Canada’s new Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines

What do they say about women and pregnancy?

Canada’s first Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines were released on November 25, 2011. You can take a look at them on the Canadian Centre on Substance Use web site here. (If you’re wondering what these guidelines are all about, see an earlier post What are low risk drinking guidelines?)

The new guidelines recommend that women drink no more than:

  1. 10 drinks a week, with no more than 2 drinks a day most days
  2. 3 drinks on any single occasion.

Unlike low-risk drinking guidelines developed in other jurisdictions and countries, these new guidelines include information about pregnancy and breastfeeding. Women are advised:

If you are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or before breastfeeding, the safest choice is to drink no alcohol at all.

The Guidelines were developed by an independent expert working group with members drawn from Canadian addiction research agencies. They further elaborate on the pregnancy guideline with: “The safest option during pregnancy or when planning to become pregnant is to not drink alcohol at all. Alcohol in the mother’s bloodstream can harm the developing fetus. While the risk from light consumption during pregnancy appears very low, there is no threshold of alcohol use in pregnancy that has been definitively proven to be safe.” (Butt et al, 2011, p. 8 )

Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines are a key component of the National Alcohol Strategy. They have received the support of many organizations, including: Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, Canadian Medical Association, Canadian Paediatric Society, Canadian Public Health Association, Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, College of Family Physicians of Canada, Educ’alcool, MADD Canada, and Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada.

Over the next few months, you can expect to see various provinces and health agencies work to get the guidelines into practice.

Further Reading on Low-Risk Guidelines

Butt, P., Beirness, D., Cesa, F.,  Gliksman, L, Paradis, C., and Stockwell, T. (2011). Alcohol and health in Canada: A Summary of evidence and guidelines for low-risk drinking. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

Fischer, B., Jeffries, V., Hall, W., Room, R., Goldner, E., and Rehm, J. (2011). Lower Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines for Canada (LRCUG): A Narrative Review of Evidence and Recommendations. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 102(5): 324-327.

Thompson,  K.D., Stockwell, T., and MacDonald, S.  (2011). Is there a ‘low-risk’ drinking level for youth? The risk of acute harm as a function of quantity and frequency of drinking. Drug and Alcohol Review. doi: 10.1111/j.1465-3362.2011.00378.x

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