Alcohol & Drugs
Alcohol and other drugs can become a problem when using them gets in the way of:
- How you are feeling – mental or physical health
- Your family and loved ones
- Work, school, and other activities
Opioids are medicines generally used to manage pain. Opioids include prescription drugs like oxycodone, morphine, codeine, and fentanyl. They also include illicit drugs and usages like fentanyl, carfentanil, and heroin.
Prescription opioids can be just as dangerous as illegal opioid drugs such as heroin. Misuse of opioid drugs may lead to addiction, overdose and death
Fentanyl is a type of opioid that is far more toxic than most other opioids: around 50 to 100 times more toxic than morphine. This makes the risk of accidental overdose from fentanyl much higher.
Fentanyl is usually prescribed in a patch form as a painkiller.
There are also different types of fentanyls that are being produced illegally and sold on the street. Non-prescription fentanyl is known as Illicit fentanyl.
Because fentanyl is more toxic than other opioids, there is an increased risk of overdose when taking a very small amount. Risk of fentanyl overdose increases when fentanyl is mixed with other drugs and substances (e.g. other opioids, alcohol, benzodiazepines or stimulants like cocaine).
Carfentanil is an opioid that is used by veterinarians for large animals like elephants but is now being found in illicit drugs in Ontario. It is not designed for human use and is 100 times more toxic than fentanyl and 10,000 times more toxic than morphine. It can be deadly in extremely small amounts.
Substances such as fentanyl and carfentanil can be cut (mixed) with other drugs. Even a very small amount can cause an overdose.
Start the conversation!
What you say and do makes a difference to your child. Be informed about drug issues and know how to effectively engage with your child.
Signs & Symptoms
With an opioid overdose, you may see one or more of these signs:
- Slow or no breath
- No response
- Deep snoring or gurgling sounds
- Blue or purple lips and nails
- Tiny pupils
Reduce the risk of overdose
If you are going to use:
- Never use alone. Use with a friend.
- Use where help is easily available.
- Go slow to test effects with a small amount - there is no easy way to know what is in your drugs. You can't see it, smell it or taste it. Substances such as fentanyl and carfentanil can be cut (mixed) with other drugs. Even a very small amount can cause an overdose.
- Don’t mix drugs (i.e. pain medication, alcohol, anti-anxiety medication)
- Carry naloxone – naloxone is a medication that can temporarily reverse an opioid overdose. For more information about naloxone visit www.hamilton.ca/naloxone
How to respond if you see an overdose
- Shake & shout: shake the person’s shoulders and shout their name
- Call 9-1-1: an individual needs hospital care to survive. Learn more about Canada’s Good Samaritan Act
- Chest Compressions: if the person is not responding, start chest compressions
- Naloxone: give a dose of naloxone (if available and trained)
- No change? Continue chest compressions - push hard, push fast
- If no response in 3 minutes, repeat the naloxone dose
- No change? Continue chest compressions until help arrives
Alcohol is the most commonly used substance in Hamilton. Many Hamiltonians who drink alcohol do so within moderation, unfortunately many others drink alcohol at excessive levels. Alcohol use is linked to over 200 types of diseases and injures including long terms harms such as cancer, liver disease, and cardiovascular disease and short term harms such as motor vehicle accidents and violence. Your risk is affected by:
- How much you drink
- How often you drink
- The way you drink (i.e. binge drinking)
- Other things you do, like smoking
The Canadian Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines (LRADGs) can help you lower your risk of short- and long-term harms from drinking alcohol. Short-term harms are injuries and illnesses from drinking too much alcohol at once, also known as binge drinking. Long-term harms are those that happen after drinking alcohol for many years.
Recommendations for low-risk drinking:
- Beer, Ciders & Coolers - 341 ml (12 oz.) with 5% alcohol
- Wine - 142 ml (5 oz.) with 12% alcohol
- Distilled Alcohol - 43 ml (1.5 oz.) with 40% alcohol
- No more than 10 standard drinks per week
- No more than 2 standard drinks on most days
- Plan non-drinking days every week
- On Special Occasions no more than 3 standard drinks on any single occasion
- No more than 15 standard drinks per week
- No more than 3 standard drinks on most days
- Plan non-drinking days every week
- On Special Occasions no more than 4 standard drinks on any single occasion
The guidelines also tell you when you should not drink any alcohol, like when driving, pregnant, or when you have mental or physical health problems. See Canada’s Low Risk Drinking Guidelines.
Alcohol is one of the top three causes of deaths from cancer in the world.1 In Ontario, 2-4% of new cancer cases in 2010 were linked to alcohol use. Drinking any type of alcohol raises your risk of these cancers:
- Pharynx (Throat)
- Larynx (Voice Box)
- Esophagus (Food Pipe)
- Colon and rectum (Intestines).3
The more alcohol you drink the higher your risk of cancer.1 Even small amounts of alcohol increase your risk, and there is no known “safe” limit to prevent cancer.2
To lower your risk of cancer, the Canadian Cancer Society recommends:
- Less than one standard drink per day for women, or
- Less than two standard drinks per day for men.1*
A standard drink is:
- 341ml (12 oz.) of Beer, Cider or Cooler (5% alcohol content)
- 142 ml (5 oz.) of Wine (12% alcohol content)
- 43 ml (1.5 oz.) of Distilled Alcohol (40% alcohol content).3
Learn more about the links between Alcohol and Cancer at www.rethinkyourdrinking.ca/cancer.
*Note: These guidelines are lower than Canada’s Low Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines (LRADGs). The LRADGs tell you how to lower your long-term health risks for multiple chronic diseases, while the Canadian Cancer Society recommendations are only for lowering your risk of cancer.3
1. Canadian Cancer Society. (2016). The truth about alcohol. Retrieved from: www.cancer.ca/en/about-us/news/on/2016/february/story4/?region=on
2. Cancer Care Ontario. (2014). Cancer Risk Factors in Ontario: Alcohol. Toronto, ON: Queen’s Printer for Ontario.
3. Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. (2014). Cancer and alcohol. Retrieved from: www.ccsa.ca/Resource%20Library/CCSA-Cancer-and-Alcohol-Summary-2014-en.pdf
Did you know?
- The brain continues to develop into the mid 20’s. Delay alcohol use as long as possible as it can harm brain development.
- Alcohol is the number one drug used by Ontario students, in grades 7 to 12.
- On average, students report having their first drink at the age of 14.
As a parent you play a key role in influencing your child and teen’s attitudes and knowledge about alcohol and their decisions to use alcohol and other drugs.
Children and youth are more likely to be harmed by drinking alcohol. The earlier youth initiate alcohol use, the more likely they are to drink excessively, drink regularly, and experience alcohol related harm.
Some of the effects alcohol has on youth include:
- Dependency on alcohol later in life. Children and youth who drink alcohol at an early age are more likely to have trouble with alcohol later on.
- Harm to normal brain development, memory loss or cognitive thinking or understanding. Alcohol is linked to depression, anxiety and mood disorders.
- Poor decisions and risky behaviours such as driving a car after drinking alcohol, driving with someone who has been drinking alcohol, taking risks with sex or binge drinking (drinking five or more drinks at one time).
- Violent and aggressive behaviour, which leads to social problems and/or sexual or physical violence.
Canada’s Low Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines recommend youth under 19 years of age delay alcohol use for as long as possible and discuss drinking with their parents.
1. Know what’s going on in your child’s life (Parental monitoring)
Know who your child is with, what they are doing, and where they are. If children and youth are going to use alcohol, they tend to do it when adults are not around.
2. Develop open and regular communication (General Communication)
Ongoing communication allows children and youth to talk with their parents about areas of interest or worries. Regular communication with your child helps delay alcohol and other drug use.
3. Set expectations and consequences together (General Discipline)
Setting clear expectations helps create an environment where rules are respected
For more information on specific tips and strategies see Rethink Your Drinking: Parents Matter Book
4. Be a positive role model (Parental Modelling)
Children are watching what you do as a parent and are influenced by what you say and do. Think about what message you are sending.
Modeling responsible drinking to children includes limiting your use of alcohol to Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines
5. Build a close and caring relationship (Parent child relationship quality)
A close, caring and supportive relationship can help delay when youth first try alcohol or other drugs.
6. Don’t provide alcohol or other drugs (Provision of alcohol)
When parents make alcohol or other drugs available to teens they put them at risk for alcohol and other drug-related harms.
Parents who give alcohol to underage children and youth may be held criminally and civilly responsible. This is what the law says:
Selling or giving alcohol to children and youth under 19 years of age will result in a fine and an appearance in court.
Children and youth under 19 years of age who have alcohol in their possession, drink alcohol, purchase or try to purchase alcohol are breaking the law under the Liquor License Act. This can result in a fine.
As a parent, you are legally responsible for what goes on in your house. This applies even if you are not present, you do not know your guests are drinking or your guests bring their own alcohol.
How to host a party in your home with youth
- Make sure that party information is not posted on Facebook, Twitter or other social media sites.
- Set a guest list with your child.
- Have a start and end time for the party.
- Tell everyone who is invited and/or attends the party that no alcohol is allowed.
- You should stay at the house during the party.
- Tell people when they arrive which parts of the house are off limits.
- Do not allow children and youth to come and go from the party.
- Make sure that alcohol or medication in your home is not accessible to guests.
- Have other activities like videos, games or karaoke at the party.
When your child attends a party at someone else's home
- Know where your child is going; get the name, address and phone number of the party location or host.
- Talk to your child about what to do if alcohol is available.
- Ask your child to be part of a buddy system with a friend.
- Make sure your child knows to call home for a ride under any circumstance, even if he or she drinks alcohol.
- Set a time your child needs to come home.
- Stay awake until your child gets home.
- Talk about the rules if your child plans to sleep away from home.
Cannabis (also known as marijuana, pot, weed, grass, ganga etc.), is a substance derived from the hemp plant. It comes in the form of dried plant leaves, hashish (dried resin from plant leaves) or oil (boiled resin). Cannabis can be smoked, vaped, or ingested in the form of food or drink. There are more than 400 chemicals in cannabis. THC is the chemical in cannabis known to be psychoactive. The THC content in Cannabis is far more potent than it was in the past. Higher potency can result in more harmful effects for those who use it. (Source: PROPEL)
Cannabis for medical purposes
If you think you need cannabis for medical purposes, please see your health care provider. Cannabis grown for medical purposes can be quite different from recreational cannabis. Medical cannabis also has different rules than recreational cannabis.
The effects of cannabis depend on a number of factors such as: how much was used, cannabis potency, how often use occurs, how it was consumed, age, mood and environment, physical and mental health, and use of other substances at the same time (e.g. alcohol). (Source: CAMH)
Side effects of cannabis may include:
Long-term effects may include:
- Impaired attention and memory
- Impaired ability to think and make decisions
- Breathing problems such as bronchitis (if cannabis is smoked)
- Earlier onset of schizophrenia for people at high risk of developing schizophrenia
- Physical dependence or addiction
- (Source: CAMH)
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has developed recommendations to reduce potential negative health effects including not using cannabis.
But, if you choose to use cannabis:
- Delay cannabis use
- Know what you’re using and choose lower-risk, less potent (lower THC), cannabis products
- Don’t use synthetic , or man-made, versions of cannabis (e.g. K2 or Spice)
- Avoid smoking cannabis – choose something safer like vaporizers or edibles
- Avoid ‘deep inhalation’ or ‘breath-holding’
- Limit and reduce how often you use cannabis
- Don’t use cannabis and drive, or operate other machinery (wait at least 6 hours after using cannabis to drive)
- Avoid combining risks listed above
- Don’t use cannabis if you are at risk for mental health problems or are pregnant
Is cannabis addictive?
Yes, cannabis can be addictive. Youth who use cannabis heavily (daily or nearly daily) are at increased risk of dependence; dependence is characterized by psychological and physical symptoms of withdrawal (agitation, irritability, difficulty sleeping, lack of appetite, anxiety, headache, etc.)
What are the health effects of cannabis smoke?
There is no safe way to inhale cannabis. Smoke is smoke and it is dangerous to lung health. Cannabis smoke has thousands of chemicals in it and studies have shown that this smoke is similar to tobacco smoke, containing many of the same cancer causing substance and toxic chemicals. Find out more about the effects of second hand cannabis smoke.
What are the effects of cannabis on pregnancy and breastfeeding?
There is no known safe amount of cannabis use in pregnancy and when breastfeeding (source: Best Start). Find out more about cannabis and other drugs during pregnancy.
Can I drive after using cannabis?
Cannabis use can result in impaired driving.
Is cannabis legal?
Yes. Non-medical cannabis became legal in Canada on October 17 2018, for adults age 19 and over.
If cannabis is legal does this mean it is safe?
No, just because something is legal, does not mean it is safe. Cigarettes are an example of a legal substance that is harmful to your health.
How much cannabis is legally allowed in public?
Individuals in Ontario who are 19 years and older are allowed to:
- Possess up to 30 grams of legal dried cannabis or equivalent in non-dried form
- Share up to 30 grams of legal cannabis with other adults (19 years and older)
- Buy dried or fresh cannabis and cannabis oil from a provincially licensed retailer
What are the risks of using cannabis with tobacco or alcohol?
Using cannabis with tobacco increases health harms. Smoke from cannabis has been shown to have many of the same toxic chemicals as tobacco such as fine particles, heavy metals and carbon monoxide. Using cannabis with alcohol also increases health harms and can result in extreme anxiety, nausea, vomiting and fainting.
How much cannabis can be grown at home?
People who are 19 years and older may grow up to 4 cannabis plants per household (not per person)
What are edibles?
Cannabis edibles are food or drink items made with cannabis or cannabis oils. People who are 19 years and older may use cannabis edibles as an alternative to smoking or vaping cannabis.
Are edibles legal?
The federal government amended the Cannabis Act on October 17, 2019 to allow the legal sale of cannabis edibles.
Where can I legally buy cannabis?
The only place to legally buy cannabis in Ontario until retail stores are established is online from the Ontario Cannabis Store
Where can I smoke or vape cannabis?
The rules for where you can and cannot smoke cannabis are the same as the rules that apply to tobacco. More information about where you can and cannot smoke or vape can be found on the City of Hamilton’s webpage for Tobacco and E-cigarettes.
Where can I report smoking and vaping in public places or workplaces?
If you have questions about the law or you want to report smoking or vaping in a public place or workplace:
More information about the Smoke-Free Ontario Act can be found on our City’s website.
What can I do about smoke in my home?
View more information about smoke in your home.
Did you know?
Some Youth may think cannabis is harmless, but the opposite is true. The brain continues to develop until the age of 25. Because of this, people who use cannabis at a young age are at a higher risk for more long-term effects.
It’s hard to predict how cannabis will make you feel. Everyone reacts to it differently. Even if cannabis makes you feel happy, relaxed, or less nervous in the short-term, the long-term effects may be different. Regular and heavy cannabis use before age 25, when the brain is fully developed can result it:
- Negative impacts on mental health
- Decreased motivation
- Difficulty learning and poorer grades
Even if it seems like everyone around you is using, remember, the majority of youth DON’T use cannabis. Four out of five Ontario students report not having used cannabis in the last year.1
Shield your mental health by not using cannabis
Young people who use cannabis often are at increased risk of:
Your brain works better without cannabis. Regular cannabis use can make it harder to do well at school or on the job.
Delaying cannabis use can benefit:
Plus, if you’re under 19 it’s still illegal.
 Source: Boak, A. Hamilton, H.A., Adlaf, E.M., & Mann, R.E. (2017). Drug use among Ontario students, 1977-2017: Detailed findings from the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) (CAMH Research Document Series No. 46). Toronto, ON: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
Make health choices using facts not beliefs
It is safer not to use cannabis but if you choose to use learn ways to reduce some of the risks to your brain and your body.
The brain continues to develop until your mid-20s. Regular and heavy cannabis use before the brain is fully developed can make it harder to do well at school or on the job. It may also be harder to stop using cannabis if you start at a young age.
Go Easy On Your Lungs
Like smoking cigarettes, smoke from cannabis can harm your lungs and make it harder to breathe. To reduce breathing problems, consider a vaporizer or edible cannabis instead of smoking. If you do smoke cannabis, avoid deep inhalation and breath-holding as this increases the amount of toxins brought into the lungs.
One At A Time
Complications are more likely if you mix drugs. For example, mixing cannabis with alcohol can cause extreme anxiety, nausea, vomiting and fainting. Mixing cannabis with tobacco also increases health harms. Tobacco contains nicotine which is very addictive and can make it harder to cut down or quit.
If sharing, hold joints or devices in a way that you can inhale the smoke or vapor without touching them to your lips. Sharing items that have touched your lips increases the risk of spreading infections including meningitis, flu and other germs.
Stay Safe If Impaired
Cannabis impairs coordination and reaction time. The law does not allow young or novice drivers to have any cannabis or other drugs in their body when driving.
Plan a safe ride if you’re planning on using cannabis: Take public transit, call a sober friend or family member, call a cab or ride share, or stay the night and sleep it off.
Being high can also interfere with your ability to operate other machinery, play sports or ride a bike.
Know What You’re Using
Don’t use synthetic cannabis like “Spice” or “K2.” Synthetic cannabis is not cannabis: it is made by spraying unregulated chemicals onto any type of shredded plant. These chemicals can be toxic and may result in serious health problems.
Start Low. Go Slow.
Wait to feel the effects of cannabis before deciding whether to use more. It takes seconds to minutes to feel the effects of smoking or vaping and 30 minutes to 2 hours to feel the effects of edibles.
If you’ve never used cannabis before or have low-tolerance start with a lower THC product. If using an unfamiliar strain, sample a small amount first and wait to see how you react.
Have days where you don’t use. More problems are associated with more frequent use.
Be Careful If Pregnant Or Breastfeeding
If you’re pregnant be aware that cannabis can harm the fetus or newborn child. Speak with your health care provider if you need medicine to help with nausea. Cannabis can also be passed to the baby in breast milk. Until more is known about the short and long-term effects of cannabis on your baby, it is safest to avoid using cannabis while pregnant and breastfeeding
Be Aware Of Bad Reactions And Mental Health Effects
Cannabis can lead to scary reactions like feeling paranoid or even seeing or hearing things that aren’t there. You are at increased risk if you have a personal or family history of mental health problems such as psychosis.
If you have a bad reaction and feel too high, try to remain calm, stay hydrated, eat something and find a safe place where you feel comfortable.
Be wise. Know the facts. Use your instincts.
- Fischer, B., Russell, C., Sabioni, P., van den Brink, W., Le Foll, B., Hall, W., Rehm, J. & Room, R. (2017). Lower-Risk Cannabis Use Guidelines (LRCUG): An evidence-based update. American Journal of Public Health, 107 (8). DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2017.303818.
- The Link. Use Responsibly. Ottawa Public Health.
- University of Victoria, Take Care with Cannabis, Centre for Addictions Research of BC.
- Canadian Nurses Association. Harm Reduction for Non-Medical Cannabis Use. January 2018.
Impaired driving refers to operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. Both alcohol and drugs (illegal and prescription or over-the-counter medication) can result in impaired driving.
Even a small amount of alcohol and/or drugs can:
- Effect your ability to react to things
- Decrease your coordination
- Impact your vision (by causing blurred, double vision and/or sleepiness)
- Impair your attention
Impacts of impaired driving
It is both illegal and dangerous to drive impaired:
- Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among young people (16 to 25 year olds). Alcohol and/or drug impairment is a factor in 55% of those crashes. Source: MADD
- Over one third of Canadian car accidents with fatally injured drivers involved alcohol. Source: MADD
- Driving under the influence of cannabis doubles the risk of collision. Source: CCSA
- Combining cannabis with even small amounts of alcohol greatly increases levels of impairment and risk of vehicle accident. Source: CAMH
- Studies of road accidents suggest that drivers who test positive for opioids are up to eight times more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle crash. Source: CCSA
- The problem of drug impaired driving is increasing. More Canadians who are fatally injured in a vehicle crash test positive for drugs (40.0%) than for alcohol (33%). Source: CCSA