Education is a key aspect of Éduc’alcool’s mission, and we want people to understand exactly what we’re talking about. To that end, we present this glossary of terms related to alcohol and drinking, complete with nuanced explanations.



Abstinence is the self-imposed practice of denying oneself certain pleasures. It requires some discipline. In the context of drinking, abstinence is the voluntary decision not to drink alcohol.

Important distinctions:

  • Moderation is the practice of avoiding all kinds of excess. It means behaving in a measured and prudent manner. Abstinence is not moderation.
  • In English, temperance and sobriety are other words defined in the dictionary as meaning restraint or moderation (not abstinence), although sobriety today is commonly associated with abstinence.

See Moderation / See Sobriety

Alcoholism / Alcohol use disorder (AUD)

Alcoholism / Alcohol use disorder (AUD)

Alcoholism is a dependence on alcohol involving a set of problems and pathologies that result from the regular, heavy consumption of alcoholic beverages. The harm caused by alcoholism can affect the drinker, family and friends, and society as a whole.

Alcoholism, which is also called alcohol use disorder (AUD) to avoid stigmatizing those who suffer from it, is a complex disease linked to biological, psychological and social factors, and which requires preventive action, therapy and support. It affects people of all socioeconomic backgrounds.

Heavy drinkers are people who drink far more than the recommended limits. They commonly suffer from an AUD, but not all of them do.

AUD can be treated by various means:

  • pharmacology (medication)
  • psychology (therapy)
  • developing healthy strategies for dealing with life’s challenges
  • developing a social network to support alcohol-free leisure activities

See Dependence



Physical dependence: Someone who drinks alcohol is considered to have a physical dependence (also called alcoholism) when they cannot stop drinking without suffering the symptoms characteristic of withdrawal syndrome (general malaise, accompanied by tremors and sweating, etc.). These symptoms disappear as soon as the person drinks alcohol. Without alcohol, symptoms can get worse and include hallucinations as severe as delirium tremens, associated with dehydration.

Psychological dependence: As with all habits and addictions, drinkers are drawn to alcohol for various psychological and social reasons, even while they may not be physically dependent. Not being able to give up a daily drink is one example of a psychological dependence. Drinking produces a sense of well-being that people may seek to ease unpleasant feelings resulting from life’s difficulties. Drinking to party, to communicate more easily with those around us, or to stop feeling excluded or different, are also psychological aspects of dependence. The calming effect of alcohol on fears of a psychological nature is yet another thing that can create a psychological dependence.

In Quebec, 2.7% of drinkers are dependent on alcohol.

If dependence is a problem for you or someone you know, there are organizations you can turn to for help.

See Alcoholism / Alcohol use disorder (AUD)

Drinking context

Drinking context

The way in which we think about and understand drinking changes according to the context in which it occurs.

For example, cultural factors can influence how a society or group views alcohol, in general. Similarly, social situations can affect the way we think of moderate or heavy drinking.

That’s why laws and regulations concerning the sale and consumption of alcohol vary from one country to the next, and sometimes even from one region to the next. Nevertheless, the number and frequency of police sobriety checkpoints, for example, contributes to reducing the incidence of impaired driving, in all cases.

Furthermore, the objective circumstances in which each individual drinks at any given time—the person’s age, health, ability to control their faculties, and personal vulnerability to alcohol, for example—can also affect the impact of drinking.

Individual vulnerability

Individual vulnerability

The effects of moderate, regular drinking vary from one individual to the next. Different people respond very differently to alcohol, which means it is impossible to make recommendations that apply across the board to an entire population.

Genetic history, age, sex, and weight are all important factors that must be considered when determining what moderation means for each of us.

For example, drinking is not advised under certain circumstances, such as:

  • when taking medication that interacts with alcohol;
  • when you have mental or physical health problems;
  • when you have an alcohol dependence problem;
  • when you are hungry, stressed or tired (alcohol is absorbed more quickly by the blood when you drink on an empty stomach);
  • when you have important decisions to make;
  • when you are engaged in dangerous physical activity;
  • when you are operating a motor vehicle, or any kind of mechanical or electrical machinery or equipment;
  • when you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant;
  • when you are responsible for the safety of others.
Low-risk drinking guidelines / Recommended drinking limits

Low-risk drinking guidelines / Recommended drinking limits

The low-risk drinking guidelines are limits to help people drink moderately. People who drink within the limits are more likely to avoid alcohol-related problems. In addition, moderate, regular drinking is sometimes associated with the reduced risk of certain diseases.

The low-risk drinking guidelines vary primarily according to the sex of the drinker:

2 • 3 • 4 • 0

Women Men
2 Women should have no more than 2 drinks a day, and no more than 10 drinks a week.
3 In order to prevent intoxication and the complications that ensue, women should have no more than 3 drinks on any single occasion. Men should have no more than 3 drinks a day, and no more than 15 drinks a week.
4 Men who wish to prevent intoxication and the complications that ensue should have no more than 4 drinks on any single occasion.
0 It is recommended that pregnant women and those who are trying to get pregnant do not drink alcohol. Nursing mothers may drink moderately (no more than two drinks)  on occasion, making sure to allow enough time to elapse between drinking and nursing. It takes two to three hours for the body to eliminate the alcohol in one drink.
0 To avoid developing a habit or dependence, it is recommended that everyone abstain from drinking at least one or two days a week.


Average weekly alcohol consumption does not provide a complete picture of a person’s drinking habits. Some people, for example, drink every day, while others drink more sporadically, such as on weekends only.

The health impact of these two kinds of drinking are very different, even though the total amount of alcohol consumed may be the same.

In terms of the impact on a person’s health and on their circle of family and friends, having two drinks every day is definitely not the same as having 14 drinks on a Saturday night and then nothing the rest of the week.

Occasional heavy drinking can be extremely harmful, even if the person’s average weekly alcohol intake is within the recommended limits for moderate drinking.

Moderate, regular, responsible drinking requires that people limit BOTH the number of drinks they have on each occasion AND their weekly alcohol intake.

The limits may also vary depending on individual vulnerability.

See Individual Vulnerability

Finally, calculating your alcohol intake means knowing what “a drink” is. In Canada, a standard drink contains 13.45 g of alcohol, and the amount varies according to the type of alcohol.

See Standard Drink.

Mocktails / Alcohol-free drinks

Mocktails / Alcohol-free drinks

A good way to practise moderation is to alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, such as plain water.

A mocktail is a cocktail made of non-alcoholic ingredients, such as fruit juice, syrups and aromatics. Mocktails are festive, interesting, thirst-quenching options to offer guests at a party, for example.

But be careful not to confuse mocktails with low-alcohol cocktails. “Low-alcohol” is a term used to describe beverages containing less than 1.1% alcohol by volume.

At Alternalcohol, you’ll find 160 original recipes for non-alcoholic mocktails, as well as a few for low-alcohol beverages.



Moderation is behaviour devoid of excess. Behaving moderately means acting in a measured, careful and reserved manner. Temperance and restraint are synonyms of moderation.

An important distinction:

  • Abstinence is not moderation. When we speak of abstinence in terms of drinking, it means the voluntary decision not to drink alcohol at all.

See Abstinence / See Sobriety

See Low-risk drinking guidelines

Risk / Relative risk / Absolute risk

Risk / Relative risk / Absolute risk

A risk is a danger, harm or loss (more or less likely or foreseeable) to which one is exposed.

Thus, heavy drinking, i.e. more than the amounts specified in the low-risk drinking guidelines, can lead to an increase in the relative risk of developing a number of serious illnesses, including cancer. Increasing the relative risk means the likelihood of developing such illnesses is higher.

Here, relative risk is a measure of the statistical probability of developing a disease when one is exposed to a factor such as drinking, compared to the probability of developing the disease when one is not exposed (absolute risk).

In other words, to understand fully the effect of some behaviours (such as drinking alcohol in various degrees) on the probability of developing a disease, we must compare absolute risk and relative risk.

Relative risk may be higher or lower, depending on certain factors that affect a person’s predisposition to the disease.

For more details, see the article Alcohol and Cancer Risk.



One of the definitions of sobriety in the dictionary is “temperance or moderation, especially with regard to alcohol,” but in contemporary North American English, “sober” most commonly means “not intoxicated,” and among members of Alcoholics Anonymous, it means not drinking at all. Although the word “sobriety” sounds exactly like its French counterpart “sobriété,” the word is used differently by French speakers. In French, a person who is “sobre” is someone who drinks alcohol in moderation, not someone who practices abstinence.

See Abstinence / See Moderation

Standard drink

Standard drink

A standard drink is a unit that accounts for the alcohol content of different kinds of alcoholic beverages.

The concept of the standard drink can vary from one country to the next. In Canada, a standard drink is considered to contain 13.45 g of pure alcohol. Thus:

  • A standard drink of beer containing 5% alcohol is 340 ml.
  • A standard drink of wine containing 12% alcohol is 140 ml.
  • A standard drink of spirits containing 40% alcohol is 45 ml.

The Standard Drink Server is an easy-to-use tool that allows you to calculate precisely how many drinks you are having.

This glossary is a work in progress. It will continue to grow as we do, helping you understand any new terminology in our publications.

For more information, see Facts and Consequences.