Students, expert have mixed reactions to new CCSA alcohol guidelines

The Canadian Centre for Substance Use and Abuse (CCSA) released new guidelines on alcohol consumption for Canadians last week that significantly reduce the recommended intake.

Canadians are now advised to only drink up to two standard drinks per week. A standard drink is generally 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor such as tequila or vodka. These guidelines replace previous advice of no more than ten drinks per week for women and fifteen for men.

The updated recommendations state that “drinking alcohol, even a small amount, is damaging to everyone, regardless of age, sex, gender, ethnicity, tolerance for alcohol or lifestyle.”

New analysis shed light on the risks associated with alcohol consumption. Alcohol is a carcinogen linked to increased risk of cancer, particularly breast and colon cancer, and is also a risk factor for cardiovascular disease such as hypertension and strokes. The risk of violence against others also increases with alcohol use.

Dr. Edward Slingerland is a professor of philosophy at UBC, and the author of Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced and Stumbled Our Way to Civilisation. In an interview with The Ubyssey, he expressed the need for nuance when interpreting these new guidelines.

“The medical community is shifting toward a view that from a physiological perspective, alcohol is a net negative,” Slingerland said. “The problem with that, I think, is that it's looking at alcohol consumption solely from a medical perspective.”

Slingerland said humans have continued to consume alcohol despite dangers associated with it for thousands of years, and argued alcohol could be seen as, “as a cultural technology that humans have used in very specific situations to solve very specific problems.”

“[Alcohol] enhances creativity,” he said. “One of the functions of [alcohol] is to downregulate our prefrontal cortex. This is a very important part of the brain — it's what you need to get to work on time and focus on things and be a responsible adult — but it interferes with creative thinking, so turning it down a couple notches can help give you insights.”

“Another really important function is social bonding and social lubrication,” Slingerland said.

“It’s actually a tool for creating social bonds and helping strangers get over awkwardness and be able to feel connected to each other in some way.”

Slingerland cautioned that despite these potential benefits, not all individuals should consume alcohol.

“Alcohol is really dangerous and … individuals are going to have different different risk factors,” he said. “So especially if you have a family history of the types of cancers that alcohol is known to enhance the risk of, that's a bad sign. [Or] if you have a history of alcohol use disorder … maybe zero really is the best solution for you.”

The Ubyssey spoke to several students about their reactions to the new guidelines.

Ferdinand Rother, an arts student in his second year, expressed surprise. “I think that as a college student, it can be quite difficult to abide by those guidelines.”

“In college I feel like it's a few years where you experience a lot of things,” he said. “And alcohol is just a social lubricant.”

Cedric Lin is a second-year arts student who noted that the guidelines may be too drastically different to be achievable.

“The purpose of guidelines is to help people have a better idea about … how they should approach something,” he said. “And I think in order for guidelines to be achievable, they need to be a bit less intense and a bit more reasonable for someone to undertake. So from fifteen [drinks] to two … that's quite a big change.”

When asked whether these guidelines would impact his own personal choice of drinking, he replied, “I think I think it's something I'll consider.”

In a written statement, Levonne Abshire, director of health equity at UBC, said, “All substances, including alcohol use, carry some risk, making it important to consider the short-term and long-term effects on your health and wellbeing as a student.”

Abshire noted resources available on campus for students, including the Student Recovery Community for students wishing to explore their relationship with substances, and workshops such as Safer Parties for event organizers who wish to reduce risks around alcohol consumption.