Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol

Alcohol has a complex role in Australian society. Most Australians drink alcohol for enjoyment, relaxation and sociability and at levels that cause few adverse effects. However, a substantial proportion of people drink at levels that increase their risk of alcohol-related harm.

In many countries, including Australia, alcohol is responsible for a considerable burden of death, disease and injury. In addition to health risks, the harmful consumption of alcohol inflicts a significant social and economic burden on individuals, families, bystanders and the broader community.

NHMRC’s Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol aim to provide health professionals, policy makers and the Australian community with evidence-based advice on the health effects of drinking alcohol. The Alcohol Guidelines also aim to help individuals make informed decisions about their drinking habits.

NHMRC is currently undertaking a revision of the Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol 2009.

The 2009 Alcohol Guidelines remain NHMRC’s current advice until the revision of the guidelines is completed.

Download the guidelines

Summary of the Guidelines

Guideline 1: Reducing the risk of alcohol-related harm over a lifetime

The lifetime risk of harm from drinking alcohol increases with the amount consumed.

For healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury.

Guideline 2: Reducing the risk of injury on a single occasion of drinking

On a single occasion of drinking, the risk of alcohol-related injury increases with the amount consumed.

For healthy men and women, drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion.

Guideline 3: Children and young people under 18 years of age

For children and young people under 18 years of age, not drinking alcohol is the safest option.

A. 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.

B. For young people aged 15−17 years, the safest option is to delay the initiation of drinking for as long as possible.

Guideline 4: Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Maternal alcohol consumption can harm the developing fetus or breastfeeding baby.

A. For women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, not drinking is the safest option.

B. For women who are breastfeeding, not drinking is the safest option.

The Australian standard drink

The concept of a standard drink is widely used internationally, though the definition varies between countries. The Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol use the Australian standard drink, which is defined as containing 10g of alcohol (equivalent to 12.5mL of pure alcohol).

A serving of alcohol frequently differs from a standard drink. For example, for table wine, a standard drink may correspond to 100mL of wine, whereas a typical serve may be 150mL.

In Australia all bottles, cans and casks containing alcoholic beverages are required by law to state on the label the approximate number of standard drinks they contain.

View a chart providing an approximation of Australian standard drinks for different alcoholic beverages and volumes (PDF, 172KB)

Revision of the Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol 2009

NHMRC is currently revising the Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol 2009. The revision of the 2009 Alcohol Guidelines aims to evaluate the latest and best available scientific evidence on the health effects of drinking alcohol.

The scope of the evidence evaluation covers the short and long term health effects (risks and benefits) of alcohol consumption, including for various levels and patterns of drinking. This will help individuals make informed decisions about their drinking habits.

Read more about the revision of the 2009 Alcohol Guidelines here.

The Alcohol Working Committee

In May 2016, NHMRC established the Alcohol Working Committee to provide technical and scientific advice on the methodology of the evaluation and interpretation of the evidence on the health effects of alcohol consumption. Committee members were selected for their expertise in the areas of alcohol related research, addiction medicine, evidence based methodologies (e.g. epidemiology, systematic reviews, modelling), child and maternal health, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, primary care and consumer advocacy.

Alcohol Working Committee Terms of Reference and Members

Alcohol Working Committee Members’ Disclosure of Interests

Contact NHMRC’s Alcohol Guidelines Project Team

Postal Address:

Alcohol Guidelines Project Team

National Health and Medical Research Council

GPO Box 1421

Canberra ACT 2601

Email Address: Alcohol@nhmrc.gov.au

Please note: Members of the Alcohol Working Committee are unable to respond to individual enquiries.