading to nausea and vomiting and, in extreme cases, coma and death.
  • Drinking more often increases your tolerance, i.e. you’ll need more alcohol to experience its effects.
  • A tolerance to alcohol can be a warning sign for dependence.

Medications

  • May interfere with how your body processes alcohol.
  • Can increase or mask the effects of alcohol.
  • Alcohol can reduce the effectiveness of some medication.

Drinking responsibly also means being aware of the people drinking around you. If someone passes out from alcohol, do not leave him or her alone. Call 911 for medical assistance. While waiting for help to arrive, roll the person onto his or her side and keep their head to the side as well.

DRINK RESPONSIBLY

Alcohol not only affects your body, but your relationships as well. Parents should especially be aware of how their alcohol consumption can affect their children. You can help set boundaries and expectations around alcohol by modelling responsible alcohol use. For more information on talking to children about alcohol, download our guide: Alcohol and Health: Talk to Your Children about Alcohol.

Everyone likes to share good news and good times with friends. But when an occasion calls for a party, it also calls for a responsible host.

If you’re concerned about your drinking or about somebody else in your life, speak with your family doctor or call the Alberta Health Services Addiction Helpline at 1-866-332-2322.