Healthy adults should drink no more than 10 standard drinks per week – around 1.4 per day – according to the government’s new alcohol consumption guidelines.
Released by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) on Monday, the draft guidelines are open for public consultation until February.
The newly released guidelines are significantly stricter than the current set, published in 2009, which recommend healthy adults consumer no more than two standard drinks per day, and a maximum of 14 in a week.
In addition to capping the maximum number of weekly drinks at 10, the 2019 guidelines also stipulate that healthy adults should consume no more than four standard drinks in any one day.
Children under 18 should not drink alcohol at all, nor should women who are pregnant, breast-feeding, or planning to have a baby, the guidelines say.
“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,” NHMRC council chief executive Professor Anne Kelso said.
Professor Kelso said the guidelines had been developed over the past three years using the best health evidence available.
“We’re not telling Australians how much to drink,” she said.
“We’re providing advice about the health risks from drinking alcohol so that we can all make informed decisions in our daily lives.”
Alcohol harmful even at low levels of consumption
Australia has a big drinking problem, with figures showing there were more than 4000 alcohol-related deaths in 2017 alone.
There were more than 70,000 alcohol-related hospital admissions in the 2016-17 financial year, and the drug is linked to more than 60 medical conditions, including many cancers.
“We’re learning that alcohol is linked to health harms, even at low levels of consumption. The health risks, therefore, are something we all need to consider,” Professor Kelso said.
The government’s chief medical officer Professor Brendan Murphy said the 2019 guidelines, updated for the first time in a decade, could save thousands of lives.
“They will help me and every chief medical officer in the states and territories to provide clear messages about the risks of drinking alcohol, to ensure the health of all Australians,” he said.
If all Australians follow these guidelines we won’t stop every alcohol-related death, but we will save thousands of lives, especially younger lives.’’
NHMRC Alcohol Working Committee chair Kate Conigrave said she sees the damage alcohol does first hand as a doctor at Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.
“Young people in the emergency department with alcohol poisoning – having drunk so much they can’t keep themselves safe. Some at risk of their breathing stopping. I also see the smashed-up faces – young and old,” she said.
“On the other hand, I also see people who used to drink too much but who have now cut back or stopped.
“Their sleep has improved, their mood has improved, their blood pressure has returned to normal.”
The new guidelines will help Australians make sense of the “complex relationship” between health and alcohol, Professor Conigrave said.
“Our committee members brought to the task a pooled total of well over 200 years of academic and clinical experience in understanding the research around alcohol and health,” she said.
“We’ve brought together all that scientific knowledge to produce a clear and fair interpretation of the evidence. We’ve presented the results as transparently as possible.
“That way, individual Australians can see our guidelines. They can also choose to drink less or more: Selecting the risk level that they themselves are prepared to accept.”