Short-term Risks

Acute risks are the harmful effects of drinking too much alcohol in the short-term or on a single occasion (often referred to as binge drinking or heavy drinking). If you drink too much alcohol on a single occasion, you may experience these short-term effects:

  • Impulsive behaviour
  • Impaired attention, concentration and judgement
  • Drowsiness
  • Aggressiveness and violent behaviour
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Slurred speech
  • Double or blurred vision
  • Flushed skin
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Frequent urination
  • Impaired memory or loss of memory

Severe alcohol intoxication can lead to alcohol poisoning, which can result in:

  • Stupor (when someone is not alert or responsive, and has difficultly getting up or moving around)
  • Coma
  • Respiratory arrest (when someone stops breathing or has trouble breathing)
  • Death

Long-term Risks:

Chronic risks refer to the harms that happen over the long-term. If you frequently drink too much alcohol, you risk some of these long-term harms:

  • Damage to organs, including:
    • liver
    • brain
    • heart
    • stomach
  • High blood pressure
  • Reduced resistance to infection
  • Sexual impotence
  • Decreased appetite
  • Hormonal irregularities and infertility
  • Increased risk of cancer, including:
    • liver
    • breast
    • throat
    • stomach
  • Malnourishment and vitamin deficiencies
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Anxiety and depression, including suicidal depression

Reducing your risk
of alcohol-related harms

You can avoid the acute and chronic risks of drinking alcohol by limiting the amount of drinks you have on a single occasion, and the amount of drinks you have per day and week over time.

Visit Canada’s low-risk alcohol drinking guidelines to learn about the recommended limits on the number of standard drinks men and women should have.

How alcohol interacts with other substances

It can be dangerous to drink alcohol while taking other substances, such as:

  • controlled and illegal drugs
  • cannabis
  • prescription medications, such as sleeping pills and antidepressants

Alcohol can change the effects of other drugs and substances. For example, combining alcohol with a depressant drug that slows the nervous system, like cannabis and opioids, can increase the effect on the body. In some cases, the combination is dangerous and potentially fatal.

Alcohol use disorder

People who drink too much may develop a medical condition called alcohol use disorder (AUD). Like other substance use disorders, AUD is a mental health disorder. Diagnosis is made by the presence of specific signs or symptoms. The severity of the condition (mild, moderate, or severe) depends on how many of these signs you experience, such as:

  • often consuming alcohol in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended
  • having a desire or having unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use
  • spending a lot of time obtaining alcohol, consuming alcohol, or recovering from its effects
  • craving or having a strong desire or urge to use alcohol
  • continuing to use alcohol while being aware of having a lasting or frequent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or worsened by alcohol

Check if someone you know suffers from alcohol use disorder

For more information on where to get help for problematic alcohol use,
please visit the problematic substance use resource page.

Source: Government of Canada