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Alcohol Use

Consumption Limits

a glass of white wine

Alcohol is a depressant drug that slows the functioning of your body’s central nervous system. Although a small amount of alcohol can provide certain health benefits, excessive drinking can cause serious health problems.

Over the past two decades, there has been a great deal of medical research on the beneficial effects of alcohol, which has often been disputed, and it has not yet shown a direct link between alcohol consumption and health benefits over the short or long term. One thing is certain, any protective effect depends on a number of factors, including:

  • Light to moderate consumption (consult the Guidelines from the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addictions)
  • Benefits are more evident for people aged 60 and over
  • The protective effect does not affect young people
  • Women (starting at menopause) and men (starting in their 40s) can benefit
  • To get the benefits of alcohol, you need to spread out your consumption (1 drink per day for 7 days, not 7 drinks in a day)
  • Drinking during a meal is preferable to drinking between meals

Beyond the recommended limits, alcohol consumption (beer, wine, spirits) increases the risk of many diseases such as cardiovascular disease, many types of cancers and cirrhosis.

Alcohol and Your Health: Risk or Benefit?

Addiction (no benefit)

Alcohol can create a physical and psychological addiction that is difficult to treat and can lead to serious behavioural, mental and physical health problems. In Canada, one in twenty people who drink alcohol are addicted to it.

Coronary Heart Disease

Coronary heart disease is caused by a narrowing of the heart’s arteries. The deposit of atheromatous plaques in blood vessels prevents the blood from circulating freely. The heart no longer receives enough oxygen to function normally, which can lead to angina or heart attack.

Benefit: Regular drinking, mild to moderate, provides partial protection against these diseases, starting in your forties. Alcohol increases the level of good cholesterol in the blood and reduces the formation of atheromatous plaques.

Risk: Excessive alcohol use has the opposite effect and increases your risk of coronary heart disease by 40%.

Stroke

Stroke is caused by an interruption in blood flow to the brain by a clot (ischemic stroke) or the rupture of a blood vessel (hemorrhagic stroke).

Benefit: The beneficial effects of mild to moderate consumption are less obvious. According to some studies, it has a protective effect against ischemic strokes because alcohol reduces the risk of clot formation. However, even mild consumption can increase the risk of hemorrhagic stroke because alcohol thins the blood.

Risk: As with coronary heart disease, excessive alcohol use clearly increases the risk of stroke.

Cancer – Proven Risk

To date, research has shown no beneficial effect (prevention or treatment) on cancer. In fact, the association between alcohol consumption and certain types of cancers (mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, breast, liver and colon) has been clearly demonstrated, even if consumption is moderate.

Liver

Alcohol use is one of the main risk factors for liver cancer. Drinking excessively damages tissues and may lead to cirrhosis. However, liver cancer is one of the common complications of cirrhosis.

Cognitive Functions

Excessive alcohol use impairs the proper functioning of the brain and causes serious cognitive problems (memory, attention, concentration).

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)

FASD is a brain injury that affects an unborn baby that has been exposed to alcohol. It is permanent damage that includes physical, mental, behavioural and learning disabilities.

If you drink alcohol during your pregnancy, you may give birth to a baby with FASD. Nobody knows how much alcohol affects a baby’s development. The alcohol you drink quickly reaches the baby by blood. The effects of alcohol on a baby’s development vary depending on the stage of pregnancy, the amount consumed, the consumption patterns and the health status of the pregnant woman. Occasional excessive drinking (large amounts of alcohol in a short period of time) is particularly harmful to the baby’s development.

Low Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines

Published by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, Canada's Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines (LRADG) provide useful tips for minimizing alcohol use and reducing negative impacts. The Guidelines recommend no more than 2 drinks per day or 10 drinks per week for women, and no more than 3 drinks per day or 15 drinks per week for men, possibly with one more drink on special occasions.

What is one “drink”?
  • Beer (5% alcohol): 341 ml (12 oz.)
  • Wine (12% alcohol): 142 ml (5 oz.)
  • Cooler or cider (5% alcohol): 341 ml (12 oz.)
  • Spirits (40% alcohol): 43 ml (1.5 oz.)

Alcohol and Your Sleep

Even in small amounts, alcohol can certainly help you fall asleep more easily and stay asleep, without waking up, for the first few hours of the night. But it significantly disrupts normal sleep cycles and exacerbates certain sleep disorders such as apnea, hypopnea and chronic insomnia. So it’s not a good friend when it comes to sleep!

Alcohol disrupts the most important stage of sleep, REM sleep, which is considered the most restorative. Disturbances in this stage of sleep can cause daytime drowsiness as well as concentration and memory problems.

You suspect that you have symptoms of a sleep disorder. Discover how Biron can answer your questions and support you with your diagnosis and treatment.

Alcohol Consumption Statistics (Statistics Canada)

  • In 2017, 19.2% of Canadians aged 12 and older, or roughly 5.8 million people, reported alcohol consumption that classified them as heavy drinkers.
  • The percentage of persons aged 12 and over who reported alcohol consumption that categorized them as heavy drinkers remained stable between 2015 and 2016.
  • Overall, men were more likely (23.8%) to be heavy drinkers than women (14.2%) in 2016.
  • The 2016 Canadian Community Health Survey included questions on alcohol use in the previous week. According to Canada's Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines, 16.6% of Canadians are consuming alcohol at a rate that poses a long-term health risk.
  • The age group of people aged 18 to 34, both sexes combined, had the highest percentage of heavy drinkers. In this age group, 34.4% of men and 23.4% of women were heavy drinkers.
Quebec (2009-2010)

(MSSQ)

  • Nearly 83.0% of people aged 12 and over reported drinking in the past 12 months.
  • The majority (69.0%) of these individuals reported drinking regularly, at least once a month.
  • 17.2% of people said they had not consumed alcohol in the past 12 months.
Women
  • 80.2% of women aged 12 and over reported drinking alcohol in the past 12 months, with more than one-quarter drinking alcohol occasionally.
  • 19.8% of women aged 12 and over reported not drinking.
  • A higher percentage of women than men reported not drinking in the past 12 months.
Men
  • 85.5% of men aged 12 and over reported drinking alcohol in the past 12 months, the majority of whom drank alcohol regularly.
  • 14.5% of men aged 12 and over reported not drinking in the past 12 months.
  • Men are more likely than women to say they drink alcohol regularly.
  • There is a significant gender gap among occasional drinkers, with the proportion of men nearly half that of women in this situation.
For more information on alcohol consumption:

Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction

MSSQ

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