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ALCOHOL: HARMFUL USE OF ALCOHOL (Downloadable resource)

What is ‘problem drinking’?

People are said to be dependent on alcohol when it is affecting their physical health and social life yet they do not seem to be prepared to stop drinking to solve their problems. The national Australian guidelines define excessive drinking as follows.

Guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol (NHMRC) 2016

  • For healthy men and women, no more than 2 standard drinks on any day reduces the lifetime risk of harm.

  • No more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces risk of harm arising from that occasion.

  • Children and young people under 18—not drinking is the safest option.

  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women—not drinking is the safest option.


High-risk or harmful drinking occurs at more than 6 drinks a day for men and 4 drinks a day for women.

Measuring your alcohol intake

One standard drink contains 10 g of alcohol, which is in 1 middy (or pot) of standard beer (285 mL), 2 middies of low-alcohol beer or 5 middies of super-light beer. These are equal in alcohol content to 1 small glass of table wine (120 mL), 1 glass of sherry or port (60 mL) or one nip of spirits (30 mL).

  • 1 stubby or can of beer = 1.3 standard drinks

  • 1 × 750 mL bottle of beer = 2.6 standard drinks

  • 1 × 750 mL bottle of wine = 6 standard drinks

Standard drinks

The 0.05 level

To keep below 0.05 blood alcohol level, a 70 kg man or woman should not exceed:

  • 2 standard drinks in 1 hour

  • 3 standard drinks in 2 hours

  • 4 standard drinks in 3 hours.

What are the risks?

Heavy drinking damages the body; it may damage all the organs of the body, but will especially damage the liver, stomach, heart and brain. It will cause high blood pressure, gout and pancreatitis (inflamed pancreas). One serious effect is that some drinkers have blackouts of memory; others have blackouts during heavy drinking bouts only. At least 15% of all patients admitted to hospital have an alcohol-related illness and about 50% of fatal traffic accidents involve alcohol. It is a special problem for pregnant women, whose babies can be abnormal: more than 1 drink a day places the baby at risk.

Alcohol also interacts badly with many prescribed medicines, especially sedatives.

How can you get help?

If you experience problems related to drinking, cut down on the amount and frequency of social drinking. If ...

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