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Risks and Health Effects of Drinking Alcohol


a glass and bottle of red wine


Drinking alcohol can be a part of celebrations, occasional socializing, or your regular routine.

Find out more about some of the risks, and where to get help when you need it.

  • Short-term: One or two drinks can make you feel more relaxed. But even light drinking can affect your coordination and speech. You may have problems with balance and vision. This is why it’s dangerous for you to drive after even one drink or ride with a driver who’s been drinking.
  • Long-term:  If you drink above the limits in Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines for a long time, you increase your risk of high blood pressure, liver or heart damage. Heavy drinking can damage your stomach lining and could cause cancer, including esophagus, breast, liver, and colon cancer. Drinking heavily over a long period of time can also cause problems with relationships, money or the law.

Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines for Adults

What is a safe amount to drink? The amount that’s safe for you will vary depending on your age, gender, ethnicity, weight, body fat, and health status.

Alcohol and Your Weight

If you’re concerned about your weight, consider the extra calories you’re adding to your diet with each drink.

Note: Actual calories of alcoholic beverages may vary; the addition of mixes will increase the calories of these beverages. Standard serving sizes are based on one drink as outlined in Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines.

Standard Alcoholic Beverages Standard Beverage Size Approximate Average Calories
per Standard Serving Size
Red Wine (12%) 142 ml (5 oz.) glass 130
White Wine (12%) 142 ml (5 oz.) glass 120
Regular Beer (5%) 341 ml (12 oz.) bottle 150
Light Beer (4%) 341 ml (12 oz.) bottle 100
Spirits (40%) 43 ml (1.5 oz.) shot 100

When drinking is a problem

You may think “problem drinking” is about people who drink a lot of alcohol every day. But most alcohol problems are actually caused by social drinkers. Even a small amount of alcohol is a problem if you are mixing substances, operating a vehicle, or are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Get Help when you need it

Are you or someone you know experiencing a problem with alcohol?

For treatment options and resources throughout BC, call the Alcohol and Drug Information Referral Service at 1-800-663-1441. In Greater Vancouver, call 604-660-9382.

To help yourself with a drinking or substance use problem, see Here to Help.

Last Updated: August 14, 2013