Health risks of alcohol

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Acute (short-term) risks

Acute risks are the harmful effects of drinking too much alcohol in the short-term or on a single occasion (often referred to as binge drinking or heavy drinking). If you drink too much alcohol on a single occasion, you may experience these short-term effects:

Severe alcohol intoxication can lead to alcohol poisoning, which can result in:

Chronic (long-term) risks

Chronic risks refer to the harms that happen over the long-term. If you frequently drink too much alcohol, you risk some of these long-term harms:

Reducing your risk of alcohol-related harms

You can avoid the acute and chronic risks of drinking alcohol by limiting the amount of drinks you have on a single occasion, and the amount of drinks you have per day and week over time.

Visit Canada’s low-risk alcohol drinking guidelines to learn about the recommended limits on the number of standard drinks men and women should have.

How alcohol interacts with other substances

It can be dangerous to drink alcohol while taking other substances, such as:

Alcohol can change the effects of other drugs and substances. For example, combining alcohol with another depressant drug that slows the nervous system, like cannabis and opioids, can increase the effect on the body. In some cases, the combination is dangerous and potentially fatal.

Health risks of alcohol use during pregnancy

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can seriously harm an unborn baby. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a term used to describe a range of disabilities that can affect a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy.

The impact and effects of FASD vary. Specific birth defects and the degree of the disability can depend on:

No amount or type of alcohol during pregnancy is considered safe. FASD is a lifelong disorder with effects that include physical, mental, behavioural and learning disabilities. These can vary from mild to severe.

If you're planning a pregnancy, the best thing to do is to stop drinking alcohol in advance of your pregnancy. If you aren't planning a pregnancy, you can help prevent FASD by properly using:

Some pregnancies are not planned, and you may have been drinking alcohol before you knew you were pregnant. Once you find out you're pregnant, it's best to stop drinking alcohol immediately. Every day without alcohol makes a difference. If you're concerned about the risks to the fetus, it's best to seek the advice of a health care provider.

For more information on FASD please refer to:

Alcohol use disorder

People who drink too much may develop a medical condition called alcohol use disorder (AUD). Like other substance use disorders, AUD is a mental health disorder. Diagnosis is made by the presence of specific signs or symptoms. The severity of the condition (mild, moderate, or severe) depends on how many of these signs you experience, such as:

Check if someone you know suffers from alcohol use disorder

For more information on where to get help for problematic alcohol use, please visit the problematic substance use resource page.

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