NHMRC seeks to inform the Australian public and health care professionals about the health effects of drinking alcohol using the best available evidence. This includes content about what constitutes a standard drink, alcohol and pregnancy, alcohol consumption under the age of 18 and the risk of harm from drinking.

Most Australians drink alcohol for enjoyment, relaxation and sociability and at levels that cause few adverse effects. However, some people drink at levels that increase their risk of injury, disease and death.

NHMRC’s Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol 2009 (2009 Alcohol Guidelines) aim to provide health professionals, policy makers and the Australian community with evidence-based advice on the health effects of drinking alcohol. The Alcohol Guidelines also aim to help individuals make informed decisions about their drinking habits.

NHMRC is currently undertaking a revision of the 2009 Alchohol Guidelines. The 2009 Alcohol Guidelines remain NHMRC’s current advice until the revision of the guidelines is completed.

Summary of the 2009 Alcohol Guidelines

Guideline 1: Reducing the risk of alcohol-related harm over a lifetime

The lifetime risk of harm from drinking alcohol increases with the amount consumed.

For healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury.

Guideline 2: Reducing the risk of injury on a single occasion of drinking

On a single occasion of drinking, the risk of alcohol-related injury increases with the amount consumed.

For healthy men and women, drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion.

Guideline 3: Children and young people under 18 years of age

For children and young people under 18 years of age, not drinking alcohol is the safest option.

A. Parents and carers should be advised that children under 15 years of age are at the greatest risk of harm from drinking and that for this age group, not drinking alcohol is especially important.

B. For young people aged 15−17 years, the safest option is to delay the initiation of drinking for as long as possible.

Guideline 4: Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Maternal alcohol consumption can harm the developing fetus or breastfeeding baby.

A. For women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, not drinking is the safest option.

B. For women who are breastfeeding, not drinking is the safest option.

The Australian Standard Drink

The concept of a standard drink is widely used internationally, though definitions vary between countries. The 2009 Alcohol Guidelines use the Australian standard drink, which is defined as containing 10g of alcohol (equivalent to 12.5mL of pure alcohol).

A serving of alcohol frequently differs from a standard drink. For example, for table wine, a standard drink may correspond to 100mL of wine, whereas 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.

The consultation process

A draft of the 2009 Alcohol Guidelines was released for public consultation, as required by the NHMRC Act 1992, from 13 October to 11 December 2007. One hundred and sixty-two submissions were received from a variety of stakeholders including individuals, government agencies, health organisations, health professionals and the alcohol industry. The submissions are available on the Australian Government web archive.

Contact NHMRC’s Alcohol Guidelines Project Team

Alcohol Guidelines Project Team

National Health and Medical Research Council 

GPO Box 1421

Canberra ACT 2601

Alcohol@nhmrc.gov.au