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Alcohol guidelines: reducing the health risks

Australian Guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol Alcohol has a complex role in Australian society. Most Australians drink alcohol, generally for enjoyment, relaxation and sociability, and do so at levels that cause few adverse effects. However, a substantial proportion of people drink at levels that increase their risk of alcohol-related harm. For some, alcohol is a cause of significant ill health and hardship. In many countries, including Australia, alcohol is responsible for a considerable burden of death, disease and injury. Alcohol-related harm to health is not limited to drinkers but also affects families, bystanders and the broader community.

NHMRC intends Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol to establish the evidence base for future policies and community materials on reducing the health risks that arise from drinking alcohol. It is about helping you reduce the risks to your health from drinking alcohol. Of course, how much you drink is your choice. But we hope these guidelines will help you make an informed choice and also help health agencies guide the community in reducing health risks.

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.

Alcohol Frequently Asked Questions

Questions and answers about the Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol.

The Australian standard drink

Drinks and standard drinks

The notion of a standard drink is used widely internationally, but the definition varies from country to country. These guidelines 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’, often being larger. For example, for table wine, a standard drink corresponds 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.

How much is a standard drink?
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

Alcohol and health in Australia

Alcohol is responsible for a considerable burden of death, disease and injury in Australia. Drinking is a major factor in much of the injury resulting from road crashes and other accidents, and in social problems such as violence, family breakdown and child abuse and neglect. As such, alcohol-related harm is not restricted to individual drinkers but has relevance for families, bystanders and the broader community.

Public consultation and submissions

A review and update process of NHMRC's 2001 Australian Alcohol Guidelines: health risks and benefits began in 2006-07. The draft revision Australian alcohol guidelines for low-risk drinking were released for public consultation from 13 October to 11 December 2007. One hundred and sixty-two submissions were received from a variety of stakeholders including individuals, government agencies, health organisations, health professionals and the alcohol industry.

A complete description of the process of updating the Guidelines can be found at Appendix 3.

Page reviewed: 13 July, 2011