Alcohol is the most commonly used substance in Canada. However, alcohol use can be harmful. Alcohol use can increase the chance of developing chronic health problems including heart disease, stroke and cancer. Injury, emotional or physical violence are additional harms that can occur. The short-term risks of drinking alcohol include a slowed reaction time, impaired judgment and impaired decision making.

Check out the below tips to stay safe when consuming alcohol from Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health developed by the Canadian Centre for Substance Use and Addiction.

Tips to stay safe when consuming alcohol

Tip 1: Know your risk

Over time, the number of standard drinks consumed per week can have health risks. The only way to completely avoid health risks from alcohol is to not drink. What is your risk level?

  • Low risk: 1-2 drinks a week — You are likely to avoid alcohol-related consequences for yourself or others at this level.
  • Moderate risk: 3-6 drinks a week — Your risk of developing several types of cancer, including breast and colon cancer, increases at this level.
  • Increasingly high risk: 7+ drinks (or 1+ drink a day) — Your risk of heart disease or stroke increases significantly at this level.

There is no safe amount of alcohol use when pregnant or trying to get pregnant and not drinking when breastfeeding is safest.

Binge drinking is usually defined as having four or more standard drinks on one occasion.

Tip 2: Drink smarter

  • Start low and go slow
  • Keep track of the number of standard drinks you have and the alcohol percentage (ie., a tall boy (473 ml) with a 6% alcohol strength is equal to 1.66 drinks). Use this calculator if you are not sure.
    • In Canada, a standard drink is 17.05 millilitres or 13.45 grams of pure alcohol. This is the equivalent of:
      • a bottle of beer (12 oz., 341 ml, 5% alcohol)
      • a bottle of cider/cooler (12 oz., 341 ml, 5% alcohol)
      • a glass of wine (5 oz., 142 ml, 12% alcohol)
      • a shot glass of spirits (1.5 oz., 43 ml, 40% alcohol)
  • Have one non-alcoholic drink (ideally water) for every alcoholic drink to stay hydrated.
  • Eat before and while drinking. 
  • Avoid using alcohol with other substances such as cannabis. Mixing alcohol and drugs can lead to more harmful and unpredictable consequences than using one substance alone. 
  • Try non-alcoholic drinks or mocktails. 

Tip 3: Know the impacts of alcohol consumption

Alcohol is a carcinogen. Drinking alcohol can increase your chance of developing health problems including cancer, heart disease and stroke.The more you drink, the higher your risk. As your blood alcohol level increases, your judgement becomes impaired and you are at higher risk for injuries or emotional and physical violence.

Tip 4: Plan for a safe way home

It is dangerous to drive after using any amount of alcohol, so make sure you have a plan to get home safely. Designate a driver at the start of the night; use ride hailing services like taxi cabs, Uber or Lyft; or use a designated driver service like Over the Limit. Remember, you can face criminal charges for a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher. Impaired driving can result in severe injuries to others, yourself, and fines, among other consequences.

Tip 5: Spot the signs of alcohol poisoning

Even if someone stops drinking, the amount of blood alcohol content will continue to increase as the body processes it. Keep an eye out for signs of alcohol poisoning if someone has: 

  • Difficulty remaining conscious or is unconscious and cannot be woken 
  • Cold, clammy, pale or blueish skin, slow heart rate 
  • Slow or irregular breathing patterns 

If you suspect someone is experiencing alcohol poisoning, dial 9-1-1 for immediate support. Get consent if you can. Do not leave the person alone. To avoid choking, assist them into the recovery position (video).


If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol consumption there are local supports available: