Whiskey business: new drinking guidelines are sobering

Image by: Katharine Sung

Canada’s new alcohol consumption guidelines are a rude awakening.

The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction published updated low-risk drinking guidelines this week, replacing their previous recommendations from 2012. 

The organization now asserts there’s no safe amount of alcohol; more than two standard drinks per week reportedly increases cancer risk. Binge drinking is now defined as consuming four drinks for women or five for men on one occasion.

These new guidelines come as a shock to Canadians everywhere, but the impact may be most pronounced among university students—at least those who are paying attention. 

It’s shocking that having four or five drinks on a night out—a thrice-weekly occurrence for many Queen’s students—is thought of as a ‘binge.’ Even students who don’t consider themselves heavy drinkers might easily consume that amount on any given weekend evening.

While moderation isn’t in every Queen’s student’s vocabulary, many of us are frustrated with the drinking culture, including people who regularly drink themselves. Blacking out has become a rite of passage instead of a cause for concern, and the decision not to drink always seems to demand an explanation. 

In a university town, it’s particularly difficult to socialize without drinking. Most social environments are centred around consuming alcohol. Alcohol is also expensive and can drain a large chunk of an already tight student budget.

Companies launch marketing assaults on post-secondary campuses, particularly via campus brand ambassadors—it seems like everybody knows a rep for Cottage Springs. This level of unregulated advertising is problematic because these ‘student ambassadors’ usually lack training on how to promote safe alcohol consumption.

Perhaps out of necessity, Queen’s has well-established resources to promote responsible drinking and respond to overuse with empathy rather than judgement. As essential as those resources are, we also need to create engaging, financially accessible opportunities to socialize that don’t depend on the presence of alcohol. 

Drinking less can be a lot more complicated than reading the guidelines and implementing changes. Alcohol plays a significant role in many of our lives—both socially and economically—so there’s an incentive to dismiss the new recommendations as fearmongering. 

The solution to Canada’s overconsumption of alcohol isn’t to shame people for how much they drink, especially when so many of us aren’t aware of the level of risk we’re incurring by drinking. We need an empathetic approach that encourages lifestyle changes.

No one expects everyone to suddenly choose sobriety, but we could stand to be more mindful of our habits and consider how often we may binge without realizing it.

It’s hard to argue against the health and financial benefits of cutting out booze—we’d be healthier and richer without it. However, unhealthy things like cheeseburgers and beer (especially together) make life a lot better, and that isn’t going to change. 

Drinking can be fun—we all take calculated risks when it comes to our health. It’s unrealistic to expect people to make exclusively healthy choices. Rather, we should aim to be informed enough to weigh the risks and make decisions accordingly. 

Raise a glass to moderation—for good health. 


Alcohol, binge drinking, drinking culture, Health, Student life

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