Alcohol is a social drug that affects people in different ways. Heavy drinkers and binge drinkers risk serious alcohol-related harm.
Alcohol affects people in different ways. While a small amount of alcohol may be beneficial to the heart for some older people, ‘risky’ drinking can cause serious health, personal and social problems. Heavy drinkers, binge drinkers and very young drinkers are particularly at risk.
Binge drinking is a particular problem among younger people, but anyone who drinks heavily or drinks too much in one session is at risk of both immediate and long-term alcohol-related harm.
To reduce the risk to your health, you should limit how much alcohol you drink. See Low-risk alcohol drinking advice on the HPA website – the recommended limits depend on your age, gender and other factors.
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy may also affect your baby. It’s safest not to drink alcohol if you’re pregnant.
If you plan to drive, it is better not to drink alcohol at all.
Alcohol content of a standard drink
The standard drinks measure is a simple way for you to work out how much alcohol you are drinking. It measures the amount of pure alcohol in a drink. One standard drink equals 10 grams of pure alcohol.
- 330 ml can of beer @ 4% alcohol = 1 standard drink
- 100 ml glass of table wine @ 12.5% alcohol = 1 standard drink
- 335 ml bottle of RTD spirits @ 8% alcohol = 2.1 standard drinks
- 750 ml bottle of wine @ 13% alcohol = 7.7 standard drinks
- 1000 ml bottle of spirits @ 47% alcohol = 37 standard drinks
- 3 litre cask of wine @ 12.5% alcohol = 30 standard drinks
Have a look at the Guide to Standard Drinks. It shows you how many standard drinks there are in some other common types of alcohol.
Cocktails can contain as much alcohol as 5 or 6 standard drinks, depending on the recipe.
Alcohol intake guidelines
The following guidelines can help you determine if your alcohol intake is harmful.
Adult men and women
Reduce your long-term health risks by drinking no more than:
- 2 standard drinks a day for women and no more than 10 standard drinks a week
- 3 standard drinks a day for men and no more than 15 standard drinks a week
and at least 2 alcohol-free days every week.
Reduce your risk of injury on a single occasion of drinking by drinking no more than:
- 4 standard drinks for women on any single occasion
- 5 standard drinks for men on any single occasion.
Pregnant women or those planning to get pregnant
- No alcohol
There is no known safe level of alcohol use at any stage of pregnancy.
Parents of children and young people under 18 years
For children and young people under 18 years, not drinking alcohol is the safest option.
- Those under 15 years of age are at the greatest risk of harm from drinking alcohol and not drinking in this age group is especially important.
- For young people aged 15 to 17 years, the safest option is to delay drinking for as long as possible.
If 15 to 17 year olds do drink alcohol, they should be supervised, drink infrequently and at levels usually below and never exceeding the adult daily limits.
The risk of injury and disease increases the more you drink
Any drinking above recommended levels carries a higher risk than not drinking. Mixing alcohol and other drugs – either illegal drugs or some prescription drugs – can cause serious health problems.
Tips for low-risk drinking
It is possible to drink at a level that is less risky, while still having fun. There are a number of things you can do to make sure you stay within low risk levels and don’t get to a stage where you are no longer capable of controlling your drinking.
- Know what a standard drink is.
- Keep track of how much you drink – daily and weekly.
- Set limits for yourself and stick to them.
- Start with non-alcoholic drinks and alternate with alcoholic drinks.
- Drink slowly.
- Try drinks with a lower alcohol content.
- Eat before or while you are drinking.
- Never drink and drive.
- Be a responsible host.
- Talk to your kids about alcohol.
Alcohol and your kids
The HPA alcohol website provides parents and care givers with helpful advice, and includes tips about delaying drinking, being a role model, building and maintaining a good relationship and what to do when things go wrong.