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Environment Canada
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Alcohol and Your Health: A Question of Balance

This page was reviewed or revised on Thursday, July 8, 2010 10:01 AM

0, 2, 9, 14: Who is Counting?

People have a drink to relax, to celebrate, to have fun, to gain confidence and to forget problems, and that makes alcohol one of the most common drugs in Canada.

Alcohol is a drug and a depressant. It slows down the activity of the brain and the central nervous system. In most cases, the body can safely handle about one (1) standard drink per hour. How alcohol affects you is decided by:

  • gender (woman or man)
  • your size
  • your fitness
  • how fast you drink
  • what you have eaten
  • how you feel (tired, stress)

 Alcohol is alcohol. Standard drinks (see illustration) have the same alcohol content. No matter the drink, it's all the same to your body.

1 standard drink = 13.6 grams of alcohol




    5 oz = 142 mL

    1.5 oz = 43 mL

    12 oz = 341 mL

Coolers and higher alcohol beers have more alcohol than one standard drink.

When we drink sensibly, alcohol is not harmful to most people, but when drinking gets out of control, it can lead to many problems - social, personal and health. And that is just the beginning.

If you’re not 100% in control of speech, movement and judgment, there are a number of other negative outcomes - car crash, slip and fall, impaired driving, unsafe sex, assault, self-harm or overdose.

Consumption by the Numbers


Zero drinks = lowest risk of an alcohol-related problem.


No more than 2 standard drinks on any one day.


Women – up to 9 standard drinks per week.


Men – up to 14 standard drinks per week.

People with certain health conditions should not drink alcohol at all; even small amounts of alcohol could cause problems. If you have a family history of alcoholism, be very careful when it comes to alcohol; you are at risk.

Drinking too much alcohol can lead to some unwelcome problems the next day, but the familiar headache, upset stomach and fatigue from a hangover may be the least of your worries.
According to the World Health Organization, alcohol is the 3rd most harmful risk factor for chronic disease (WHO, 2003).


Moderate alcohol consumption may offer some health benefits. Health benefits of alcohol mainly apply to people over the age of 45 years. A little goes a long way and, in most cases, one (1) drink of beer, wine or liquor every other day is enough.


More than two (2) drinks a day does more harm than good and undo any benefits alcohol on the body.

Excess amounts of alcohol can lead to serious health problems:

  • Cancer, such as oral, larynx and liver and breast cancer in women
  • Elevated levels of triglycerides in the blood
  • High blood pressure
  • Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) in an unborn child
  • Miscarriage
  • Injuries due to impaired motor skills
  • Sudden death in people with cardiovascular disease
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Suicide
  • React with many prescription and OTC (over the counter) medications. Check with your doctor.

Weigh the Evidence

Weigh the pros and cons and make up your own mind. Consult your doctor if you have questions or are unsure. Above all, don't feel pressured to drink.