Released just in time for Christmas, the National Health and Medical Research Council on Monday published a draft report which updated Australia’s alcohol guidelines for the first time since 2009.
The new guidelines warn that adults should have “no more than 10 standard drinks per week” to reduce the health risks from alcohol, or roughly 1.4 drinks a day. The maximum an adult should have on a single day is four standard drinks.
The NHMRC’s 2009 guidelines stated that “no more than two standard drinks” on any day – or 14 a week – reduced the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol. But a review of evidence showed the lifetime risk of dying from alcohol-related disease or injury remained below 1 in 100 if alcohol consumption stayed below 10 per week.
“Drinking above this level increases this risk while drinking less frequently and drinking less on each occasion reduces this lifetime risk of alcohol-related harm,” the guidelines state.
The updated NHMRC advice comes after three years of research into the harms or benefits of alcohol and its link to disease. But Anne Kelso, the NHMRC chief executive, said the guidelines were “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 – for ourselves and for our children,” she said.
“It’s 10 years since our last review of the guidelines and we now know more about the effects of alcohol. We know that alcohol continues to have significant direct health consequences for many Australians.”
The new guidelines recommend that people under the age of 18 not drink at all, while women “who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should not drink alcohol”. For women who are breastfeeding, “not drinking alcohol is safest for their baby”.
According to health data, there were more than 4,000 alcohol-related deaths in Australia in 2017 and more than 70,000 hospital admissions during the 2016-17 financial year.
The NHMRC’s research also found greater certainty about links between alcohol and a number of different cancers.
Kate Conigrave, the chair of the NHMRC alcohol working committee and a professor of addiction medicine at Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, said she saw “firsthand” the harms associated with alcohol.
“Young people in the emergency department with alcohol poisoning, having drunk so much they can’t keep themselves safe,” she said. “Some at risk of their breathing stopping. I also see the smashed up faces, young and old.
“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. So working out what amount of drinking is OK for health is so important.”