Many of us drink alcohol to relax and socialise. Alcohol can be part of a healthy lifestyle if you drink in moderation and also exercise and have a good diet. But drinking too much can affect your physical and mental health.
Why is alcohol a health issue?
Many Australians drink alcohol in amounts that are harmful to their health. This kind of drinking can cause death, disease and injury and is a major factor in ill health and social harm in Australia.
No level of alcohol consumption can be considered safe. To reduce the risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury for healthy men and women, drink no more than 10 standard drinks per week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day. A standard drink is a can or stubbie of mid-strength beer, 100ml of wine, or a 30ml shot of spirits.
The Guidelines are currently being revised to reflect the best available evidence on the health effects of drinking alcohol. For more information, see the National Health and Medical Research Council’s website.
However, some people need to take more care. You are at greater risk of harm from alcohol if you are engaging in a risky activity such as driving or operating machinery, if you are under 18, if you are older than 65, or if you are taking other medicines or drugs.
During pregnancy, no level of drinking is considered safe for the baby.
Drinking heavily can put you at risk of short-term injury or illness. The effects can also accumulate, harming your health over your lifetime.
Short-term health effects of alcohol
Nearly a third of Australians drink more than they should on a single occasion (known as binge drinking). In the short term, drinking too much alcohol can lead to:
- lack of judgement
- loss of coordination
- memory loss
- headaches and hangovers
- accidental injury (to yourself or others)
- being in a road accident
- deliberately harming yourself or others
- alcohol poisoning (which can be fatal)
Long-term health effects of alcohol
Drinking more than 2 standard drinks a day can seriously affect your health over your lifetime. It can lead to dependence and addiction, especially in people who have depression or anxiety, and can increase your risk of suicide. Even drinking small amounts of alcohol increases your cancer risk.
ARE YOU AT RISK? — Are you at risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease? Use our Risk Checker to find out.
Here is how regular heavy drinking can affect your body long term.
Watch this video from DrinkWise to understand better the effects of alcohol on the body.
Drinkwise is an organisation established by the alcohol industry to encourage a healthier and safer drinking culture in Australia. To find out more about how alcohol affects your health, you can use the DrinkWise tool.
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Last reviewed: January 2020