Alcohol and your health

Drinking alcohol above the safe recommended limits can lead to many health problems. You are putting yourself at risk of injury, disease and death. 

Recommended limits

It takes one hour for your body to process one standard drink - nothing will speed up this process.

If you are healthy you should drink no more than two standard drinks each day to reduce the risk of disease or injury.

On a single occasion of drinking you should drink no more than four standard drinks to reduce your risk of injury. 

Standard drinks

In Australia all bottles, casks and cans of alcoholic beverages must show on the label the number of standard drinks they contain.

The following drink measurements are a guide:

  • 375ml can low-strength beer (2.7% alcohol) = 0.8 standard drinks
  • 375ml can mid-strength beer (3.5% alcohol) = 1 standard drink
  • 375ml can full-strength beer (4.8% alcohol) = 1.4 standard drinks
  • 100ml wine (13.5% alcohol) = 1 standard drink
  • 150ml wine (13.5% alcohol) = 1.5 standard drinks - average restaurant serving
  • 30ml spirits (40% alcohol) = 0.95 standard drinks
  • 300 to 440ml can pre-mixed spirits (approximately 5% alcohol) = 1.2 to 1.7 standard drinks
  • 300 to 440ml can pre-mixed spirits (approximately 7% alcohol) = 1.6 to 2.4 standard drinks.

Alcohol and driving

It is safest not to drink if you are going to drive. 

Find out more information about alcohol and driving.

Short term effects 

Drinking fast is the major cause of death from alcohol poisoning. 

Alcohol slows down your brain's control over your breathing. Drinking too much can cause your breathing to drop causing unconsciousness or even death. 

Alcohol is diluted by the water content in your body. Females have more fat and less water, so the alcohol is not diluted as much. This is why females get drunk quicker than men. 

Long term effects 

The risk of harm from drinking alcohol increases with the amount you drink. 

If you regularly drink above the recommended safe levels any of the following can happen: 

  • you increase your likelihood of a stroke - three times more likely for men and 13 times more likely for women
  • you are nearly eight times more likely to develop cirrhosis of the liver 
  • you are three times as likely to develop liver cancer
  • your liver can be enlarged, which constricts the blood vessels between liver and stomach - if these swollen blood vessels burst you can bleed to death within minutes
  • you can kill brain cells, which affects your brain function
  • men can suffer from erectile dysfunction.

If you are under 18 years old

Not drinking alcohol is the best option for children and young people who are under 18.

Children under 15 are at the greatest risk of harm from drinking. If you are between 15 and 17 years old you should delay drinking as long as possible. 

Pregnancy and breast feeding

Drinking alcohol when you are pregnant can harm your baby. If you are planning to get pregnant, not drinking is the best option.

Find out more information about drinking and pregnancy.

Where to get help

If you are affected by alcohol or drug use, you can call the Alcohol and Drug Information Service on 1800 131 350.

The service is a 24 hour phone counselling and information service.

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Last updated: 20 December 2016