You may already know that consuming small amounts of alcohol regularly can be beneficial to your health. Studies show that it can increase the levels of HDL (the good cholesterol) in your body and reduce your risk of certain types of heart disease. If a little is good, then a lot must be better right? As you may have guessed, the answer is a resounding "no."

Aside from the short-term dangers of intoxication (such as being more likely to be in an accident or be injured, or to do something hideously embarrassing), excess alcohol consumption has many long-term health consequences as well. These include higher risks of liver disease, sleep issues, depression, and anxiety. Small amounts of alcohol regularly can be good for your heart, but chronic excessive alcohol intake can increase your risk for cardiovascular disease (such as stroke) and cancer (including mouth, throat, esophagus, and breast cancer). It can also weaken your immune system, making you more likely to catch infectious diseases. And alcohol abuse can affect not only yourself but your loved ones, including family and friends.

So how much is too much? Here's what Canada's Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines recommend:

  • for women, no more than 2 drinks per day (or 3 on special occasions), to a maximum of 10 drinks per week
  • for men, no more than 3 drinks per day (or 4 on special occasions), to a maximum of 15 drinks per week

A "drink" is equivalent to 12 ounces (341 mL) of 5% alcohol beer, 5 ounces (142 mL) of 12% alcohol wine, or 1.5 ounces (43 mL) of 40% strength spirits.

These recommendations do not apply if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant or before breast-feeding, when ideally you should not be drinking at all. People who have medical conditions or are on medication should check with their health care provider to make sure it is safe for them to drink and if there are any special precautions to follow.

One important thing to keep in mind with the recommendation is the "on special occasions" part. This is what many people may have trouble with: although they may be consuming alcohol within the weekly recommended amounts, they may be drinking much more than one extra drink during get-togethers or celebrations, which may be more frequent than the guidelines intend – remember, weekly pub night isn't really a special occasion.

Another important thing to note is that while drinking in moderation may provide health benefits, it is not recommended to start drinking or to increase your alcohol consumption just for the sake of your health.