Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol.

NHMRC is updating the Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol (2009) to reflect the most recent and best available evidence on the health effects of alcohol consumption.

As part of the revision process NHMRC released the draft revised Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol for public consultation from 16 December 2019 to 24 February 2020.

The NHMRC Alcohol Working Committee, with the support of the NHMRC project team, is currently compiling and considering public consultation submissions, revising the draft guidelines and preparing for expert review to finalise the guidelines later in 2020. 

The aim of the draft guidelines is to provide clear guidance for Australians on reducing their risk of harm from drinking alcohol. They are also intended to form the evidence base for future policy making and educational materials.

“We’re not telling Australians how much to drink. We’re providing advice about the health risks from drinking alcohol so that we can all make informed decisions in our daily lives. This advice has been developed over the past three years using the best health evidence available.”
Professor Anne Kelso, CEO of the National Health and Medical Research Council. 

The draft guideline recommendations are

  1. Healthy men and women:
    To reduce the risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury for healthy men and women, drink no more than 10 standard drinks per week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day.
    The less you choose to drink, the lower your risk of alcohol-related harm. For some people not drinking at all is the safest option.
  2. Children and young people:
    To reduce the risk of injury and other harms to health, children and young people under 18 years of age should not drink alcohol.
  3. Pregnancy and breastfeeding: 
    To reduce the risk of harm to their unborn child, women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should not drink alcohol.
    For women who are breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is safest for their baby.


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Process to revise the Guidelines  

The revision of the Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol (2009) follows the 2016 NHMRC Standards for Guidelines. This provides transparency and rigour to the evidence evaluation and decision making involved in guideline development, and ensures that the latest and best scientific evidence is correctly and appropriately collected, analysed, interpreted and reported. This process also includes a number of quality assurance measures including: 

  • An evaluation of the evidence on the health effects of alcohol consumption by independent contractors with relevant experience in evidence evaluation
  • A methodological review of the research protocols and draft evidence evaluation reports by independent experts or organisations to ensure that the process by which literature was searched for, selected and appraised was conducted in a robust and transparent manner
  • Consideration of the draft guidelines by the Council of NHMRC, of which the Chief Medical/Health Officers of each jurisdiction are members, to ensure that the NHMRC’s processes and standards have been met
  • A public consultation period which provides all stakeholders with the opportunity to comment on the draft guidelines as required by the NHMRC Act 1992
  • An independent expert review of the draft guidelines to ensure that the process by which the underpinning evidence has been interpreted and synthesised is appropriate and in accordance with the latest and best available evidence (this step will follow public consultation and the subsequent guideline edit).

NHMRC processes include the use of GRADE (Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation) for considering the body of evidence and drafting guideline recommendations.  GRADE is an internationally recognised approach to appraise the quality of evidence and develop health advice based upon those judgements. GRADE makes use of an Evidence to Decision framework, designed to provide an explicit, comprehensive, transparent, and pragmatic way of making decisions. Further details on the guidelines’ review process is available in the Administrative Report in the draft guidelines.

The Alcohol Working Committee oversees and provides expertise for the update of the 2009 Alcohol Guidelines to ensure that they reflect the best available evidence and are relevant to the Australian context.

The table below provides indicative completion dates for key milestones of the revision of the 2009 Alcohol Guidelines:

Key Milestones Completion dates (2020 dates are indicative) 
Public call for evidence 13 January 2017
Systematic reviews and their methodological appraisals (quality assurance step) Second half of 2018
Modelling of the health effects of alcohol consumption Second quarter of 2019
Drafting of revised guidelines First half of 2019
Public consultation of draft guidelines December 2019 - February 2020
Expert review of the draft guidelines Third quarter of 2020 
Alcohol Guidelines finalised  Fourth quarter of 2020


Postal Address:
Alcohol Guidelines Project Team
National Health and Medical Research Council
GPO Box 1421
Canberra ACT 2601
Email Address:
Please note: Members of the Alcohol Working Committee are unable to respond to individual enquiries.


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