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 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

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.

Personal Vulnerability

The effects of moderate, regular drinking on a person’s health 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, weight, sex (differences in biology cause men and women to metabolize alcohol differently) and circumstances are all important factors that every one of us must take into account.  

You should not drink if: 

  • you are taking medication that interacts with alcohol; 
  • you are taking legal or illegal drugs; 
  • you have mental or physical health problems; 
  • you have an alcohol dependence problem; 
  • you are engaged in dangerous physical activity; 
  • you are pregnant or trying to get pregnant. 

Drinking is not recommended if: 

  • you are stressed, tired or hungry (alcohol is absorbed more quickly by the blood when you drink on an empty stomach); 
  • you have important decisions to make; 
  • you are operating a motor vehicle, or any kind of mechanical or electrical machinery or equipment; 
  • you are responsible for the safety of others. 
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

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

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.