Statement from the Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health (CCMOH) on Alcohol Consumption
January 18, 2023 | Ottawa, ON
Harms related to alcohol use represent a significant public health issue in Canada. This is why, as Chief Medical Officers of HealthFootnote *, we want to encourage all people across the country to become aware of the risks associated with alcohol consumption and encourage informed decision making about its use.
The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) has released Canada's Guidance on Alcohol and Health. This guidance helps people in Canada understand the actual risks associated with alcohol consumption in order to help reduce short and long-term harm to health. The updated guidance recommends a harm reduction approach, indicating that even modest reductions in alcohol use can reduce risks of harm. These updated guidelines are a first step in raising awareness for people and stimulating changing behaviours around drinking alcohol. But we also need to develop programs and policies that address where we can purchase and consume alcohol that will support people to follow the guidance and lead to improved health outcomes. We, in public health, play a key role in developing long term, comprehensive strategies in these areas.
The latest evidence shows a direct link between drinking alcohol and increased risk of at least seven types of cancer. This recent evidence, contrary to common perceptions, shows that modest consumption of alcohol offers no protective effects against heart diseases, while regular and heavy consumption of alcohol increases the risk of these conditions. Research also indicates that consuming more than two drinks on one occasion is associated with an increased risk of harm to self and others, including injury and violence. Recent studies also reinforce the message that there is no known safe amount of alcohol use for individuals who are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding.
It is also important to recognize that the risk for alcohol-related harms is strongly influenced by a range of factors in our social, economic, and physical environments. These factors can include the accessibility and affordability of alcohol, exposure to alcohol marketing, social and cultural norms around drinking, coping with loss of cultural identity, racism, stigma and discrimination as well as economic resources. These factors vary across some groups and contribute to differences in alcohol-related risks and harms at the population level. Understanding and taking steps to address these wider social determinants of alcohol-related harms are important actions and require our combined efforts.
In particular, we need to address how colonial practices made Indigenous peoples in this country vulnerable to the adverse effects of alcohol, not only through the traumas inflicted on First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples and communities but also racist policies. Awareness raising in these situations is inadequate and needs to be coupled with investment in and accountability to the many foundational commitments that call for holistic, Indigenous-led, land based mental wellness and healing services.
It is timely that this new guidance is being released during January, a month in which many individuals in Canada and globally are reflecting on, reducing or taking a pause in their drinking, as a part of the Dry January campaign. The release of Canada's Guidance on Alcohol and Health represents a key moment for public health authorities to communicate how alcohol consumption is impacting the health and well-being of those living in Canada; to have frank discussions about how it impacts our communities; and to look at ways to minimize those impacts at all levels of society. At the same time, we now have new guidance for individuals to evaluate their own alcohol use.
The Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health includes the Chief Medical Officer of Health from each provincial and territorial jurisdiction, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer, the Chief Medical Advisor of Health Canada, the Chief Medical Officer of Public Health of Indigenous Services Canada, the Chief Medical Officer from the First Nations Health Authority, and ex-officio members from other federal government departments. Learn more about federal, provincial and territorial collaboration on public health in Canada by visiting the Pan-Canadian Public Health Network website.
- Footnote *
Not including the Chief Medical Officer of Health of Quebec.
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