How much alcohol is too much? New guidance for Canadians out today

By Michael Ranger and Alex Karpa

New guidance is out on how much alcohol Canadians should be drinking while maintaining their health — and the updated advice could be a sobering reality check for many.

The new report for from the Canadian Centre for Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) suggests a person should consume no more than two drinks a week in order to mitigate health risks. The recommendation is down from a previously advised two drinks a day.

In findings released last year, the CCSA found the average person should drink an average of zero to two drinks per week to reduce the possibility of suffering negative outcomes to their health.

“We know it is not realistic that everyone can meet this one-to-two drinks per week, because there are various social pressures and people are used to drinking more than that. For those people, I would recommend trying to cut down a little bit and see how that affects your health,” explained Dr. Kevin Shield, Independent Scientist at the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research.

Independent Scientist at the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research.

The data suggested more than six drinks a week (84 grams of alcohol) puts an individual at high risk of developing significant health issues. Three to six drinks a week poses a moderate health risk.

The typical alcoholic beverage (a beer, an average glass of wine, a cocktail) contains approximately 14 grams of alcohol. One drink per day would work out to 98 grams of consumption per week.

Risks associated with moderate consumption include different types of cancers, including breast and colon cancer. The guidance suggests the upper limits of more the six drinks a week carry an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

“That means your cancer risk is the same if you have a drink of beer, wine, or spirits. It all causes cancer to an equal extend. That ethanol can actually damage the DNA and that’s how it actually causes most cancers,” said Dr. Shield.

In 2011, Health Canada recommended that men consume no more than 15 drinks weekly, and for woman that number sat at no more than 10 beverages.

Continuum of risk associated with average weekly alcohol consumption

In addition to health risks, the new guidance suggests more than two drinks per week comes with an increased risk of self-harm and harm to others. These risks apply more to men who disproportionately participate in binge drinking and are therefore more likely to be involved in alcohol-impaired collisions, violence, and develop an addiction.

“Binge drinking, usually defined as consuming five or more standard drinks in one setting for men, or four or more standard drinks in one setting for women, is a pattern of consumption that results in legal impairment for most people,” reads the report.

“It is a well-established risk factor for death from any cause, including unintentional injuries, violence, heart disease and high blood pressure, and inflammation of the gastrointestinal system, and for developing an alcohol use disorder.”

Jacob Shelley, associate professor and faculty of law & school health studies at Western University added, “We ought to normalize industries providing consumers the information they need to make informed choices. Buyer beware presumes that buyers are aware, so the industry has an obligation to inform consumers from alcohol and beyond.”

Jacob Shelley, associate professor and faculty of law & school health studies at Western University.

The report says gender differences carry a minimal impact on the lifetime risk of death when it comes to alcohol consumption, however, health risks “increase more steeply” for women when it comes to the upper limits of consumption (more than six drinks per week).

The CCSA continues to advise against any alcohol consumption for those who are pregnant, or trying to get pregnant. The group says it is safest to not consume any alcohol when breastfeeding.

Other situations where zero consumption is recommended:

  • Driving a motor vehicle
  • Using machinery and tools
  • Taking medicine or other drugs that interact with alcohol
  • Doing any kind of dangerous physical activity
  • Being responsible for the safety of others
  • Making important decisions.


The CCSA was created in 1988 and advises the federal government on substance use and solutions to address alcohol and drug abuse.

The Bruce Oake Recovery Centre in Winnipeg has been providing help to those suffering from drug and alcohol addiction since May of 2021. Greg Kyllo, Executive Director says 37 per cent of the people that they treat at the long-term facility, are dealing with alcohol addictions.

“It has been consistently significant and especially with certain populations, it’s even more prevalent. I think not looking at the harms caused by alcohol is something all of us need to consider,” said Greg Kyllo, executive director at Bruce Oake Recovery Centre.

Greg Kyllo, executive director at Bruce Oake Recovery Centre.

Dr. Shield says merely reducing alcohol consumption will improve overall health. “Keep with it as well, because those health benefits are real, and you should be noticing them when you cut back.”

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