Health Information and Tools >  Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines
Facebook Tweet Share

Main Content

Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines

Topic Overview

What is low-risk drinking?

If you choose to drink alcohol, it’s a good idea to keep your drinking at low levels to reduce your risk of health problems and harms, like injuries and violence. Even small amounts of alcohol can be damaging to your health and increase your risk of injury. Drinking less is better for your health.

What are low-risk drinking levels?

According to Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health, your risk of health problems depends on how many standard drinks you have per week.

  • No risk: 0 drinks per week (There are benefits to not drinking alcohol, like better health and better sleep.)
  • Low risk: 1 to 2 standard drinks per week (You will likely avoid problems related to alcohol.)
  • Moderate risk: 3 to 6 standard drinks per week (Your risk of developing several types of cancer increases. This includes breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and cancer of the esophagus, larynx, liver, mouth and throat, and pharynx.)
  • Increasingly high risk: 7 or more standard drinks per week (Your risk of heart disease or stroke increases.)
Drinking more than 2 standard drinks per occasion increases the risk of harm to yourself and others, including the risk of injury and violence.

Every drink counts. If you drink, any reduction in alcohol use has benefits for your health.

What is a standard drink?
In Canada, a standard drink is:
  • a bottle of beer (12 oz. or 341 mL, 5% alcohol)
  • a cooler, bottle of cider, or ready-to-drink (pre-mixed) alcoholic beverage (12 oz. or 341 mL, 5% alcohol)
  • a glass of wine (5 oz. or 142 mL, 12% alcohol)
  • a shot glass of spirits (1.5 oz. or 43 mL, 40% alcohol)
Keep in mind that alcohol can affect people differently. How alcohol affects you depends on things like age, sex, weight, and health history. You need to be even more careful about how much alcohol you drink if you:
  • are a smaller adult
  • are younger than 25
  • are older than 65
  • take medicines that interact with alcohol
  • haven’t eaten before you drink
  • have a family history of alcohol-related health conditions such as heart disease, liver disease, and cancer
  • have an alcohol-related health condition

What are the health risks of drinking alcohol?

No amount or form of alcohol is good for your health. Drinking alcohol can put you at higher risk of many serious health problems including heart disease, stroke, and 7 types of cancers. It can also impact your relationships, your job, and other important areas of your life.

The more alcohol you drink per week, the higher your risk of health problems. If you choose to drink, drinking less is better for your health.

Drinking alcohol may:

  • Harm your liver, pancreas, nervous system, heart, and brain.
  • Cause high blood pressure, depression, stomach problems, or sexual problems.
  • Contribute to the development of some cancers, such as cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, and breast.
  • Cause harm to your developing baby (fetus) if you drink during pregnancy.
  • Lead to problems at work, school, or home.
  • Increase the risk of car crashes and violent behaviour.
  • Increase your risk of injuries.
  • Cause you to develop an alcohol use problem.

When is it okay for young people to start drinking?

Drinking at a younger age can affect a young person's general health, physical growth, emotional development, ability to make decisions, and schoolwork. Alcohol can negatively impact the way the brain develops, which continues until the age of 25. Young people should try to delay drinking as long as possible to lower their risk of harm.

Parents can play a key part in teaching their children how to drink safely and responsibly.

  • Talk about the risks of drinking alcohol. Discuss your family rules about alcohol use.
  • Make it clear that they should never drink and drive and that they should never get in a car with a driver who has been drinking. Make a plan with your children to get home safely. For example, give them money to pay for a taxi or offer to pick them up if they need a safe ride home.
  • You are a role model. Your drinking behaviour is an important influence on your children so if you choose to drink, try to model low-risk alcohol use.

Who should not drink alcohol at all?

Don't drink alcohol if:

  • You're pregnant or trying to get pregnant. For more information about alcohol and pregnancy, visit Health Canada.
  • You are breastfeeding.
  • You're taking over-the-counter or prescription medicines that interact with alcohol.
  • You plan to drive or operate dangerous tools or machinery.
  • You plan to play sports or take part in dangerous physical activities.
  • You're taking care of someone or supervising others.
  • You need to make important decisions.


Adaptation Date: 7/14/2023

Adapted By: Alberta Health Services

Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services

Adapted with permission from copyrighted materials from Healthwise, Incorporated (Healthwise). This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty and is not responsible or liable for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.