Australian Alcohol Guidelines

Alcohol is the most widely used drug in Australia. About 8 in 10 Western Australian adults drink alcohol. Alcohol can cause harm to the person who drinks and others around them.

2020 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 provide advice on how to keep these risks low.

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.

Following this guideline keeps the risk of harm from alcohol low, but it does not remove all risk.

Why?

If healthy adults follow this advice, they would have less than a 1 in 100 chance of dying from an alcohol-related condition. The risk rises the more a person drinks. Risk is reduced by drinking less often and drinking less on each occasion.

What is a 'standard drink'?

A standard drink contains 10 grams of pure alcohol. The type of alcohol makes no difference, 10 grams of alcohol is 10 grams of alcohol, whether it is in beer, wine or spirits. It does not matter whether it is mixed with soft drink, fruit juice, water or ice.

A standard drink might be less than you think. To find out more, click here.

For more information on how alcohol can cause harm to health, visit these sections of the website:

Alcohol and Long-Term Health

Alcohol use can have long-term impacts on a person’s health and increases risk of chronic disease and early death.

Alcohol and Short-Term Harm

Short-term harm is what may occur as a result of one (single) drinking occasion. The short-term harms of alcohol can not only impact the individual, but also family, friends and members of the community.

Alcohol and Mental Health

Alcohol can negatively affect thoughts, feelings and actions, and contribute to the development of, or worsen, existing mental health issues over time.

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.

Why?

  • 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.

For more information on how alcohol can cause harm visit these sections of the website:

Impact of alcohol on teenager health

There can be a difference in the behaviour and side effects seen in teenagers when they drink alcohol because teenager’s brains are still developing which can result in negative effects in the short and long term.

Tips for Parents

Parental norms around alcohol use are not static and are likely to change with teenage development. Even without actually providing alcohol to their child, parents can play an important role in the development of a young persons relationship with alcohol. 

GUIDELINE 3: FOR WOMEN WHO ARE PREGNANT AND BREASTFEEDING

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

Why?

  • 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.

Why?

  • If a mother drinks when she is breastfeeding, the alcohol crosses into the breastmilk.
  • If a mother breastfeeds her baby while there is still alcohol in her breastmilk, the baby also drinks the alcohol.
  • When a mother drinks alcohol while breastfeeding, the baby can have problems feeding and sleeping.
  • A baby’s brain keeps developing after it is born. This means an infant’s brain is more sensitive to damage from alcohol than an adult brain.

For more information on how alcohol can cause harm visit the Alcohol and Pregnancy page on the website.

All content on this page has been adapted from the National Health and Medical Research Council's 2020 Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol. This document can be downloaded here.  

Page last updated: 23 December 2020

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