According to a report released in 2023 by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA), no amount of alcohol consumption is safe and recommends no more than two drinks per week for both men and women. Moreover, this new Guidance on Alcohol and Health also reduced the recommended maximum number of weekly servings of alcohol to two servings, a big drop from the six serving allowance indicated in the previous version of Health Canada’s guidelines released in 2011.
The new guidelines state that alcohol consumption in Canada is associated with preventable deaths, including deaths due to cancer, as well as preventable hospital admissions every year. Moreover, they also note that of all Canadians who drink alcohol, 42% consume it at a level that comes with serious health risks.
The new guidelines also provide information on identifying and managing high-risk drinking and alcohol use disorder (AUD) and recommend doctors to screen patients on AUD during the annual screening of adults and youth. Specifically, the guidelines recommend that doctors initially ask the “Single Alcohol Screening Question,” which is, “How many times in the past year have you had five or more drinks in a day (for males) or four or more drinks in a day (for females)?” If the answer is one occasion or more, the guidelines recommend conducting a more thorough interview.
In 2021, Statistics Canada data showed that 15.6% of Canadians aged 12 years and older reported engaging in heavy drinking, defined as having five or more drinks for men and four or more for women, on one occasion, at least once a month in the past year. However, this corresponds to the lowest level of heavy drinking since Statistics Canada began the survey in 2015.
New recent U.S. poll results show that young people, aged 18 to 34 are consuming less alcohol than two generations ago. “The young ones are drinking less than their parents,” said Dr. Jurgen Rehm, a senior scientist at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and co-chair of the guideline writing committee in his interview with The Globe and Mail. “If you hear in parliamentary debates, ‘Oh, we have to protect our young.’ No. It’s the age group of the parliamentarians — it’s us, it’s the adults who drink that much.” Poll results also show that women have been drinking more alcohol. “Women have been increasing their consumption,” Rehm said.
The 2023 CCSA guidelines have also faced some criticism, with many Canadians calling for clearer risk comparisons in order to guide their decisions regarding alcohol consumption. “My initial impression was, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding!'” said Dr. Dan Malleck, a professor of health sciences at Brock University in his interview with CBC News.
In addition, Dr. Malleck suggested that the way the CCSA presented alcohol-cancer risks was exaggerated, and added that the lack of comparative risks made it difficult for people to absorb. “It was suggesting that somehow we can avoid death,” he said.
Other concerns cite the negative impact of restrictive drinking guidelines on the revenue of Canadian alcohol producers and businesses that distribute them. According to an opinion article published by Monique Keiran in Times Columnist, the social impact of alcohol use must be considered as well. “[Despite] the industry’s $13.6-billion tax contributions, the interests of the many other parties affected by health policy — in this case, the doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, hospital administrators, families, and individuals whose lives and businesses are impacted directly and indirectly by the negative effects of alcohol use — must be the priority,” states the article.