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Taking a break from drinking: the new guidelines on alcohol and health

By Dr. Terri-Lynn MacKay, Clinical Director at ALAViDA, a LifeSpeak company.

On a day-to-day basis, most of us accept and take on some level of risk that may include indulging in an unhealthy meal, getting behind the wheel of a car, etc. These actions, despite their known health or safety risks, also bring us joy, comfort, and ease, and are simply part of our daily lives. But where do we draw the line for risk when it comes to consuming substances such as alcohol and drugs?

The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) recently released new guidelines for alcohol consumption that outline weekly alcohol consumption levels and their associated risk of health and social/relationship consequences. These guidelines were last updated in 2012, and the new recommendations reflect the most up-to-date scientific findings on the risks related to alcohol.

The guidelines categorize alcohol consumption into three levels based on the potential health impacts: 

  • Low risk – 2 or fewer units per week 
  • Moderate risk – 3-6 units per week
  • High risk – 7 or more units per week

A standard unit refers to 5 ounces of wine, a 341 ml bottle of beer (5% alcohol content), or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. It is recommended that you don’t consume any alcohol if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

While some may consider this new research as the flavour of the week, like avocado toast or ripped jeans, rest assured this research is solid. It is based on global evidence from previous reports, mathematical modeling, and insights from current literature. 

Alcohol consumption has been linked to several types of cancer and heart disease. It can also lead to negative effects on your skin, gut health, sleep, weight, cell repair, stress levels, and mental health. 

So, should I change my drinking habits? 

Ultimately, that is up to you. 

These new guidelines allow us to make an informed choice. Like anything in life, we must weigh the risks and rewards of our everyday decisions. By increasing your awareness of the impacts that alcohol consumption has on your health, you can choose to have a drink and still be responsible for your health. This includes drinking mindfully in social situations and staying within recommended limits most weeks.

Now that you know, what do you want your relationship with alcohol to look like going forward? Changing your drinking habits can improve your short- and long-term health. Even small changes can have a big impact.

Check out ALAViDA

OTIP members* have access to ALAViDA, which offers confidential support to help you reevaluate your relationship with alcohol and drugs. Access 24/7 educational resources, self-assessments, tracking and notification tools, and iCBT (internet-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) to help you reach your goals, whether that includes cutting back or quitting altogether. Learn more at

*If you have benefits coverage, insurance products, and/or services with OTIP, you are eligible to use this program.

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