Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines

Topic Overview

What is low-risk drinking?

If you choose to drink alcohol, the key is to keep your drinking at the safest possible levels, called low-risk drinking. It's important to remember that drinking alcohol is not risk-free.

Many people enjoy drinking alcohol, and most people usually do it safely. But it's okay to choose not to drink.

What are low-risk drinking levels?

In general, limit how much you drink. Canadian health experts recommend that:

  • If you're a man, have no more than 3 standard drinks a day on most days and no more than 15 drinks a week.
  • If you're a woman, have no more than 2 standard drinks a day on most days and no more than 10 drinks a week.

On special occasions every now and then, it's okay to have 1 extra drink.

If you choose to drink, keep the amount of alcohol you drink within the recommended limits. Drinking at the upper limits should only happen once in a while, not every day or week. Plan non-drinking days every week to avoid developing a habit.

Keep in mind that a safe amount of alcohol for one person may be too much for another. Because of things like age, sex, weight, and health history, alcohol can affect people differently. If you're an adult who doesn't weigh a lot, is younger than 25 or older than 65, or isn't used to drinking, you need to be even more careful about how much alcohol you drink.

If you choose to drink, here are some things you can do to reduce your risk of getting sick or injured:

  • Have a meal or a snack with your drink. Don't drink on an empty stomach.
  • Drink slowly. Don't have more than 2 standard drinks in any 3-hour period.
  • Have a glass of water or non-alcoholic, caffeine-free beverage (such as a soft drink or fruit juice) between drinks.
  • Avoid risky situations and activities. Don't drink and drive, and don't get in a car with a driver who has been drinking.
  • Don't take over-the-counter or prescription medicines that interact with alcohol.
  • Limit how much you drink.

What are the health benefits of drinking alcohol?

Some research suggests that having 1 drink a day may help lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes in middle-aged adults. But these possible health benefits decline with each additional drink that you have. Research also shows that any amount of alcohol can increase your risk of other health problems, such as some cancers.

If you don't drink now, don't start drinking to lower your risk of these health problems. There are many other ways you can lower your risk, such as eating a healthy diet, exercising, staying at a healthy weight, and not smoking. Talk to your doctor about your health and the benefits and risks of drinking alcohol.

What are the health risks of drinking alcohol?

When you drink alcohol, you may be putting your health and safety at risk. Your risk of harm increases with each drink that you have. And your risk of harm increases with how often you drink at amounts above the low-risk drinking guidelines, even if you do this only now and then.

Drinking alcohol may:

  • Harm your liver, pancreas, nervous system, heart, and brain.
  • Cause high blood pressure, depression, stomach problems, or sexual problems.
  • Contribute to the development of some cancers, such as cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, and breast.
  • Cause memory loss and affect your ability to think, learn, and reason.
  • Cause harm to your developing baby (fetus) if you drink during pregnancy.
  • Lead to problems at work, school, or home.
  • Increase the risk of car crashes and violent behaviour.
  • Cause you to develop an alcohol use problem.

If you think you're drinking too much, you might want to reduce how much you drink.

When is it okay for young people to start drinking?

Young people should wait at least until they are in their late teenage years to drink alcohol. Follow the laws for the legal drinking age where you live. Drinking at a younger age can affect a young person's general health, physical growth, emotional development, ability to make good decisions, and schoolwork.

Parents can play a key part in teaching their children how to drink safely and responsibly.

  • Talk about the risks and dangers of drinking alcohol. Discuss your family rules about alcohol use. Make it clear if you don't want your children to drink.
  • Create a safe environment. If you allow your teenagers to drink, make sure that they drink no more than 1 or 2 standard drinks and no more than once or twice a week and are under your supervision.
  • Make it clear that they should never drink and drive and that they should never get in a car with a driver who has been drinking. Make a plan with your children to get home safely. For example, give them money to pay for a taxi or offer to pick them up if they need a safe ride home.
  • Be a good role model. Your drinking behaviour is an important influence on your children.

Who should not drink alcohol at all?

Although most people can safely have a drink now and then, some people should not drink at all.

Don't drink alcohol if:

  • You're pregnant or trying to get pregnant. Alcohol can harm the developing baby (fetus). Alcohol can pass from the mother's blood into the baby's blood. It can damage and affect the growth of the baby's cells. Experts don't know if any amount of alcohol is safe to drink during pregnancy, so pregnant women are advised not to drink at all.
  • You breast-feed your child. Breast-feed just before you drink alcohol.
  • You're taking over-the-counter or prescription medicines that interact with alcohol.
  • You have health problems made worse by drinking, such as liver problems, heart failure, uncontrolled high blood pressure, or certain blood disorders.
  • You have a mental health problem and are using alcohol to try to make yourself feel better.
  • You have problems controlling how much you drink, or you had alcohol problems in the past.
  • You're at work.
  • You plan to drive or operate dangerous tools or machinery.
  • You plan to play sports or take part in dangerous physical activities.
  • You're taking care of someone or supervising others.
  • You need to make important decisions.

Talk to your doctor about whether drinking alcohol is safe for you. And if it is, ask how much is okay.

Other Places To Get Help

Online Resources

Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse
www.ccsa.ca
Centre for Addictions Research of BC: Alcohol Reality Check (Canada)
www.carbc.ca/PublicationsResources/SelfHelpTreatment/AlcoholScreening.aspx

Organizations

Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse
www.ccsa.ca
Centre for Addictions Research of BC: Alcohol Reality Check (Canada)
www.carbc.ca/PublicationsResources/SelfHelpTreatment/AlcoholScreening.aspx

Credits

Adaptation Date: 6/4/2015

Adapted By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Reviewed By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Date: 6/4/2015

Adapted By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Reviewed By: HealthLink BC