Category Archives: General Information

Drink, drank, drunk: what happens when we drink alcohol in four short videos

Alcohol is a depressant, a diuretic, and a disinfectant. These generally aren’t pleasant attributes, but people have been drinking alcohol for thousands of years – some of the earliest written texts mention or contain recipes for beer, and pottery shards from China show people may have been making alcohol as far back as 7,000BCE.

So what is this special chemical that we’ve loved to drink for so long?

Well, there are many types of alcoholic drinks – fizzy and flat, hot and cold, fermented and distilled – but all of the alcohol we drink as humans is ethanol based.

The process of how ethanol gets from the glass into your brain is not straight forward. And how quickly it gets to your brain (and whether or not it’s quickly broken down by your liver) is down to a variety of factors, one of which it’s actually very easy for us to control: whether or not we’ve eaten.

Let’s take a look at what happens after that first sip of alcohol.

The organ that takes on the biggest burden of processing ethanol in our body is the liver.

The liver is one of our largest and most important organs and it performs hundreds of functions, including converting the nutrients in food into something our bodies can actually use.

But there’s a reason we apologise to our livers if we’ve a big night: the liver’s other job is processing any toxic substances we ingest into something harmless, or removing them from the body altogether. Which makes it the perfect organ to deal with ethanol.

Most – about 90 to 98% – of the ethanol we consume is processed in the liver, with the remainder either removed in our urine, sweat or when we exhale.

The liver processes alcohol in two distinct steps. The first involves an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), which breaks down ethanol into a chemical called acetaldehyde. Unfortunately acetaldehyde is actually a toxin, which is why there’s a second stage to the process.

Another enzyme – aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) – quickly breaks down acetaldehyde into acetate, which is harmless. It’s then either excreted, used to make other molecules or broken down into water and carbon dioxide.

And it’s while your liver is slowly processing the ethanol in your system (as quickly as it can) that the remainder makes its way to your brain.

A complicating factor for determining how drunk we’re likely to feel after a certain amount of alcohol is that different people will process alcohol at different speeds.

There are many things that impact how quickly the body processes alcohol, including your weight, body composition and hormones, the number of drinks you’ve had and how quickly you drank them.

But roughly, the liver can effectively process about 1 standard drink in an hour, give or take. Women and men do process alcohol at different speeds, which is why alcohol campaigns often suggest women consume fewer drinks in the first hour than men.

The problems start when you consume more than a standard drink per hour – which is not hard to do, given an average bottle of beer has 1.2 to 1.4 standard drinks, and a restaurant sized glass of wine is about 1.5 standard drinks.

While it can be hard to match up exactly how many drinks equate to how intoxicated you’ll feel, your blood alcohol concentration (or BAC) gives a pretty good indication of what most people will feel as they ingest escalating amounts of alcohol.

So what does that actually look like?

Alcohol makes us feel increasing pleasure and relaxation as we drink more, while simultaneously hampering both our ability to make decisions and even move capably, which can lead to dangerous consequences.

The actual recommended intake for adults is just two standard drinks a day, which is less than a pint of beer. Realistically, people often drink more than this. So the important thing is to be aware of your limits, plan for how much you intend to drink, eat a meal before you begin drinking, and drink responsibly.

Retrieved from

FASD Day 2018 Interview #1: Jeff Noble


Every year on September 9, the international community celebrates FASD Day. September 9 is chosen to represent the 9 months that women should abstain from alcohol consumption while pregnant. This year, in preparation for FASD Day, we have interviewed some amazing people to learn a bit about how their lives have been affected by FASD. They include caregivers, researchers, policy makers, and people who have FASD.



First up, we have Jeff Noble! After confronting the challenges associated with being a caregiver, he started a company called Noble Initiatives. Noble Initiatives provides online and in person FASD training for caregivers and front-line workers across the country. Jeff has created a community of caregivers in Canada and internationally that provide support and best practices to learn and grow together.



Can you tell us a bit about what you do?

I run a company called Noble Initiatives. We provide online and in person FASD training for caregivers and front-line workers. I also give keynotes at conferences.

So, part of this is that you’ve created virtual community to support caregivers, what inspired you to create this space?

Having been a caregiver myself, I found it very isolating and lonely. I also understand the power of community. I knew that if I was going through this, there must be others going through it as well. Seeing as FASD is so prevalent, I was right. We have created an online community that is all over the world. The biggest feedback I get is that caregivers get energy and strength from knowing they’re not alone.

How has digital media allowed you to offer support to people across the world? In your experience, what has been the best platform for you to share your messages?

Social media has allowed me to send caregivers daily reminders that we understand how hard their job is and to let them know that they are not alone. It allows the caregiver to receive training on FASD directly from their phone or computer, so they don’t have to spend money on airfare/hotels or secure child care.

What have people benefited from most from your programs?

The major benefit is the renewed energy in helping advocate for their loved ones on the spectrum. They will have brand new ideas and feel recharged and ready to go. They no longer feel like they are bad parents and their kids are successful and can have a positive future. They also make lifelong friends with other caregivers going through the exact same situation and they feel acknowledged and supported.

What is the most important thing for caregivers to remember while caring for their loved ones with FASD?
That nobody is trying to be a jerk on purpose. Their kids want to please them and do well. The problem is no matter how hard they try, sometimes their brain won’t let them.  It’s also important for caregivers to realize that they are not bad parents – it’s a hard job!

Find out more about Jeff and Noble Initiatives here:

Website: FASD Forever

Facebook: FASD Caregiver Success

Twitter: @Jeffjnoble

Training: Caregiver Kick Start!



A Health Blog: It Takes Only One Drink A Day To Increase Breast Cancer Risk

A comprehensive analysis of 119 studies has found that it takes only 1 glass of wine or any other kind of alcoholic drink a day to increase risk of breast cancer. It was also found that vigorous exercise like fast bicycling or running reduces the risk of pre-menopausal as well as post-menopausal breast cancer. There was also strong evidence confirming a previous finding that post-menopausal breast cancer risk is reduced with moderate exercise.[1]

Worldwide research on how breast cancer risk is affected by exercise, weight and diet was evaluated, which included data from 12 million women and approximately 260,000 breast cancer cases.

There was strong evidence found that risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer is increased by 5% and risk of post-menopausal breast cancer is increased by 9% with drinking the equivalent of a beer or a small glass of wine a day.

The most active vigorously exercising pre-menopausal women had a 17% reduced risk and women who were post-menopausal had a 10% reduced risk of breast cancer in comparison to the least active women. Moderate activity, like gardening and walking, was associated with a 13% reduced risk for the most active women compared to the least active.

The report also showed:

  • Overweight or obesity increases the most common, post-menopausal type breast cancer risk.
  • A reduced breast cancer risk for mothers who breastfeed.
  • Post-menopausal breast cancer risk increases with greater weight gain.

There was also some limited evidence for non-starchy vegetables reducing risk for the less common types of estrogen-receptor negative breast cancer. Limited evidence also shows an association with dairy and diets high in calcium as well as carotenoid containing foods and a reduction in risk of some types of breast cancer. Foods such as apricots, carrots, kale and spinach are good sources of carotenoids, a group of phytonutrients with health benefits.

Although there are risk factors that cannot be controlled such as a family history of breast cancer, being older and early menstrual period, the results of this report confirm that women can modify lifestyle risk factors to reduce breast cancer risk.

The evidence from this report is clear that limiting alcohol, being physically active, and keeping a healthy weight are all steps women can take for reducing their risk of breast cancer.

Retrieved from

Alcohol And Breast Cancer

Applications are OPEN: Sterling Clarren FASD Research Award


The CanFASD Sterling Clarren Research Award has been named in honour of Dr. Sterling Clarren to recognize his pioneering contribution and leadership in the field of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

The award is presented annually to a Canadian Early Career Researcher or student in recognition of a completed study that has made a substantial contribution to the FASD field.Preference will be given to work conducted in one of Canada FASD Research Network’s (CanFASD)member provinces/territories (BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, NWT, Nunavut, and Yukon). However, Canadian researchers conducting work in other jurisdictions may also apply.

Projects must also include a knowledge translation component. Applications may be submitted by:

  • A student working in the field of FASD near the completion of their studies, or
  • An early career investigator (within 5 years of first Faculty appointment)

The study must be intended to integrate research, policy, and practice to improve the lives of individuals with FASD, their families, and communities through advanced knowledge and/or training. This could include intervention, prevention, diagnostics, epidemiology, policy, justice, or basic biomedical research.

The following criteria will be considered in the review of all Research Award applications:

  • Relevance and scientific merit of the proposed research project to addressing human dimensions of FASD;
  • Potential to inspire future research and attract additional funding support;
  • Publication activity of the applicant;
  • Other research activities of the applicant; and
  • Demonstrated commitment to improving the lives of those affected by FASD.

The 2019 Award recipient will be required to participate at the 8th International Conference on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD): Research, Results and Relevance in Vancouver, BC, March 6-9, 2019. The recipient will be recognized at the conference in the plenary session and will be provided the opportunity to present their research in a concurrent session. Travel expenses and conference registration will be part of the Award, and the recipient will also be awarded a $2000 cash prize. As a condition of the award, recipients will also be required to submit a short plain language summary of their research findings suitable for a lay audience to be posted on the CanFASD website.

Application Deadline: October 12th, 2018
Award recipient will be notified by November 30th, 2018

Award Application Instructions
Award Application Form

Past Winners of the Dr. Sterling Clarren FASD Research Award

Drinktank: Alcohol and pregnancy – Why doesn’t it worry us?


Following a call for submissions to the Food Regulation Standing Committee (FRSC) Pregnancy warning labels on alcoholic beverages public consultation, Australian governments will shortly decide whether to mandate alcohol pregnancy warning labels on all products sold in Australia.

Currently in Australia, alcohol companies are not legally required to include pregnancy warning labels on their products, and instead choose whether or not to include any information about the harm of alcohol and pregnancy on their labels.

New market research undertaken by Hall & Partners found that the alcohol industry’s current voluntary approach to warning of the dangers of drinking during pregnancy is misleading, confusing and fails to adequately raise awareness about the risks to the unborn child.

Off the back of this research, the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) has commenced campaigning for a new mandatory labelling system to complement its FRSC submission.

Today on Drink Tank, Louise Gray, Executive Officer of the National Organisation for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (NOFASD) Australia, asks: Alcohol and pregnancy – Why doesn’t it worry us?

We worry about bagged lettuce, we are fearsomely opposed to smoking during pregnancy; we gladly take soft cheese off the menu and share information about the dangers of listeria.

Yet – Consider……

Summer 2017, Sydney, Australia. A group of upwardly mobile 30-somethings gather for a Christmas party. Plans to celebrate a year of campaigns, social media successes, work portfolio growth, and the benefits of quality education and living in a country like Australia.

The food on offer is the best that Australia can provide in this season – quality seafood, fruit, cheeses and meats – a wide variety with lots of alternatives. After all, some of the party attendees are pregnant and they need alternatives so that they can avoid raw seafood, camembert and the host of other items highlighted so that women who are pregnant won’t consume them. Even lettuce needs to be sourced and the origin identified to make sure that it didn’t come from a dreaded bag. Smokers, of course, won’t even make an appearance at this gathering and will be huddled outside in furtive groups.

Enter Nicole, a slight and well-exercised woman, five months into her long-awaited pregnancy. Nicole is brimming with health and vitality, perhaps with the glow that pregnant women are often reported to have, as she awaits this much-anticipated birth. Nicole has private health insurance and access to the best medical care in Australia.

She did not receive any advice about alcohol and pregnancy until she was five months pregnant and this was received in a package of information from her hospital. Finally, at this point, she was clearly told that no alcohol is the recommended health advice for pregnant women supported by the Australian government health guidelines, the World Health Organization, and most global health advisories.

Nicole heeded this advice from the moment she began planning her conception and pregnancy and has confidence that she has given her tiny baby the best chance to develop and create the complex systems which are required to keep a human body going.

Nicole, at five months, is visibly pregnant and her series of Christmas parties was a series of opportunities to refuse alcohol. Everyone offered alcohol, at every event and when she declined she was encouraged to “have just one”. Sometimes comments bordered on ridicule for her choices, while others offered ‘researched’ advice that a small amount of alcohol is good for you.

We don’t force cigarettes on people, we don’t encourage people to ignore risks with soft cheese, we don’t try to convince someone to eat just one piece of sushi – so why do we encourage and support alcohol in pregnancy?

Why don’t we think of interesting alcohol-free choices?

Why do we make alcohol-free the exception rather than the rule?

Does it matter if people don’t understand what happens when a pregnancy is exposed to alcohol?

Does it matter that there is no known safe limit of alcohol which can be consumed during pregnancy?

Does it matter that children risk a lifetime of disability and challenges?

It does matter because Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is the most prevalent, preventable disability in the world.

Studies in mainstream populations in the US and Canada point to conservative estimates that between 2 – 5 % of the population is affected by FASD with higher numbers evident in at-risk communities.

We don’t know how much FASD there is present in mainstream Australia – it hasn’t been researched. However, newspaper headlines document increased incidence of serious behaviour issues in schools, increased incidence of emergency room incidents, unacceptable growth in prison populations, falling education standards and increases in disability numbers.

Australia needs to undertake effective FASD screening or we will never prevent FASD and we will never know the role which FASD has in these figures.

Finally, Australia needs to be serious about pregnancy warning labels on packaged alcoholic beverages. It would be impossible to find another product which causes such harm and is sold so widely and freely without a clear warning and reminder.

Mandatory labels are needed. It is negligent and irresponsible for Australia to remain complicit in a situation which exposes unborn children to unacceptable risk.

Postscript – Nicole (not her real name) gave birth to a healthy baby girl and was grateful she understood that alcohol should not consumed when planning a pregnancy and during pregnancy.

CCSA releases new policy brief: Decriminalization, Options and Evidence


Decriminalization: Options and Evidence

Rebecca Jesseman, M.A., and Doris Payer, Ph.D.

Executive Summary

A growing body of evidence suggests that decriminalization is an effective way to mitigate the harms of substance use and the policies and practices used to deal with it, especially those harms associated with criminal justice prosecution for simple possession. This policy brief reviews the various ways in which decriminalization of controlled substances is being interpreted and implemented internationally and in Canada.

Decriminalization is a policy strategy in which non-criminal penalties, such as fines, are available for designated activities, such as possession of small quantities of a controlled substance. It has been proposed as a way to reduce the harms associated with the opioid crisis. An understanding of decriminalization starts by recognizing that it is not a single approach, but a range of policies and practices.

This brief will inform policy makers, decision makers, analysts and advisors in the health, social and criminal justice sectors by:

Defining key concepts;

 Illustrating examples of informal (de facto) and formal (de jure) applications of decriminalization, including harm reduction services, police diversion and national policy approaches;

 Identifying considerations for evaluation and monitoring of applied decriminalization approaches;

 Summarizing lessons learned from international and Canadian experience; and

 Proposing decriminalization options for application to the current Canadian context.

Key Findings

Recognizing that substance use is a complex health issue with social, economic and public safety impacts is fundamental to developing comprehensive and effective responses.

 Decriminalization encompasses a range of policies and practices that can be tailored and combined to respond to particular contexts and to address specific objectives.

 The growing body of evidence on various approaches to decriminalization provides a valuable source of lessons learned to inform the development of policy and practice.

 Gaps in knowledge about the impact of decriminalization approaches need to be filled by conducting rigorous evaluations and making data and results accessible.

The Issue

Substance use patterns and prevalence, and its associated harms evolve over time. To address changing contexts, strategies to deal with substance use must change as well. The current Canadian context is marked by an opioid crisis, with deaths due to opioid overdose reaching unprecedented levels. The crisis highlights the need for agile and innovative responses informed by evidence.

Decriminalization is an evidence-based policy strategy to reduce the harms associated with the criminalization of illicit drugs. For those who use illicit drugs, these harms include criminal records, stigma, high-risk consumption patterns, overdose and the transmission of blood-borne disease.

Decriminalization aims to decrease harm by removing mandatory criminal sanctions, often replacing them with responses that promote access to education and to harm reduction and treatment services. It is not a single approach or intervention; rather it describes a range of principles, policies and practices that can be implemented in various ways.


Over the past few decades, various decriminalization strategies have been implemented both in Canada and in other countries, including Australia, the United States, Portugal and the Czech Republic. Decriminalization is receiving increased attention in Canada as a possible substance use strategy. Decriminalization measures are being considered to help address the opioid crisis, including the contamination of illicit drugs with fentanyl, and were earlier proposed as alternatives to legalizing non-medical cannabis.

Click image to download the full report!


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CanFASD Want To Hear From You!


One of the goals of the CanFASD blog is to build knowledge of FASD and share this knowledge across communities. They want to help all of us learn about research that is meaningful and relevant, and they are trying to do this in a couple of ways:

  • Over the years, CanFASD has written a series of issue papers to highlight particular areas of FASD research with implications for policy makers, researchers, service providers, and individuals living with FASD and their families. We have a few issue papers in the works right now, but we also want to know if there are topics you would like to see featured in the future.
  • As you know, there are new studies released every day in the FASD field, but many of these research articles are unavailable for public access. If there is a specific article that you want to see summarized on the blog, send us your request and we will do our best to share that information with you.

If there are topics or articles that you want to learn more about, send them an email at

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