Australian Alcohol Guidelines

Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol

Based on the most current scientific evidence the National Health and Medical Research Council's (NHMRC) Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol were updated in December 2020. These Guidelines inform Australians of the health risks of drinking alcohol and aims to help you make an informed choice to reduce the risk of alcohol-related harm. 

GUIDELINE 1. For Adults 

To reduce the risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury, healthy men and women should:

  • drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week; and 
  • drink no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day. 

The less you drink, the lower your risk of harm from alcohol. 

GUIDELINE 2. For Children and Young People Under 18 Years of Age 

To reduce the risk of injury and other harms to health, children and people under 18 years of age should not drink alcohol. 

  • People under 18 years of age are more likely to experience harm from alcohol. 
  • The brain continues to develop until around 25 years of age. This means the brains of people under 18 are more sensitive to damage from alcohol. 
  • Drinking alcohol can increase risk taking and lead to unsafe sex, car accidents and injuries. It can also increase the risk of self-harm and suicide. 
  • Drinking alcohol at an early age can increase the risk of developing problems with alcohol, which can appear in early adulthood. 

GUIDELINE 3. For Women Who Are Pregnant and Breastfeeding 

To prevent harm from alcohol to their unborn child, women who are pregnant should not drink alcohol. 

  • No safe level or time of alcohol use during pregnancy has been identified.
  • When a woman drinks alcohol during pregnancy, so does the developing baby. The baby’s blood gets about the same level of alcohol as the mother’s blood.
  • A baby’s brain starts growing very early in pregnancy, often before the mother knows she is pregnant. Drinking alcohol in pregnancy can damage the baby’s brain which can cause fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). FASD leads to many lifelong problems including learning and behavioural issues during childhood and adult life.
  • The risk of harm to a baby increases the more alcohol a mother consumes, and the more frequently she drinks. It does not mean the developing baby will always be harmed if a woman drinks while pregnant. Every pregnancy is different and there are a range of factors that play a role in determining the risk.

For women who are breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is safest for their baby.

Drinking is not recommended if you:

  • Have a condition made worse by drinking (For example: high blood pressure or alcohol dependence).
  • Are about to engage in activities requiring a degree of skill or risk (driving, flying, water sports, operating machinery).
  • Are on any medication, in which case it is recommended that you speak with your doctor before drinking alcohol.

For more information on the Australian Alcohol Guidelines ask your GP or go to the following website: http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/your-health/alcohol-guidelines

1

National Health and Medical Research Council. (2009). Australian Alcohol Guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. Canberra, Commonwealth of Australia.

Page last updated: 24 February 2021

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