Obey the New Drinking Rules

Canada Releases National Drinking Guidelines

Graphic Dario Farina

The first ever nation-wide drinking guidelines in Canada were released by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse on Nov. 25.

The new guidelines come on the heels of information released this year about higher consumption-related cancer risks, and higher risks of liver diseases attributed to the frequency of drinking.

“Once publicly released, these guidelines will help health professionals across Canada to provide consistent, evidence-based advice to their patients and will allow Canadians to make informed decisions about their drinking,” said Olivia Caron, media spokesperson at Health Canada.

One of the new guidelines cautions Canadians to avoid consuming alcohol for at least a couple days each week.

“Based on frequency and quantity, they really recommend that people abstain for two days a week,” said Dr. Sylvia Kairouz, the Director of Concordia’s Lifestyle and Addictions Research
Lab—a recommendation she criticizes.

“Why only two days per week?” said Kairouz. “Maybe we should be giving more instruction on the frequency of drinking […] maybe they can say, try to limit yourself to so many times per week.”

Controversy over the old guidelines started in July when a study by the Canadian Medical Association Journal stated the guidelines were inaccurate because they only applied to a certain amount of the population.

“It would be foolish not to recommend to an overweight, sterile woman with a family history of breast cancer, or to a smoker exposed to ionizing radiation, asbestos, or arsenic, to reduce to null their consumption of alcoholic beverages,” said Dr. Mariette Gerber, senior scientist of the Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale in a response to the study.

“It also seems unnecessary,” she noted, “to apply the same constraints to the general population.”

The new low-risk drinking guidelines were developed by the CCSA and National Alcohol Strategy Advisory Committee, a committee represented by federal and provincial governments including Health Canada and the Public Health Agency—a change from the old guidelines from the research facility and hospital, CAMH.

The previous guidelines were established in 1997 and updated just once since then with significant research from the CAMH. The old guidelines have been under scrutiny as research continues to develop about the risks of drinking.

A recent study in Britain stating the benefits of the two-day rule has sparked a discussion about whether binge drinking should be considered in making their guidelines, due to British drinking culture.

In the new guidelines, Kairouz said binge drinking isn’t an option for Canadians, as a maximum limit per occasion is set at four drinks for men, and three drinks for women—one drink being a 341 ml bottle of five per cent beer, a 142 ml glass of 12 per cent wine, or a 43 ml serving of 40 per cent liquor.

“There is nothing about excessive drinking in the guidelines,” said Kairouz. But she says this decreases the risk of more alcohol related incidents occurring.

“Definitely binge drinking should be considered,” said Kairouz. “[It] puts people at higher risks for violence, drinking and driving, and people are less in control of their bodies.”

Californian Madison Mclaren, 19, came to Montreal to visit a friend, and to drink. She thinks the new guidelines are at a good level.

“I think it’s okay to drink on weekends. And if you’re with your girls, five to six shots is good,” said Mclaren. “It’s okay to have a glass of wine or a beer during the football game, or a couple.”

“I don’t follow it, I just drink until I’m drunk,” said 19-year-old Champlain College student Katarina Pranke. “But only on the weekends.”

Do Not Drink When You Are:

  1. Driving a vehicle or using machinery & tools
  2. Taking medicine or other drugs that interact with alcohol
  3. Doing any kind of dangerous  physical activity
  4. Living with mental or physical health problems
  5. Living with alcohol dependence
  6. Pregnant or planning to be pregnant
  7. Responsible for the safety of others
  8. Making important decisions