Canadian Data Reveals More Harm Than Good From Moderate Drinking

An international research team, co-led by the Centre for Addictions Research of BC (CARBC) based at the University of Victoria, is reporting that approximately 2,800 premature Canadian deaths in one year were caused by “low risk” alcohol use, many as a result of alcohol-related cancers. It also raised questions about the supposed health benefits of moderate drinking, especially for men.

For the purposes of the study, low risk drinking was defined as no more than an average of three standard drinks per day for men and no more than two standard drinks per day for women. A Canadian standard drink is a 12 ounce bottle of beer, one-and-a-half ounce shot of liquor or a five ounce glass of wine. Such drinking has been thought to be “low risk” because, according to many studies, it is more likely to help people live longer by protecting against heart disease.

However, the authors of the report noted that many studies previously published on alcohol and coronary heart disease contained errors likely to exaggerate health benefits. The team estimated the number of Canadian deaths prevented by low risk drinking after making adjustments for this likely source of error and concluded that there were just over 800 premature deaths prevented a year as a result of these benefits. Balanced against the 2,800 premature deaths caused this means there is still a net loss of approximately 2,000 lives from low risk drinking a year.

“This study really just tells us two things” commented lead author Dr. Tim Stockwell, director of CARBC. “First that we need more well-designed studies on this topic as apparently small differences in methods produce radically different results. Secondly, because a great number of people drink at low levels the risk for the individual drinker is still very low. But drinking at higher levels significantly increases risk of injury, illness and premature death.” The group also estimated that drinking above low risk levels in Canada was responsible for a further 5,300 deaths a year.

Another finding highlighted in the report was that while women still seemed to gain health benefits from being low risk drinkers in those studies with few or no errors, this was not the case for men. The authors speculate that different drinking patterns between males and females may be responsible. Women are more likely to drink a little and often while men are more likely to have heavy drinking sessions. However, the team strongly cautions that very few error-free studies have been conducted and more high-quality studies are needed to confirm this finding.

The report entitled “Alcohol-Caused Mortality in Australia and Canada: Scenario Analyses Using Different Assumptions About Cardiac Benefit” is published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs ( Other members of the international research team are Drs. Tanya Chikritzhs (National Drug Research Institute, Australia), Alan Bostrom and Kaye Fillmore (University of California, San Francisco), William Kerr (National Alcohol Research Center, USA), Jürgen Rehm and Ben Taylor (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Ontario). The research was funded by the Australian Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation, the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing and the BC Ministry of Health.

A PDF copy of this article is available upon request.

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Media contacts

Dr. Tim Stockwell (CARBC) at 250-853-3231 or cell 250-415-7376 or

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Keywords: canadian, data, reveals, harm, good, moderate, drinking

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