Drinking in Moderation

Drinking in Moderation

According to the drinking guidelines published by Health Canada, moderate drinking for men is defined as: no more than three drinks on any one occasion with no more than three occasions on any given week or no more than two drinks on a maximum of five occasions per week (stated another way, a maximum of 3 in 3 or 2 in 5).

For women, moderation guidelines suggest no more than two drinks per occasion on no more than three occasions on any given week (2 in 3), or no more than one drink on a maximum of five occasions per week (1 in 5).

Discussing problem drinking opens the door to a variety of debates and controversies:

  • Is alcoholism a disease or a bad habit?
  • Is there even such a thing as ‘alcoholism’?
  • Can problem drinkers learn to drink non-problematically, or is abstinence their only viable option?
  • What are the parameters for moderate or social drinking?

Moderation Management, a support group that seeks to help problem drinkers explore whether moderation is an achievable (and desired) goal, adds qualitative as well as quantitative aspects to the definition of moderate drinking:

A Moderate Drinker:

  • Considers an occasional drink to be a small, though enjoyable, part of life.
  • Have hobbies, interests, and other ways to relax and enjoy life that do not involve alcohol.
  • Usually have friends who are moderate drinkers or nondrinkers.
  • Generally has something to eat before, during, or soon after drinking.
  • Usually does not drink for longer than an hour or two on any particular occasion.
  • Usually does not drink faster than one drink per half-hour.
  • Usually does not exceed the .055% BAC moderate drinking limit.
  • Feels comfortable with his or her use of alcohol (never drinks secretly and does not spend a lot of time thinking about drinking or planning to drink).

A number of years ago, when I was working at a Drug and Alcohol counseling agency, I came across an essay that stuck with me. Its author – whose name has long since been relegated to the part of my brain where I forget things – argued that it was actually the alcohol makers and distributors who have the most at stake in promoting “alcoholism”.

To paraphrase the argument, if we as a society believe that there is a segment of the population – the alcoholics – who cannot and should not drink, and further believe based on our stereotypes of what an alcoholic looks like that we ourselves are not part of that segment, we are much less open to questioning our own relationship to alcohol, and examining the ways it is either helping us or hurting us.

And ultimately that’s what it comes down to. For those of us who choose to have alcohol in our lives at all, there’s a counterbalancing responsibility to be open and honest in assessing how it’s working in our lives. That means being aware of its impact on our physical health, relationships, emotional health, school or work, legal standing, etc., and ensuring that a value for alcohol isn’t compromising the other things in life we also value.


Vancouver Health Coach