Rethink your Drinking: How to Consume Alcohol Safely
Although previous studies have found that light alcohol intake (no more than one drink per day) can be associated with moderate health benefits, more recent studies suggest that the harms of alcohol offset the potential protective effects. Consuming too much alcohol – on a single occasion or over time – can put you at risk of injury and increase your long-term health risks. Because alcohol is likely to do more harm than good, the safest level of drinking is none. However, if you do choose to drink, it is recommended that you follow the Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines to ensure that you do so sensibly.
Understanding the short and long-term health risks associated with increased alcohol consumption may help you pay closer attention to your drinking and prevent associated negative impacts on your health and the health of others.
Feeling more relaxed is one of the short-term effects of alcohol. Although alcohol may help deal with stress or anxiety in the short term, it can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety and make stress harder to deal with in the long run. Drinking alcohol also slows down your brain processes which can cause short-term memory failure (i.e. forgetting what you did or said the night before) and altered perceptions, emotions, movements, vision and hearing. Therefore, it’s more difficult to think clearly, make good decisions and do various tasks when consuming alcohol.
Exceeding the recommended maximum of alcohol per day is also associated with many long-term health risks. For example, alcohol can damage many different parts of the body, such as the brain, heart, liver, and pancreas. It can also weaken your immune system, making your body a much easier target for disease, and it can increase your risk of developing certain cancers, including cancers of the mouth, esophagus, throat, liver and breast. In fact, according to the Canadian Cancer Society, there is no “safe limit” of alcohol consumption when it comes to cancer prevention. Over the long term, consuming too much alcohol can also lead to alcohol use disorder or alcohol addiction, which causes physical and psychological dependence on alcohol to the point where individuals cannot function without it.
To avoid the short and long-term health risks associated with drinking alcohol, consider using Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines to help moderate your alcohol consumption. As you learn more about these guidelines, remember that they don’t mean that alcohol is harmless or that following these recommendations will guarantee that you will have no health risks. In fact, they are simply a tool that can be used to promote a culture of moderation and to support a healthy lifestyle.
The Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines recommend no more than 2 standard drinks per day most days and no more than 10 standard drinks a week for women, with no more than 3 standard drinks a day most days and 15 standard drinks a week for men.
A “standard drink” includes the following: one 341ml (12oz) bottle of 5% alcohol beer, cider or cooler; one 43 ml (1.5oz) shot of 40% hard liquor (whiskey, vodka, gin, etc.); one 142ml (5oz) glass of 12% wine. Keep in mind that some drinks may contain more alcohol than others, such as coolers, fortified wines or specialty drinks. For example, a martini contains 3 shots of various types of alcohol, so one martini is equal to 3 standard drinks. Most individuals who drink underestimate the amount of alcohol they consume, so understanding these guidelines can help you stay within the recommended maximum of drinks per day and lower your health risks.
Consider following these tips to help you drink safely:
- Eat before, and when you drink.
- Set limits for yourself and stick to them.
- Drink slowly. No more than 2 standard drinks in any 3 hours.
- For every drink of alcohol, have one alcohol-free drink.
- Plan at least 2 non-drinking days every week to avoid developing a habit.
- Your age, body weight and health problems may suggest lower limits. Talk to your healthcare provider for more information.
- If you’re pregnant or planning to become pregnant, or about to breastfeed, the safest choice is to drink no alcohol at all.
- Your brain continues to develop until your mid-twenties. Therefore, teenagers and young adults should consider delaying their alcohol consumption.
Remember that sometimes zero is the limit. Do not drink when you are:
- Driving a vehicle or using machinery and tools
- Taking medicine or other drugs that interact with alcohol
- Doing any kind of dangerous physical activity
- Living with mental or physical health problems
- Living with alcohol dependence
- Pregnant or planning to be pregnant
- Responsible for the safety of others
- Making important decisions
If you choose to drink, please do so responsibly. Plan ahead and figure out your transportation plans before you leave the house, arrange your schedule so you avoid alcohol-based socializing multiple days in a row, get enough sleep, and eat and hydrate well to avoid feeling the effects of alcohol faster and to prevent dehydration.
If you are looking at cutting back on our alcohol consumption or if you would like more information on the ways drinking can impact your health, please speak with your family physician or nurse practitioner.
To learn more about the Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines, please visit the following website: http://www.rethinkyourdrinking.ca/information/.