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Alcohol & Other Drugs

Safer Drinking: Beer, wine and spirits


Reduce your risk of problems related to drinking too much, too often or in risky environments

Author: Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research


stock photo of a group of people at a restaurant table. Some of them are drinking wine.

You and safer drinking

When you enjoy alcohol, it can be easy to get into a routine of drinking too much, too often or in risky environments. Here are some simple things you can do to reduce your risk of harm from alcohol.

Before you start...

Be clear about why you want to drink. Is it going to help you in some way or make things worse?

Eat something. Food reduces the speed at which your body absorbs alcohol.

Know the strength of your alcohol. Look on the label for the percentage of alcohol.

Set limits on how much you're going to drink And, commit to sticking to your plan.

while drinking...

Measure and keep track of your drinks. This will help you avoid drinking more than you wanted.

Drink slowly. Alternate drinks with water or other non-alcoholic beverages to avoid drinking too much.

Stay in the company of trusted friends. That way, you won't have to cope alone if something goes wrong.

When going out...

Choose drinking places with care. Look for clean surroundings, good lighting, open queuing, comfortable seating, pleasant noise levels and lots of space. Things can get out of control in places that are too crowded and chaotic.

Plan a safe way to get home before you even get to your destination. You'll be less tempted to make bad choices if you have a good plan.

Avoid getting drunk in public. Low risk is 2 drinks at most on any one occasion. Stay at least within moderate risk ceilings of 4 drinks for men, 3 drinks for women. Drinking over these limits puts you at risk of making choices that may seem fun at the time but may cost you sooner or later in terms of your health, relationships, money or the law.

If you're planning to drink a lot...

Drink with a buddy in a safe place. It may be best to stay at home.

Stick to one substance at a time. Alcohol can magnify the effects of cannabis and some other drugs in unpredictable ways.

Stay away from the steering wheel. Stay where you are or make plans to get around by bus, taxi, or ride with someone who hasn't been drinking.

Avoid having sex with an unfamiliar partner. Carry condoms just in case.

Choose "no alcohol" when...

  • driving or operating machinery

  • needing to be alert, like at work or school

  • using other drugs, including medications

  • pregnant or breastfeeding

  • experiencing health problems (mental orphysical)

To reduce long-term health risks...

Cap it at a couple drinks per week. A regular routine of 3-6 drinks spread out each week (no more than 2 on any day) raises risk of disease from low to a moderate level. With 7 or more drinks per week that risk is increasingly high.

One standard drink is:

Beer 350 ml (12 oz) at 5% alcohol

Wine 150 ml (5 oz) at 12% alcohol

Spirits 40 ml (1.5 oz) at 40% alcohol

Things to avoid...

Drinking regularly (and especially getting drunk) before early adulthood

Drinking regularly to cope with negative moods or as a major form of recreation

Driving after drinking, or riding in a vehicle with someone who's been drinking

Trying to keep up with your friends who drink more or more often than you do

Did you know?

Males and females absorb alcohol differently. Females have less fluid in their bodies to dilute alcohol, and less of an enzyme that breaks down alcohol. So females feel more of the effects, and for a longer time, than males who drink the same amount.

If someone passes out or ODs on alcohol...

  • Roll the person on their side (so they won't choke if they throw up)

  • Call out for help—stay with the person who's in trouble

  • Call (or get someone else to call) 911

  • Tell paramedics as much as you can

Getting Help

Self-help tools:

Alcohol and Drug Information and Referral Service:

  • 1-800-663-1441 (BC)

  • 604-660-9382 (Greater Vancouver)


About the author

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The Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, formerly CARBC, is a member of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Substance Use Information. The institute is dedicated to the study of substance use in support of community-wide efforts aimed at providing all people with access to healthier lives, whether using substances or not. For more, visit


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