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Alcohol can affect your body in many ways, depending on factors like your age, family history, body type and how much you drink. Learn more about the Australian alcohol guidelines, how alcohol can affect your health and tips for drinking less.

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Australian Alcohol Guidelines

To reduce the risk of harm, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) revised the Australian Alcohol Guidelines in 2020.

If you drink alcohol, the guidelines recommend:

  • healthy adults drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than four standard drinks on any one day
  • people under 18 years of age should not drink alcohol
  • women planning a pregnancy and pregnant and breastfeeding women should not drink alcohol.

If you have a medical condition or take medicine, talk to your doctor about the risks of drinking alcohol.

Visit the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care website to learn more about Australian Alcohol Guidelines.

Visit the Alcohol and Drug Foundation website to learn more about alcohol, tips for minimising alcohol harm and where to get help.

What is high-risk drinking?

Any amount of alcohol can have a negative effect on your health. High-risk drinking, including binge drinking (drinking five or more standard drinks in one sitting), can put your health at serious risk – even if you only do it once or twice per week.

Health effects of high-risk drinking

High-risk drinking can have short-term and long-term effects on your health. Short-term effects can include poor sleep, headaches, dehydration and changes in mood. Long-term effects can include alcohol dependence, depression, weight gain and increased risk of some cancers (e.g. breast cancer).

Drinking in midlife

Research shows that the consumption of alcohol in women aged 45¬ to 64 years has increased since 2001. This is concerning, as about 75% of breast cancer cases happen in women aged 50 years and over.

One study found that one in five middle-aged women are drinking at ‘binge drinking levels’, which puts them at a much higher risk of harm.

Tips for drinking less

Here are some tips to help you drink less:

  • Set a maximum number of drinks for the night and stick to it.
  • Alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, starting and finishing with non-alcoholic choices. There are many non-alcoholic wines and beers on the market.
  • Choose low-alcohol drinks such as light beers, wine spritzers or drinks with extra soda.
  • Count your drinks so you know how much you’ve had. Be aware of other people topping up your drinks as this makes it harder to count your drinks. Avoid home-mixed drinks, where you don’t know the alcohol content.

You can also:

  • sip your drinks slowly
  • avoid drinking games or drinking rounds
  • eat food to slow the absorption of alcohol
  • avoid salty foods that make you thirsty
  • offer to be a designated driver so you don’t drink.

Where to get help

If you or someone you know needs alcohol support, talk to your doctor. They will give you information and may recommend counselling, treatment and support programs.

Visit the Alcohol and Drug Foundation website for more information or visit the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care website to find support services.

You can also call the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015.

This con­tent has been reviewed by a group of med­ical sub­ject mat­ter experts, in accor­dance with Jean Hailes pol­i­cy.

Department of Health and Aged Care, National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Australian Alcohol Guidelines revised
Lunnay B, Foley K, Meyer SB, et al. 'I have a healthy relationship with alcohol': Australian midlife women, alcohol consumption and social class. Health Promot Int. 2022;37(4):daac097.
Last updated: 
12 February 2024
Last reviewed: 
23 January 2024

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