What is alcohol?
Alcohol is a legal psychoactive drug that enjoys wide popularity and special social and cultural significance. There are harms and costs as well as benefits associated with drinking alcohol.
Alcohol is a risk factor for numerous chronic health conditions and diseases (such as cirrhosis of the liver and some cancers) and injuries (such as from road crashes and violence) as well as disability and death. On the other hand, it is also associated with benefits related to reducing the likelihood of heart disease and diabetes for middle aged and older adults when they consume no more than one drink per day.
For an overview of alcohol’s legal status in Canada, drinking trends, and related resources, view the Alcohol Drug Summary.
What is alcohol's impact on the Canadian economy?
The economic impact of alcohol-related harm in Canada is estimated to cost $14.6 billion per year, according to the most recent study, The Costs of Substance Abuse in Canada 2002. This figure includes:
- $7.1 billion for lost productivity due to illness and premature death
- $3.3 billion for direct health care costs
- $3.1 billion for enforcement costs
Alcohol drinking patterns across Canada *
- People drinking alcohol in the Maritimes tend to drink more per occasion and men largely prefer beer.
- In the Prairies, people drinking alcohol tend to drink smaller amounts, drink less frequently, and drink less often with a meal. They are also more likely to favour spirits—a type of beverage that makes up a third of their annual intake.
- In Québec, Ontario and British Columbia, alcohol consumption has a more 'Mediterranean' style: people drink more often, drink wine more often, drink spirits less often, and drink more often with a meal than people from other parts of Canada.
* From the report, Alcohol and Health in Canada: A Summary of Evidence and Guidelines for Low-Risk Drinking
Canada's response: a National Alcohol Strategy
See the latest actions taken to promote a culture of moderation and reduce the harms associated with alcohol in Canada. This includes the release of Canada's Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines.
Cross-country consultations in 2005 on substance use and abuse identified the need to address alcohol misuse in Canada, as one of the 13 priorities in the National Framework for Action to Reduce the Harms Associated with Alcohol and Drugs and other Substances.
As a result, Health Canada, the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, and the Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission co-chaired an expert working group to develop the National Alcohol Strategy.
The resulting report, Reducing Alcohol-Related Harm in Canada: Towards a Culture of Moderation - Recommendations for a National Alcohol Strategy (2007), sets out 41 recommendations to support the development of a culture of moderate alcohol use and to reduce alcohol-related harm.
In 2008, the National Alcohol Strategy Advisory Committee (NASAC) was organized to implement, monitor and evaluate the National Alcohol Strategy recommendations. These recommendations focus on four strategic areas for action:
Reducing alcohol-related harm in Canada: Towards a culture of moderation
NASAC partners are actively involved in activities to implement the recommendations of the National Alcohol Strategy. Initiatives to address 38 of the 41 recommendations are underway, including:
- developing and introducing Canada's Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines
- publishing three reports promoting the use of alcohol pricing policies to reduce alcohol related harm
- partnering with the College of Family Physicians of Canada to develop a screening, brief intervention and referral web resource for physicians and health professionals
- educating students about the dangers of binge drinking
- encouraging provinces to adopt zero-tolerance alcohol policies for all drivers under 21 years of age
- implementing server training programs
- pursuing approaches that focus on high-risk alcohol-dependent drivers
What is NASAC?
The National Alcohol Strategy Advisory Committee was formed in 2008 to:
- lead the implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the National Alcohol Strategy
- increase awareness of Canadians on matters relating to alcohol abuse
- encourage participation in the reduction of harm associated with such abuse
NASAC members include participants with expertise in alcohol-related issues from all levels of government, non-governmental organizations, First Nations, Inuit and Métis service providers, and the alcohol industry.