What it is
Alcohol is a psychoactive drug (meaning that it’s mind-altering) that affects the way we think and behave. It’s a depressant, so it also slows down our heart rate, breathing, thoughts and actions. Alcoholic beverages are made from fermented or distilled grains, fruits, or vegetables, and usually contain 5%, 12%, or 40% alcohol.
How it’s used
Most Canadians drink alcohol, usually in social situations. As a matter of fact, Canadians consume more than 50% above the world average. Many people who drink moderately say that it enhances the enjoyment of ordinary life. But like other drugs, alcohol can also be harmful.
How it affects us
In small amounts, alcohol can make us feel more sociable and talkative. In larger amounts, our inhibitions disappear—so does our balance, vision, coordination and ability to make important decisions.
Even people who normally drink responsibly can drink too much and make poor decisions—like driving while impaired. Over time, drinking large amounts can also cause cirrhosis, where the liver stops functioning properly. Some people can develop alcohol dependence—meaning they need alcohol to cope with daily life. And if we drink too much in a short amount of time, we can develop alcohol poisoning, which affects our breathing, heart rate and gag reflex, and could even lead to coma or death.
Lowering the risk
Don’t drink too much, and be sure to keep track of the number of drinks you’ve had. Drink slowly and alternate between non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages. Eat something before you drink. Don’t drink every day, and set limits on how much you’re going to drink each week. Know the strength of the alcohol you are drinking, and drink only in safe places and times (like with trusted friends) to help minimize alcohol-related harm. Remember, women (on average) can’t drink as much alcohol as men due to differences in their bodies.
When to seek help
Drinking alcohol is a problem when it negatively affects our life or the lives of others.
If your drinking causes significant distress and problems in your daily life, you may have alcohol use disorder. Even a mild disorder can escalate and lead to serious problems, so early treatment is important. If this sounds like you, talk with your doctor. Other ways to get help include talking with a mental health professional or a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
If you're concerned about someone else’s drinking, ask a professional experienced in alcohol treatment for advice on how to approach them.
If someone you know is showing signs of alcohol poisoning, roll the person on their side and call 911 immediately.
Wellness Together CanadaWellness Together Canada
Wellness Together Canada is a mental health and substance use website to support people across Canada and Canadians living abroad in both official languages. They provide the following resources for you at no cost:
Mental Health 101The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Knowledge is power. This series of free online tutorials is a starting point for learning about mental health. You can come away with a greater understanding of the mental health concern you are interested in knowing more about.
IWK Mental Health and Addictions Program
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The Marguerite Centre
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Eskasoni Mental Health
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Caregivers Nova Scotia
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Kids Help Phone
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Alcoholics Anonymous is an international fellowship of men and women who have had a drinking problem. There are no age or education requirements. Membership is open to anyone...
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Al‑Anon is a mutual support program for people whose lives have been affected by someone else’s drinking. By sharing common experiences and applying the Al-Anon principles...
211 is a free, confidential information and referral service that can connect you to thousands of programs and services offered by local community groups, nonprofits and government departments across Nova Scotia, 24/7.
Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services - Mental Health Programs and Services
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Veterans Affairs Canada Assitance Service
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Mental Health and Addictions Wellness Program
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Health Psychology offers psychological interventions for those with chronic and acute health conditions. The main focus is on the patient's mental and emotional reaction to an illness or their recovery from an illness.
Geriatric Psychiatry Acute Inpatient Unit
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Geriatric Psychiatry Outpatient Program
Seniors mental health services provide assessment, consultation and treatments to:
- seniors aged 65 and older for a new onset of mental health challenges
- individuals of...
Mood Disorders Clinic
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First Responders Assist
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Inpatient Withdrawal Management Unit
The inpatient treatment program provides medical, supervised withdrawal management and support to individuals that require treatment and support to manage their withdrawal...
Driving While Impaired (DWI) Program / Alcohol Ingnition Interlock Program (AIIP)
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Adult Addictions Day Treatment Program
The Addictions Day Treatment Program is a two-week group program for individuals that require a more intensive and daily treatment option.
Individuals may benefit from this type of program if they recently left an inpatient treatment program (i.e...
Seniors Mental Health Services
Seniors mental health services provide assessment, consultation and treatments to:
- seniors aged 65 and older for a new onset of mental health challenges;
School Mental Health (SchoolsPlus)
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Nova Scotia Operational Stress Injury (OSI) Clinic
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Provincial Mental Health and Addictions Crisis Line
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Inpatient Mental Health Services
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First Nations Services
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Crossroads Cape Breton is community organized to support people living with mental illness in reclaiming and enhancing their lives. People are referred to as “members” because...
Community Support Service (Adults)
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Adult Community Mental Health and Addictions Services
Community Mental Health and Addictions includes a team of mental health and addictions professionals who provide services on an outpatient basis. The team provides assessment...
Child and Adolescent Services
Child and Adolescent Services/Child Youth and Family/Child and Adolescent Outpatient Clinical Services provide mental health and addiction services to children and youth...