Standard Drinks and Age – does it matter?

drinksConfusion, confusion and more confusion!

Not only are there different low-risk drinking guidelines around the world, but there are different definitions of the “size” of a standard drink around the world. Size matters! So it would be nice to be on the same page when talking alcohol portions. The US ‘standard’ drink has 14 g of alcohol; Canada’s standard drink has 13.6 g, in Italy, the standard is 12 g, in Australia it is 10 g and in the UK ‘unit’ is equivalent to 8 g alcohol.

There has also been considerable debate about setting safe limits based on age. Canada’s National Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines has added underage drinking recommendations with the “delay your drinking” message, but doesn’t address consumption for older adults. Many suggest that the message “when zero’s the limit” is sufficient for older adults, as age has less effect than the use of medications and/or the presence of health conditions, which are prevalent in the aging population.

So why do we want to be clear on “safe” levels of alcohol use among older adults?

According to an editorial in the Addiction Journal entitled Alcohol limits in older people, there is a drop in lean body mass and total body water; hence, a ‘standard drink’ gives rise to higher blood alcohol content (BAC). The American authors go on to say it appears sensible to suggest that the ‘safe’ limit for both males and females over the age of 65 be no more than one standard drink per day and no more than seven drinks per week.

Should Canada add a guideline for older adults to our National Low Risk Drinking Guidelines?

And just a reminder “safe” and, “low-risk” does not mean “no risk” your safest bet is always zero drinks when it comes to some chronic diseases, like cancer.

Author: Sarah R.N.

Registered Nurse working as a Public Health Nurse in the Injury and Substance Misuse Prevention Program at the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit

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