Low-Risk Alcohol Use

What is this issue about?

While many people safely enjoy drinking alcohol as part of their recreation and leisure activities, alcohol consumption can negatively affect the health and well-being of communities. Hazardous drinking and regularly drinking in excess of Canada’s Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines can lead to issues including:

  • crashes, falls, and other injuries caused by intoxication
  • chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease
  • community safety issues

Many organizations are working together on an international, national, provincial, and local level to try to reduce the harm caused by hazardous drinking. Local governments play an important role in promoting responsible alcohol consumption and reducing harm through the introduction of policy and planning, processes, and developing programs and partnerships that encourage a culture of moderation.

Why is low risk alcohol use important for health and well-being and healthy communities?

Hazardous drinking can greatly increase the risk of injuries and death. The Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR), formerly the Centre for Addictions Research BC (CARBC), estimates that alcohol causes more than 20,000 hospital visits and 2,000 deaths annually in B.C. Furthermore, the morbidity (illness) and mortality (death) rates attributable to alcohol are increasing; it is estimated that the number of individuals hospitalized due to alcohol use will exceed those hospitalized for tobacco use by the end of 2015.

Individuals who regularly drink more than the low-risk drinking guidelines may develop chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and cirrhosis. Canada’s Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines advise that even small amounts of alcohol every day can increase a person’s risk of getting a range of diseases, including mouth and throat cancer, epilepsy, and pancreatitis, by up to 42%. The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse estimates that if all Canadian drinkers were drinking alcohol within the proposed guidelines, alcohol-related deaths would be reduced by approximately 4,600 per year.

Hazardous drinking doesn’t just cause harm to the individual but impacts families and communities. 35% of B.C. residents reported that they had suffered harm as a result of another person’s alcohol use. The financial burden caused by alcohol-related harm in B.C. is estimated to be over $2 billion annually. Studies estimate that enforcement and health care costs exceed the revenue generated by alcohol by over $65 million annually. Local governments can reduce the cost of policing.

Why does low-risk alcohol use matter for local governments?

While many partners and stakeholders are working together on an international, national, and provincial level to try to reduce the harm caused by hazardous drinking, local governments also have an important role in reducing the harm caused by alcohol and promoting a culture of moderation. The local government is excellently placed to understand the role and impact of alcohol on its community. Additionally, many local governments are directly involved in the sale of alcohol through facilities and events held on municipally owed property. There is much local governments can do to encourage a culture of moderation and minimize the risk of harm caused by alcohol.

If the local government owns premises serving alcohol, then it has a number of responsibilities as part of the Liquor Control and Licensing Act and Regulations. In this context, local government licences are responsible for:

  • preventing under-age drinking
  • preventing the over-consumption of liquor
  • preventing overcrowding or unsafe conditions in licensed premises
  • minimizing illegal activities in and around liquor establishments
  • minimizing the potentially negative impact of liquor sales on neighbourhoods and communities
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