Australian Alcohol Guidelines and standard drinks
A 'standard drink' is the measure of alcohol used to work out safe drinking levels.
A standard drink in Australia contains 10g of alcohol. This is always the same, no matter what type of alcoholic beverage or how it is served. As some drinks are stronger than others (for example, low-strength beer is around 2.7% whereas spirits are typically 40%), the higher the alcohol concentration of a drink, the less liquid it contains.
A serving of alcohol in a pub or club can often be larger than a 'standard' drink, for example a standard glass of wine is 100ml but 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.
Australian alcohol guidelines
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) publishes guidelines for reducing the health risks of drinking alcohol. New guidelines were published in 2009, which differ in important respects from the previous guidelines. There are now only four basic recommendations, which can be summarised as follows:
- To reduce the risk of alcohol-related problems over a lifetime (such as chronic disease or injury), a healthy adult should drink no more than two standard drinks a day. Having alcohol-free days and drinking less per occasion reduces the lifetime risk still further.
- To reduce the immediate risks associated with drinking (such as injuries under the influence of alcohol), a healthy adult should drink no more than four standard drinks on any one occasion. (No distinction is made between men and women in this recommendation. Although women may become intoxicated more easily, men are at greater risk because they are more likely to engage in risky behaviour.)
- There is no safe drinking level for people under 18 . Young people should delay drinking at least until they turn 18. The risk is particularly high for those under 15. If younger people do drink it should be at a low risk level, in a safe environment and supervised by adults.
- Women who are pregnant, planning a pregnancy or breast feeding should not drink at all. The greatest harm to the foetus or breastfeeding infant occurs when drinking is at high and frequent levels, but no level of drinking is considered safe. The guidelines do not mean that any drinking is recommended. In fact they suggest that there is no universally safe level of drinking.