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Illustration of alcohol choices in a head.

Illustration of alcohol choices in a head.
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How alcohol affects your health

3-minute read

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 for everyone. To minimise your risk of accident, disease or death, the Australian Guidelines recommend healthy adults should drink no more than 2 standard drinks on any day, and no more than 4 standard drinks on a single occasion. A standard drink is a can or stubbie of mid-strength beer, 100ml of wine, or a 30ml shot of spirits.

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:

  • dizziness
  • lack of judgement
  • loss of coordination
  • memory loss
  • vomiting
  • 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.

Here is how regular heavy drinking can affect your body long term.

Brain: Drinking too much can affect your concentration, judgement, mood and memory. It increases your risk of having a stroke and developing dementia.

Heart: Heavy drinking increases your blood pressure and can lead to heart damage and heart attacks.

Are you at risk?

Find out if you're at risk of heart disease, kidney disease or diabetes in just a few minutes using the healthdirect Risk Checker.

Liver: Drinking 3 to 4 standard drinks a day increases your risk of developing liver cancer. Long-term heavy drinking also puts you at increased risk of liver cirrhosis (scarring) and death.

Stomach: Drinking even 1 to 2 standard drinks a day increases your risk of stomach and bowel cancer, as well as stomach ulcers.

Fertility: Regular heavy drinking reduces men's testosterone levels, sperm count and fertility. For women, drinking too much can affect their periods.

Watch this video from DrinkWise to understand better the effects of alcohol on the body.

More information

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.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: December 2017

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