The government of Canada has advised its citizens to completely abstain from alcohol

In mid-January 2023, Canada's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health updated its alcohol consumption recommendations to one simple conclusion -- that however much you drink, less is better. Such a recommendation is rare; usually countries set some kind of limit on drinking alcohol, but full prohibitions are few and far between.

In the new Canadian recommendations, it is also said that health risks can be divided into three groups: 

Low - if a person consumes two standard Canadian servings per week - 34 millilitres of alcohol or less; 

Medium - if a person consumes between three and six servings per week, i.e. 51 millilitres to 102 millilitres of alcohol; 

Increasingly high - if a person consumes seven servings or more per week, i.e. 119 millilitres of alcohol or more.

It is clear that the decision of how much alcohol to consume must be made by the individual and Canadian health professionals emphasize respecting a person's autonomy. They also believe that making an informed decision requires having full information on how alcohol affects the body. At the same time, alcohol consumption is not recommended especially in certain cases:

- Those under the legal drinking age in Canada (which varies between 18 and 19 depending upon the region); 

- pregnant women; 

- those attempting to become pregnant; 

- those breastfeeding or needing to wait at least two hours after a standard serving before feeding an infant; 

- drivers of motor vehicles; 

- operators of various machines and equipment; 

- individuals engaging in hazardous physical activity;

 - persons responsible for safety of others; 

- people making important decisions; 

- those taking medications which interact with alcohol.

Any use of alcohol is detrimental to health (not only the drinker's health). 

These strict recommendations are linked to a new assessment of scientific research done by Canadian experts which more firmly than before, confirms the increased risks for health associated with the use of alcohol. If people did not consume alcohol, each year in Canada there would be seven thousand fewer cancer-related deaths. In total, in 2017 eighteen thousand people died because of alcohol across the country. The World Health Organization has reported that three million people around world died from it in 2016 and about 5% of all existing health problems are related with drinking alcohol.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer has long recognized alcohol as a carcinogen. According to the WHO, 740 thousand people are diagnosed with some form of cancer each year due to their consumption of alcohol. Any amount of alcohol increases the risk for cancer development such as breast cancer, colorectal and bowel cancers, liver or oesophageal cancers. Alcoholic drinks can increase the risk of developing alcoholic liver disease and many other diseases. The risk of some heart diseases is also increased by consuming alcohol (and not reduced, as often thought). The good news is that according to Canadian experts, risks are reducing when a person lowers their intake of alcoholic beverages.

If you drink a lot at once, the risk of falling from a height, getting hit by a car or otherwise injuring yourself increases. On top of that, there is a risk of physical violence towards someone else or even running someone over while driving.

At low doses, the health risks for both men and women remain the same, according to data provided by Canadian specialists. That is why no distinctions are made in recent recommendations of different countries - there is one norm for everyone. At the same time, at higher doses (from six standard Canadian portions per week), the health risk for women increases more than that for men. For minors, alcohol-related risks are higher than those for adults and they are recommended to delay its use as much as possible. The type of alcoholic beverage doesn't matter when it comes to its impact on health - what matters is how much alcohol a person consumes. Difference lies in that stronger drinks usually lead to poisoning faster and can be deadly dangerous.

Only a few countries have decided to adopt such radical recommendations as those of Canada.

The new Canadian recommendations have drawn media attention, as few countries recommend complete abstinence from alcohol. Among these countries are Ukraine, the Netherlands, Latvia, Guatemala, India and some others. The same position was also taken by WHO at the beginning of this year. But what makes Canadian recommendations different is that a 89-page report provides an analysis of existing scientific data on the effects of alcohol on the body. At the same time it has been known for a long time about the harm of alcohol - but official bodies in many countries either only recommend completely abstaining from it to certain people and in certain situations (e.g., before exercise; pregnancy; empty stomach etc.), or set some norms for acceptable consumption (which vary from country to country). The authors of Canadian recommendations draw attention to the fact that in such cases there is considered to be an unacceptable level of risk which is deemed normal for other activities like smoking or exposure to polluted air.

"If alcohol had been invented in our days, it would have immediately been banned for human consumption," writes Dr. David Natt in his book "Drink or Not to Drink? The New Science of Alcohol and Your Health". " If the same safety criteria to alcohol as other food products, the safe limit of consuming spirits would be set at one glass of wine per year. Would you take a new medication if they told you that it increases your risk of cancer, dementia, heart disease or shortens your life span? Of course not; you wouldn't even touch it."

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