Alcohol Use: The Basics

Alcohol use can interfere with who you want to be and where you want to go in life. If you drink, make sure you know how to stay safe and don't let it take control of you.

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What is it?

Alcohol is one of the oldest and most widely used substances in the world. People drink alcohol for many reasons and in different settings, including:

  • social gatherings
  • parties and celebrations
  • relaxation or stress relief
  • underlying problems

It’s not unusual for young people to try alcohol. Many may try it only once or drink only once in a while. Most young people don’t go on to develop serious problems. But, drinking can become a problem for some. Alcohol can harm the way a person’s body and brain develop. The younger a person is when they start using alcohol, the greater their risk of harm.

Here’s some information to help you stay safe and reduce your risk of harm.

Canada’s Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines

Drinking alcohol is a personal choice. If you choose to drink, Canada’s Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines can help you decide when, where, why and how.

If you are 19 or older, the guidelines advise:

  • Females – no more than 2 drinks a day or 10 drinks a week.
  • Males – no more than 3 drinks a day or 15 drinks a week.

If you are under 19

  • The general recommendation is to not drink.
  • For young people who do drink – no more than 1 or 2 drinks in any setting and not drink more than twice a week.

See the picture below for what one drink is.

Image shows cross comparison of percentage of alcohol in beer, wine and shot of hard liquor or spirits. Beer has 5%, wine has 12%, and hard liquor has 40%.

What leads to problems with alcohol use?

There is lots of research on what factors lead to alcohol use. These factors don’t mean that a person will automatically develop a drinking problem, but they do increase the risk.

Factors linked to developing a problem with alcohol include:

  • Other family members with substance use problems in the past or present
  • Problems dealing with stress and other challenges
  • Family problems or conflict at home
  • Having a mental health condition that is not well managed
  • Difficulty fitting in at school, at work or with peers
  • Stressful life change
  • Trauma

Kinds of alcohol use that can lead to problems include:

  • Binge drinking (drinking large quantities in a very short period of time)
  • Driving after you have been drinking
  • Often using alcohol as a way of dealing with problems
  • Mixing alcohol with other substances, including illegal drugs, prescription medications and over-the-counter medications. Learn more about Drugs & Other Substances.

A person may not see how their alcohol use is negatively affecting their life or they may not be able to stop on their own.

Drinking alcohol is a personal choice. It is important to notice how your alcohol use is affecting your life so you can decide if you need to take action.

What Next?

If you want to learn more about the early signs or find out if this is something you are experiencing here are a few options.