The GLobe and Mail: Canada’s drinking problem: why alcohol is the new cigarette



Here’s a drinking game: Uncork your favourite bottle – perhaps the one you’re savouring right now as the only line in the sand between working at home and living at home – and pour some wine into a measuring cup, up to the five-ounce (or 142-millilitre) mark. Now transfer that amount to your wine glass.

Does this look like a “standard” serving of wine to you? Or, is your cup overflowing too many times on too many days?

A nine-ounce glass of wine, left, compared to a five-ounce glass. CHRISTIE VUONG/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

The answer may sober you up: According to a growing body of evidence, many Canadians are probably drinking more than they think, and more than is safe.

As early as next year, Ottawa and the provinces are expected to adopt the advice of an expert scientific panel, and urge Canadians – even those who consider themselves moderate drinkers – to drink even less.

This may sound strange, given current conditions, where schools and offices, stores and restaurants can close, but liquor stores, deemed “essential,” remain open. But sadly we don’t get a drink-free pass, not even for a pandemic. In a national survey during the first COVID-19 wave, 18 per cent of Canadians admitted that they were drinking more than they did before the lockdown – citing the lack of a regular schedule and boredom. Even with the bars shuttered, alcohol sales are up, abetted by home delivery. Mental-health professionals are already worrying about the fallout of an anxious population stress-drinking behind closed doors.

Many of us are already exceeding Canada’s current low-risk drinking guidelines, which recommend no more than 10 drinks a week for women, with a typical maximum of two drinks a day, and 15 drinks a week for men, with a three-drink daily limit. Those guidelines are now 10 years old and higher than the suggested limits in most other countries, including Ireland, France, Australia, Britain, and the United States. They are overdue to be updated, to bring them in line with a decade of new research suggesting that the health benefits of alcohol have been overstated, and the risks underestimated – most alarmingly, for cancer, and especially for women. More and more studies are supporting the conclusion of a 2018 global health study published in The Lancet: “The safest level of drinking is none.”

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