Alcohol is a psychoactive substance legal in Canada. It is a depressant drug that can slow down parts of the brain that affect breathing, thinking, behaviour, and heart rate.

Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guideline states even three to six drinks per week can increase the risk of developing certain cancers, while more than seven drinks per week can lead to heart disease and stroke. The advice is that you should consume no more than two standard drinks per week. A standard drink is defined as: 12 oz. of beer with 5% alcohol; 5 oz. of wine with 12% alcohol; or 1.5 oz. of hard liquor with 40% alcohol.

There are always situations where no amount of alcohol is safe. These include:

  • When pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding
  • When driving or using heavy machinery or power tools
  • When taking other drugs or medicine that might interact with alcohol
  • When doing dangerous physical activity
  • When you are responsible for the care of others
  • When you are making important decisions.

For more information and resources on alcohol consumption, visit the links below.

Alcohol is the most used substance in Canada. If you choose to drink, the new 2023 Canadian Guidance on Alcohol and Health, provides current information about the risks and harms associated with the use of alcohol, in addition to supporting well-informed and responsible decisions about the use of alcohol. This Guidance is intended to replace Canada’s Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines from 2011.

What is the guidance?

Drinking less is better.

Drinking alcohol, regardless of amount or kind of alcohol, is damaging to everyone, regardless of age, sex, gender, ethnicity, tolerance for alcohol or lifestyle.

Risk Associated with Weekly Levels of Alcohol Use:

A “Continuum of Risk” was developed to illustrate risk associated with weekly alcohol consumption and allowing individuals to decide where they are comfortable being on the continuum. No matter where you are on the continuum, less is better for your health.

0 drinks per week = No risk

  • Not drinking has benefits such as better health, and better sleep

1-2 standard drinks per week = Low risk

  • You will likely avoid alcohol-related consequences for yourself and others

3-6 standard drinks per week = Moderate risk

  • Your risk of developing several different types of cancer, including breast and colon cancer, increases

7 or more standard drinks per week = Increasingly high risk

  • Your risk of heart disease or stroke increases

Each additional standard drink radically increases the risk of alcohol-related consequences.

  • When pregnant or trying to get pregnant, there is no known safe amount of alcohol use
  • When breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is safest
  • For youth below the legal drinking age, the above recommendations do not apply, and alcohol use should be delayed for as long as possible.

There are situations when no alcohol use is the safest:

  • When pregnant or trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding
  • Driving a motor vehicle
  • Using machinery and tools
  • Taking medicine or other drugs that interact with alcohol
  • Doing any kind of dangerous physical activity
  • Being responsible for the safety of others
  • Making important decisions

Risk Associated with Alcohol Use Per Occasion:

Drinking alcohol has negative consequences.

Consuming more than 2 standard drinks per drinking occasion is associated with an increased risk of harm to self and others, including injuries and violence.

Binge drinking is a common and dangerous way to consume alcohol. Binge drinking is defined as consuming 5 or more standard drinks in one setting for men, or 4 or more standard drinks in one setting for women. Binge drinking can result in:

  • unintentional injuries (road crashes, drowning, falls)

  • physical and sexual violence

  • heart disease

  • high blood pressure

  • inflammation of the gastrointestinal system

  • development of an alcohol use disorder

  • development of liver disease and certain cancers

Alcohol and Other Substances:

Avoid mixing alcohol with other substances, such as cannabis, medication, illegal substances, or energy drinks. These other substances may interact with alcohol causing unexpected or uncontrollable negative effects. Use one substance at a time.

Alcohol and Cancer:

Cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada. Alcohol is a carcinogen that can cause at least 7 types of cancer, which is often unknown. The common types of cancer from alcohol use are:

  • Breast

  • Colon

  • Rectum

  • Mouth and throat

  • Liver

  • Esophagus

  • Larynx

Drinking less alcohol is among the top 10 behaviours to reduce cancer risk, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.

Alcohol and Heart Disease:

Heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada. The common belief that drinking in moderation protects from coronary artery disease has been updated showing that: drinking a little alcohol neither decreases nor increases the risk of developing coronary artery disease. However, alcohol remains a risk factor for most other types of cardiovascular disease (i.e. hypertension, heart failure, high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, and hemorrhagic stroke).

Alcohol and Liver Disease:

Alcohol is a main cause of liver disease where fat builds up in the liver. This can be caused by drinking large amounts of alcohol, even for a few days, or from binge drinking episodes. Overtime, alcohol-related liver injuries can lead to life-threatening cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Alcohol and Violence:

Alcohol is associated with and can increase the severity of violent and aggressive behaviour, including intimate partner violence, male-to-female sexual violence, and aggression between adults. Avoiding drinking to intoxication will reduce individuals’ risk of alcohol-related violence.

Alcohol causes risks when pregnant, trying to get pregnant or when breastfeeding.


  • When pregnant or trying to get pregnant, there is no known safe amount of alcohol use, so it is safest to not drink at all while pregnant

  • Alcohol use in pregnancy negatively affects both women’s and fetal health:

    • Increase risk of miscarriage

    • Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy

    • Placental abnormalities

  • Life-long effects of alcohol on the fetus include:

    • Malformation of the fetus

    • Brain injury

    • Birth defects

    • Behavioral problems

    • Learning disabilities

    • Other health problems, typically referred to as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD)


  • When breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is safest, as alcohol can enter breast milk

  • Alcohol use while breastfeeding may cause:

    • Decrease in milk production or early cessation of breastfeeding

    • Poor sleeping patterns for infants

  • If you choose to drink while breastfeeding, plan the occasion to drink. It takes approximately 2 hours for alcohol in a standard drink to be eliminated from the body and breastmilk.

To decrease the risk of harm from alcohol, it is recommended to consider reducing alcohol use.

Why Reduce Alcohol Use?

  • Any reduction in alcohol consumption benefits you and others. The risk of injury and violence, and many health problems that can shorten life can be decreased.

How to drink less:

  • Count how many drinks you have in a week

  • Set a weekly drinking target

  • If you plan to drink, aim to not exceed 2 drinks on any day

Suggestions to stay on target:

  • Stick to the limits set for yourself

  • Drink slowly

  • Drink lots of water

  • For every drink of alcohol, have one non-alcoholic drink

  • Choose alcohol-free or low-alcohol beverages

  • Eat before and while you’re drinking

  • Have alcohol-free weeks

  • Explore alcohol-free activities

When to seek additional support:

  • If you have questions about your alcohol consumption
  • If you are concerned about your alcohol consumption, or if others have voiced concerns about your alcohol consumption
  • Living with mental or physical health condition
  • Planning to become pregnant or currently pregnant

Support is available, see our Links and Resources, and Help Lines and Support tabs for more information.

Emergency Crisis Lines:

If you need help in an emergency or are in crisis, contact a local distress centre:

If you are concerned about your alcohol experience or are experiencing harmful effects, help is available:

  • Stay calm

  • Do not consume anymore alcohol

  • Have something to eat and drink water

  • Do not drive

  • Call the Ontario Poison Control Centre at 1-800-268-9017, or call 9-1-1

If you believe your child has consumed alcohol, help is available:

Brantford/Brant Addiction Services:

Provincial and National Help Lines:

  • Canadian Drug Rehab Services, call 1-877-254-3348

    • Free, confidential professional help and resources for drug and alcohol addiction in Canada. Referrals for clients seeking support with substances

  • ConnexOntario, call 1-866-531-2600 or text CONNEXT to 247247

    • 24/7 Mental Health and Addiction Services support for ages 18+

  • Get help with substance use –

  • Good2Talk, call 1-866-925-5454 or text GOOD2TALKON to 686868

    • confidential support services for post-secondary students:

  • Health Connect Ontario (previously Telehealth Ontario), call 1-866-797-0007 or call 8-1-1

    • 24/7 confidential support for health matters and addiction concerns

  • Kids Help Phone, call 1-800-668-6868 or text CONNECT to 686868

    • support for ages 0-20

  • Wellness Together Canada, call 1-866-585-0445 or text WELLNESS to 741741

Mental health and substance use support for people in Canada and Canadians abroad. Always free and virtual, 24/7.