New Canadian alcohol consumption guide outlines cancer risks

A report released by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) today says that no amount of alcohol is safe and that consuming any more than two drinks a week is risky. 

“Consuming more than two standard drinks per drinking occasion is associated with an increased risk of harms to self and others, including injuries and violence,” the CCSA report stated.

The new guidance is a drastic shift from the 2011 guidelines which recommended no more than 15 drinks for men and 10 drinks for women per week to reduce long-term health risks. 

The CCSA says the new advice reflects thousands of studies in the last decade that link even small amounts of alcohol to several types of cancer.

This appears to validate the growing pressure on the government to put cancer warning labels on alcohol containers, which the industry deems unnecessary. However, experts say most Canadians don’t know the risks that come with consuming even moderate amounts. 

According to Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health, 1–2 standard drinks per week is low risk, and 3–6 standard drinks a week represents a moderate risk to your health. After that, the more you drink, the more you increase your risk of seven types of cancer, most types of cardiovascular diseases, liver disease and violence. 

The bottom line is that, when it comes to alcohol and your health, less is better.

Don’t exceed more than 2 drinks on any day, the report says adding that when pregnant or trying to get pregnant, there is no known safe amount of alcohol.

“People have a right to know this information. The concept of a continuum of risk puts power in people’s hands to make their own informed decisions,” said Alexander Caudarella, Chief Executive Officer of the CCSA. 

“The evidence is clear that every drink counts. It’s also clear that it’s never too late to make changes,” added Caudarella, who is also a family physician specializing in substance use. “Any reduction in alcohol use can be beneficial. Health professionals can now better determine an individual’s risk and collaborate with their patients to improve their health.”

Andrea Seale, Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Cancer Society, agrees with Caudarella.

“Canadians need to know there are serious health risks associated with drinking alcohol, including elevated risk of multiple types of cancer,” Seale said. “Many Canadians are unaware that alcohol consumption increases the risk of cancer, and most don’t realize they are drinking unsafe amounts. This guidance is so important because it clarifies that the less alcohol you drink, the lower your cancer risk.”

The two-year research project, led by CCSA, looked at nearly 6,000 peer-reviewed studies and involved an expert panel of 23 scientists representing 16 organizations. The guidance incorporates findings from focus groups and three consultations with the public and stakeholders. The most recent public consultation received nearly 1,000 survey submissions, all of which were diligently evaluated to ensure the guidance is clear and practical for those using it, including physicians, counsellors, community workers, policy makers and the public.

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