Drinking can be fun, let’s be honest. But too much alcohol can lead to injury, accidents, serious embarrassment and long-term health problems. Even drinking small amounts of alcohol increases your cancer risk.
Follow this advice to drink safely.
1. Understand both how much alcohol you are having and how much you should have
Drinking can be part of a healthy lifestyle as long as you learn as much as you can about the effects of alcohol on the body - and follow the Australian Guidelines.
The Australian Guidelines recommend healthy adults should drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week, and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day, to cut the lifetime risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury.
A standard drink contains about 10 grams of ethanol (alcohol), which is the amount your body can process in 1 hour. How much alcohol you can handle depends on your age, weight, gender and how you feel at the time.
Drinking more than your daily dose can increase your risk of accident, injury or hangover. Drinking too much regularly also increases your risk of developing a long-term chronic condition like heart disease, cancer, liver disease, mental illness or brain damage.
Learn more about how alcohol affects your health here.
2. Eat before (and during) drinking sessions
Alcohol enters your bloodstream through your stomach and small intestine. If your stomach's empty when you start drinking, the alcohol will enter your bloodstream more quickly.
So it's a good idea to eat before you down your first drink, and while you are drinking. To get the best out of mixing food and alcohol:
- Drink plenty of water.
- Don't mix alcohol with sugary or energy drinks.
- Avoid salty snacks - they will make you thirsty and likely to drink more.
3. Count your drinks
It's easy to drink more than you realise. A standard drink is a can or bottle of mid-strength beer, 100ml of wine or a 30ml shot of spirits. Drinks served in bars or restaurants often contain more than 1 standard drink.
Set yourself a drinks limit and stick to it. Avoid drinking in rounds (especially with friends who drink too much). Try to finish your drink before you start another, rather than topping up your glass.
Use this Standard drink calculator from Drinkwise to work out how much you are drinking
4. Slow your intake with alcohol-free drinks
The amount of alcohol in your blood (blood alcohol concentration, or BAC) influences how alcohol affects you. The higher your BAC, the more at risk you are of injury or overdose.
Your body can only process 1 standard drink per hour. The faster you drink, the higher your BAC.
To keep safe, slow down your drinking to 1 drink per hour. You can do this by:
- drinking non-alcoholic drinks as well as alcoholic drinks
- drinking water to quench your thirst before you start drinking alcohol
- opting for low-alcohol drinks
- sipping rather than gulping
5. Skip the drinking games and shots
When you binge drink (drink more than 4 drinks in 1 session) and get drunk, you're more likely to get hurt, put yourself in a dangerous situation, embarrass yourself, or even suffer alcohol poisoning.
Try to avoid drinking games, shots, skolling races or anything that aims to get you intoxicated fast. Play pool, dance or debate about reality TV instead. Do anything but try to keep up with your friends.
Don't mix alcohol with energy drinks, as this can make you drink more. Be careful about how much you drink if you've taken any other drugs or medicines.
Don't be an amateur — watch this video from DrinkWise on how to drink properly.
6. Don't drink and drive
It's against the law in Australia to drive with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above 0.05. Learner (L) and probationary (P) drivers must have a BAC of 0.00 (that's zero!).
However, there is no safe level of alcohol if you are driving. The more drinks you put away, the more likely you are to have a road accident - and that accident could involve another person, not just you.
Instead of drinking and driving:
- Plan how you're going to get home before you go out.
- Decide with your friends who will be the 'designated driver'.
- Make sure you reserve enough money for a taxi home.
- Use public transport.
7. 'Just say no' if you're...
Very young, pregnant, planning a pregnancy, breastfeeding, on meds or feeling depressed.
Drinking alcohol can be more harmful for some people. The safest option for children and young people under 18 is not to drink any alcohol at all.
It's also best to avoid alcohol if you're taking any medicines or recreational drugs since when mixed with alcohol, they can have an unpleasant effect. Likewise, it's not a good idea to drink when you're feeling depressed because alcohol can make you feel worse.
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Last reviewed: February 2020