Another Dry January has come and gone. (Cheers!) And if you’re a drinker who abstained, perhaps you’re a little bit more aware about how alcohol is everywhere and how much of your social life revolves around drinking. Maybe you’re also sleeping better and are more alert at work. And now—if moderation, as opposed to outright alcohol abstinence—is your goal, here are some easy guidelines for tracking how much you’re really drinking.
What are Canada’s low-risk drinking guidelines?
According to Canada’s official Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines, in order to reduce the risk of long-term health effects, women should have no more 10 standard drinks per week, and no more than two standard drinks most days. Catherine Paradis, senior research and policy analyst at the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (who helped create the low-risk guidelines), says women should also plan two non-drinking days per week to avoid developing a habit.
On special occasions, like holidays or your birthday, women should have no more than three standard drinks. “These are special occasions, these are not your Thursday night Happy Hours,” says Paradis.
How do you know what constitutes a standard drink? Use the standard drink calculator!
One standard drink is: a 341 mL bottle of 5% beer (or cider or a cooler), a 5-ounce glass (or 142 mL) of 12% wine or 43 mL of hard liquor. But what do you do if you’re drinking a tall can of beer or have a bottle of 15%-alcohol wine? Paradis shared an easy formula to figure out how many servings your bottle or can contains: container size (in mL) times the percentage of alcohol divided by 17.05. So how many standard drinks are in a 750 mL bottle of Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc (which is 11% alcohol)? Let’s put that formula to work.
750 X 0.11 / 17.05 = 4.8 (so let’s round up to five standard drinks—if you’re getting four glasses from a bottle, your pours might be a little heavy)
How about a 473 mL can of Side Launch’s dry-hopped sour beer (4.2% alcohol)?
473 X 0.042 / 17.05 = 1.2 (so it’s a little more than one standard drink)
Why should I count standard drinks?
If you find yourself drinking more than ten standard drinks per week, you’re not alone. More than 30 percent of Canadian women exceed these guidelines. In 2018, Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam sounded the alarm on Canadian women’s relationship with alcohol, largely due to some troubling statistics. Between 2006 and 2017, the rate of women who died from conditions related to alcohol consumption increased by 26 percent (for men, the rate increased by only five percent over the same period).
Paradis knows many are unaware of the risks associated with drinking or that it’s linked to numerous diseases and chronic conditions, including breast cancer, colon cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, hypertension and diabetes. While participating in Dry January might not negate holiday-related binge-drinking, it could help make you more aware of the role alcohol plays in your life.
But Paradis is slightly critical of events like Dry January because they put too much focus on the individual. “In fact, we do know the way alcohol is made available in Canada is definitely part of the problem and explains why it might be difficult for us to spend a whole month without alcohol,” she says. “It’s not so much that we’re dependent, but the fact that alcohol is available everywhere in Canada, marketed aggressively and available at very cheap prices,” she continues.
Unlike in other countries, serving sizes don’t need to be listed on booze bottles and cans in Canada. So next time you’re unsure about how many standard drinks that bottle of Sauv Blanc contains, pull out your phone to find out (remember: mL X percentage of alcohol / 17.05).