Safe Drinking Guidelines

In February 2009 the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) released new recommendations for drinking alcohol to avoid health risks. Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol is based on new evidence and understanding of the harms associated with drinking.

There are four key guidelines plus detailed information on how and why the guidelines have been developed. Additional health advice is also provided for particular groups, such as older people, people with a family history of alcohol dependence, and people who use illicit drugs.

What you really need to know

There is no level of drinking alcohol that can be guaranteed to be completely ‘safe’ or ‘have no risk’. However, the guidelines advise on how healthy adults can minimise the risk of short and long-term harms.

For women and men:

  • Drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces your lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury
  • Drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion

For women who are pregnant or breastfeeding:

  • It is recommended that for women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, or who are breastfeeding, not drinking is the safest option

For young people:

  • People under 18 years of age also should not drink alcohol at all

For parents:

  • Parents and carers should be advised that children under 15 years of age are at the greatest risk of harm from drinking and that for this age group, not drinking alcohol is especially important

What has changed?

  • Under the 2001 guidelines men were told they could safely drink up to four standard drinks a day and women two, with a couple of alcohol-free days for both sexes
  • The guidelines were previously based on limits that would avoid the short-term health consequences of a drinking session; for example accidents, injuries, and other harms associated with binge drinking
  • The new guidelines take into account the longer-term consequences such as cancers of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, bowel, liver, prostate and breast, and brain damage
  • The new guidelines advise that the safest option for a woman who is pregnant, planning to become pregnant or who is breastfeeding is to not drink alcohol at all, whereas the 2001 guidelines advised that women ‘may consider not drinking at all’ and ‘should never become intoxicated’

How much is a standard drink?

A standard drink is any drink containing 10 grams of alcohol. One standard drink always contains the same amount of alcohol regardless of  the alcohol type. To see how many standard drinks are in different alcohol products, see the guide below;

Can/Stubbie low-strength beer ≈ 0.8 standard drink
Can/Stubbie mid-strength beer ≈ 1 standard drink
Can/Stubbie full-strength beer ≈ 1.4 standard drinks
100ml wine (13.5% alcohol) ≈ 1 standard drink
30ml nip spirits ≈ 1 standard drink
Can spirits (approx 5% alcohol) ≈ 1.2 to 1.7 standard drinks
Can spirits (approx 7% alcohol) ≈ 1.6 to 2.4 standard drinks

Want more information?

Click here for FAQs about the guidelines.

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