Coast readers: Drinking less alcohol is definitely a thing | Opinion | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST
In 2011 the recommendations said 10 drinks per week was low risk. Now it's two drinks.

Coast readers: Drinking less alcohol is definitely a thing

Because of Canada's new booze guidelines, a Coast poll finds that people are aiming to cut back.

You almost have to feel bad for alcohol. After a couple flush years in the early part of the pandemic that saw consumption go up, along comes 2023 and the booze news is bad. First the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction brings out new guidelines for drinking and health that say "it is recommended that people living in Canada consider reducing their alcohol use." Then Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, says alcohol should get warning labels on its packaging just like cigarettes. What a burn.

The new drinking guidelines are radically different than the old ones: In 2011, it was recommended that people could reduce "long-term health risk" by having no more than 15 drinks per week for men, and 10 drinks per week for women. Now, the guidelines say just three drinks per week is the level where the "risk of developing several types of cancer, including breast cancer and colon cancers, increases," and every single drink after seven "radically increases the risk of alcohol-related consequences."

Between the graphic language about health risks, and the massive drop in what's considered low risk from 10 or 15 weekly drinks to two, we wondered if the new guidelines would make Coast readers think about changing their drinking habit. So we asked—in a poll at, and on our Instagram and Twitter accounts. And the answer is a clear yes. At both The Coast site and Insta, nearly 60% of respondents said they are aiming to cut back as a result of the guidelines, with only about 25% saying they aren't planning to change. (The balance of respondents chose the "This isn't relevant to me" option that let non-drinkers participate in the survey.)

On Twitter, the results were a bit different. More people said their booze intake would not change (40% compared to about 25% on the other platforms), and fewer said it would (35% versus an outright majority). It would require further study to find out if something about the experience of being on Twitter itself encourages alcohol consumption.

The new guidelines are severe enough to generate headlines around the world. "What's behind Canada's drastic new alcohol guidance" comes from England, while The New York Times went with "Canada’s New Guidelines for Alcohol Say ‘No Amount’ Is Healthy." Fifteen time zones ahead of Nova Scotia, the take is "Two drinks a week: Significant shift in alcohol guidelines raises questions for Australia."

But closer to home, a Coast reader sent us an email taking issue with the "alarmist" guidelines, encouraging we read a Globe and Mail editorial that digs deeply into the medical evidence the substance abuse centre bases its recommendations on. "There is no statistically significant difference in overall health risk between a lifetime abstainer and a drinker until the latter’s alcohol consumption nears seven standard drinks a week," the Globe says, before going on to address the idea of warning labels, which it calls "an excellent idea" for cigarettes. "But as the centre’s own study shows, the verdict is not so stark for alcohol. Some drinkers, particularly when individual medical histories are taken into account, could very well benefit from moderate consumption."

At this point, it's tempting to wrap up with a weak joke about such extreme differences in meaning being enough to drive a person to drink. But we will resist the urge.

Kyle Shaw

Kyle is the editor of The Coast. He was a founding member of the newspaper in 1993 and was the paper’s first publisher. Kyle occasionally teaches creative nonfiction writing (think magazine-style #longreads) and copy editing at the University of King’s College School of Journalism.
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