Navigating Canada’s New 2023 Alcohol Consumption Guidelines: What You Need to Know

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In a world where health consciousness is on the rise, governments around the world are continuously reassessing their policies to promote safer and healthier lifestyles. Canada released new alcohol consumption guidelines in 2023, aiming to provide accurate and current information about the risks and harms associated with the consumption of alcohol. These guidelines reflect the latest scientific evidence and also prioritize the health and well-being of Canadians. Let’s delve into what these guidelines entail and how they may impact our drinking habits.

The 2023 alcohol consumption guidelines in Canada come as a result of extensive research, mathematical modelling and consultations with health experts.  As science evolves, so do the recommendations about alcohol use.  Here’s a breakdown of the key recommendations and conclusions:

  • 1 to 2 standard drinks per week: individuals are at low risk of alcohol-related harm and will likely avoid alcohol related consequences.
  • 3 to 6 standard drinks per week: at moderate risk of harm.  With this level of alcohol consumption, the risk of developing several different types of cancer, including breast and colon cancer, increases.
  • 7 or more standard drinks per week: high risk of harm. With this level of alcohol consumption, the risk of heart disease or stroke increases.
  • As well, there is an increased risk of harm associated with the consumption of more than 2 standard drinks on one occasion.

One standard Canadian drink was defined as 13 g of alcohol, which is approximately one 12 oz (341 ml) bottle of 5% beer/cooler/cider, one 5 oz glass of 12% wine or 1.5 oz of 40% spirits.

Overall, the guidelines explain that drinking alcohol has negative consequences and it can be concluded that health risks increase as alcohol consumption increases. Furthermore, the guidelines explain that not drinking has benefits such as better health and better sleep.  As well, the Canadian guidelines, along with international guidelines, advise children younger than 18 years, as well as those who are pregnant or breastfeeding not to consume alcohol.

While Canada has adopted this new guidance on alcohol and health, other country specific guidelines – including both Australia and the UK differ:

  • The 2020 Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol recommends <10 drinks per week and <4 drinks per occasion
    • One standard Australian drink was defined as 10 g of alcohol (smaller than one standard Canadian drink), which is approximately one 10 oz can of 5% beer, one 3.5 oz of 12% wine or 1 ounce of 40% spirits
  • The 2016 UK Chief Medical Officers’ Low Risk Drinking Guideline recommends <14 units per week averaged over three drinking days or more
    • One U.K. alcohol unit was defined as 8 g of alcohol (smaller than both one standard Canadian drink and one standard Australian drink), which is approximately 6.5 oz of 5% beer, 3 oz of 12% wine or 1 ounce of 40% spirits

When looking at the scientific evidence, multiple systematic reviews* have reached different conclusions about the safe upper limit of drinking alcohol. This can be explained as the definitions used for harm, acceptable risk and low/high alcohol consumption vary widely.

*Systematic reviews gather and synthesize all evidence that fit pre-specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a specific research question

Overall, the scientific evidence shows that health risks increase as alcohol consumption increases.  However, the level of alcohol consumption where risk becomes intolerable depends on the following factors:

  1. The outcome of interest (for example cancer, heart disease, all-cause mortality, accident or injury, mental health effects, social harms)
  2. Definition of risk

Both of these factors differ across international guidelines and therefore contribute to discrepancies between country-specific recommendations. All three countries do however agree that abstention from alcohol represented the lowest risk of alcohol-related harm.

Canada’s new 2023 alcohol consumption guidelines provide people in Canada with accurate and current information about the risk of harms associated with the consumption of alcohol. By providing clear recommendations based on scientific evidence, these guidelines empower individuals to make informed choices about their alcohol consumption and prioritize their health and well-being.

Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health: Final Report

Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health, Public Summary: Drinking Less Is Better  

Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog post is for educational purposes only and should not substitute professional medical advice. Always consult with your healthcare provider for personalized guidance on alcohol consumption and its implications for your health.

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