New alcohol guidelines for Australians for first time in ten years

10.12.2020
Wine glasses

The Australian Government’s new recommendations on alcohol consumption are now finalised. This is the first time the advice has changed in 10 years, and the new guidelines incorporate the latest medical research on the health risks of drinking alcohol.

Before we go into more detail, here’s a quick test to see if you can measure a standard drink. Think you can pour a standard glass of wine by eye? Use this clever tool to find out.

Surprised by the results? We certainly were. Over the years, wine glasses have grown bigger, and what we think of as a ‘standard’ glass of wine could now contain closer to double. A restaurant glass of wine can typically contain 1.5 standard drinks and glass tumblers can hold even more. So, standard drinks are smaller than you might think.

Below is a white wine glass, showing the pour level of a standard drink vs what we might pour ourselves.

New alcohol guidelines

A standard can of full-strength beer contains 1.4 standard drinks – that’s your daily limit, right there – and the whole case of full-strength beer you might be tempted to crack open at the weekend contains a whopping 34 standard drinks in total.

It’s also worth taking a closer look at craft beers. They may be tasty, but most craft beers have more alcohol than regular beer.

What are the new guidelines on alcohol?

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) health experts have revised their guidelines on the health risks of drinking alcohol.

The previous advice was to drink no more than 14 standard drinks over a week, and to include two alcohol free days in that week. The new guidelines have reduced that. They now advise no more than 10 standard drinks a week. Let’s look at the advice:

  • No more than 10 standard drinks a week – that’s a maximum of 1.4 a day
  • No more than four standard drinks on any one occasion
  • No alcohol for pregnant women, or women trying to get pregnant

According to the NHMRC, the less you choose to drink, the lower your risk of alcohol-related harm. ​For some people, not drinking at all is the safest option.

“We’re not telling Australians how much to drink. We’re providing advice about the health risks from drinking alcohol so that we can all make informed decisions in our daily lives.”
Professor Anne Kelso, CEO, National Health and Medical Research Council.            

Will I stay healthy if I follow these guidelines?

No amount of alcohol is ‘safe’ to drink, as this study from medical journal The Lancet shows.

The guidelines are put in place to try and reduce your risk. These are the recommended limits if you want to reduce your lifetime risk of harm from drinking alcohol. Despite what some manufacturers might claim, drinking alcohol offers no overall health benefits.

And following the guidelines doesn’t mean you can eliminate all risk. The guidelines establish a level of drinking which, according to the best scientific evidence currently available, should lower your risk of alcohol related harm. 

What are the health risks of drinking alcohol?

Apart from the obvious risk of accidents and injury, and the increased danger of causing harm to yourself or others after drinking, alcohol can seriously damage your health in the longer term.

Alcohol can increase your risk of:

  • Stroke
  • Dementia
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart damage
  • Liver cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Stomach and bowel cancer
  • Suicide
  • Memory loss
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Alcohol poisoning

In some cases, the amount of alcohol consumed doesn’t have to be large. Women who have three alcoholic drinks a week have a 15% higher risk of developing breast cancer than women who don't drink at all. One in five breast cancers are linked to alcohol consumption.

Are some people at greater risk?

The guidelines apply to most healthy adults. However, some people may be at greater risk of alcohol-related harm. This includes:

  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women
  • Young adults aged 18-25
  • Older people over 60
  • People with mental or physical health conditions
  • People with a family history of alcohol dependence
  • People who use illicit drugs
  • People who take medications that interact with alcohol

Tips to reduce your intake

  • Pour small and fill no higher than 4cm from the stem of a wine glass, or 2cm from the base of a tumbler of spirits
  • Drink a similar-sized glass of water after a glass of alcohol
  • Understand how many standard drinks you are pouring
  • Keep track of the number of drinks you consume
  • Finish a glass completely instead of ‘topping up’, so you know exactly how much you’ve drunk
  • Make four standard drinks your limit – that’s equivalent to half a bottle of wine
  • Keep your weekly limit to a maximum of 10 standard drinks – that’s around six schooners of beer.

How many standard drinks in a typical serving?


Schooner guidelines

1.6
Schooner - Beer / cider


Bottle guidelines

1.4
Bottle - Beer / Cider



Beer Can

1.4
Can - Beer / Cider

Regular wine

1.5
Regular Wine Glass

Champagne

1.4
Champagne Flute



Spirit glass

1
Spirit - single

 

Alcohol use disorder

Some of the signs of dependency on alcohol can include:

  • Drinking more, or for longer than intended
  • Being unable to cut back on drinking
  • Frequently getting sick after drinking
  • Worrying about when the next drink is coming
  • Sweating, nausea or insomnia when not drinking
  • Needing to drink more alcohol than before to get drunk
  • Drinking alcohol, or wanting to, when waking up in the morning
  • Consuming alcohol regularly alone, or trying to hide drinking
  • Continuing to drink even when it causes problems at home or at work, or with family and friends

If you’re worried that you, or someone you care for, might be developing a dependence on alcohol, speak to your GP or health care professional.

You can also call the National Drug and Alcohol support line on 1800 250 015 or visit counsellingonline, a free service for people affected by alcohol and other drugs.

Sources:

https://app.magicapp.org/#/guideline/jboWXL

https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/health-advice/alcohol#download

https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/how-alcohol-affects-your-health

https://alcoholthinkagain.com.au/Alcohol-Your-Health/Online-tools/Standard-Drink-Tool

https://www.health.gov.au/health-topics/alcohol/about-alcohol/standard-drinks-guide

 

All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified healthcare professional.>

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