The Chief Public Health Officer’s Report on the State of Public Health in Canada, 2015: Alcohol Consumption in Canada

A message from Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer

Alcohol is a socially accepted part of everyday life for most Canadians. Almost 80 percent of us drink.

Many Canadians associate drinking with pleasurable social events such as music festivals, watching sports, parties, and relaxing. Celebrations and milestones like weddings, anniversaries, and awards are often “toasted” with alcohol.

Our society condones, supports, and in some cases promotes drinking such as through “drink of the day” specials, sale prices on certain brands, and associating alcohol with fun and sophistication.

Although handled more like a food in Canada, alcohol is a mind-altering drug and there are health risks associated with drinking. Our low-risk drinking guidelines do not mean that alcohol is harmless.

At least three million drinking Canadians risk acute illness, such as injury and at least four and half million risk chronic conditions such as liver disease and cancer.

Our children grow up seeing alcohol in many aspects of their environment and around 3,000 are born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder each year.

I hope this report will raise awareness and stimulate frank conversations between Canadians, especially with their loved ones, and helps us reflect on how our society deals with this mind-altering drug.

Dr. Gregory Taylor

Chief Public Health Officer of Canada

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Click to download report


This report aims to increase Canadians’ awareness about the health impacts of alcohol consumption.

  • Humans have a long history with mind altering drugs, such as alcohol. Consuming alcohol is ingrained in Canadian culture. In 2013, an estimated 22 million Canadians, almost 80 percent of the population, drank alcohol in the previous year. At least 3.1 million Canadians drank enough to be at risk for immediate injury and harm with at least 4.4 million at risk for chronic health effects, such as liver cirrhosis and various forms of cancer.
  • Drinking patterns matter – how much and how often a person drinks alcohol are key factors that increase or decrease health impacts. Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines provide guidance on risky drinking patterns, including avoidance of alcohol in pregnancy. Low risk does not equal no risk.
  • Social situations, family contexts and messaging influence drinking patterns. Exposure to alcohol through families and friends as well as through entertainment and advertising can strongly influence people’s motives for drinking alcohol and their drinking patterns. For many Canadians, drinking is associated with many positive situations including important celebrations, forming friendships, positive mood and relaxation. However, risky drinking can increase the risk for family conflict, violence, crime including rape, and traffic accidents through impaired driving.
  • Our understanding of the dose-dependent health effects of alcohol continues to evolve. Recent research questions the health benefits of low to moderate alcohol consumption. Studies suggest that women are at increased risk for breast cancer even at one drink per day. The International Agency for Research on Cancer’s World Cancer Report 2014 and the Canadian Cancer Society state that there is no “safe limit” of alcohol consumption when it comes to cancer prevention.
  • Youth are particularly at risk for negative impacts from drinking alcohol. Teenage brains are more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol. Families, friends, and all Canadians who care for or work with youth can play a positive role if they recognize their influence on youth’s drinking patterns and support their healthy physical, mental and emotional development.
  • How we deal with alcohol in part defines our society. Approaches such as a regulated alcohol industry, policies on pricing and taxation, controls on sales and availability, and minimum age laws help reduce the impact on Canadians, especially youth . These approaches vary across the country and may not be realizing their full potential. No single approach can address the large variations in the needs and drinking patterns of Canadians.
  • The story of alcohol is complicated. Despite the large of amount of information available, there are significant gaps in our understanding of drinking patterns, risk factors, alcohol’s impacts on health and the effectiveness of approaches to reduce these impacts.

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