October 1, 2020

Safely reducing your alcohol intake

Wine cork on black background

With no shortage of fundraiser events throughout the year that promote temporary breaks from alcohol such as ‘Dry July’, ‘Ocsober’ and ‘Feb Fast’, people may be considering the impact of alcohol on their health and wellbeing.

Alcohol is risky for your health

Alcohol is the most widely used drug in Australia, with 77% of Australians using alcohol in the last 12 months. The number of Australians drinking more than two standard drinks per day has decreased in recent years,1 which is great news for the health of all Australians. 

However, any amount of alcohol can have a negative long-term impact on physical and mental health.2, 3

Alcohol can increase a person’s risk of:

  • oral, throat, colorectal, liver, pancreatic and breast cancers
  • liver and brain damage
  • dementia
  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • traffic accidents
  • mental health disorders
  • suicide and self-harm.4, 5

In fact, alcohol is one of the most significant contributors to preventable disease in Australia, especially among men aged 25-44 years.1

The benefits of reducing your alcohol intake

Reducing or abstaining from alcohol can not only minimise the risk of developing chronic or life-threatening health issues, but can also improve a person’s sleep, concentration, work performance and mood. 

It can also assist weight loss, lower cholesterol, increase energy and stabilise blood sugar levels.7 One study found that UK participants in ‘Dry January’ were more likely to reduce their alcohol consumption in the long-term.8

Alcohol withdrawal

For people who consume high amounts of alcohol regularly, or who are dependent on alcohol, reducing or abstaining from alcohol can result in experiencing withdrawal symptoms. These can include sweating, anxiety or agitation, nausea and vomiting, tremors or insomnia.10 In these instances, sudden withdrawal can be extremely dangerous and should be done under medical supervision as it can cause stroke, heart attack or organ failure.9

Help is available

If you would like to withdraw from alcohol, or are supporting a loved one through withdrawal, there are a few options. People may opt for home-based withdrawal, or support from a service or facility, either as an outpatient or a resident. Some people may require medication to manage their cravings. GPs can prescribe drugs such as Naltrexone or Acamprosate to help patients in their recovery.10

For more information:

If you are concerned about your alcohol consumption, or would like to reduce or abstain from alcohol, contact your state or territory Alcohol and Drug Information Service, consult your local GP or healthcare service, or browse our listing of Help and Support services.

You can also contact the Alcohol and Drug Foundation’s DrugInfo line, a confidential information and referral service. Call 1300 85 85 84 or email druginfo@adf.org.au.

  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019 2020 [09.09.2020].
  2. Cancer Council NSW. Alcohol and cancer n.d. [29.09.2020].
  3. Cancer Research UK.Does alcohol cause cancer? 2018 [29.09.2020].
  4. Rivera. A. NH, Li, T., Qureshi, A. & Cho, E.. Alcohol Intake and Risk of Incident Melanoma: A Pooled Analysis of Three Prospective Studies in the U.S. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prevention 2016;12.
  5. National Drug Research Institute. Alcohol causes nearly 6,000 Australian deaths in one year, a third from cancer 2018 [29.09.2020].
  6. American Heart Association. Is drinking alcohol part of a healthy lifestyle? 2019 [29.09.2020].
  7. Australian Government Department of Health. How can you reduce or quit alcohol? 2019 [29.09.2020].
  8. de Visser R, Robinson, E. & Bond, R. Voluntary temporary abstinence from alcohol during “Dry January” and subsequent alcohol use 2016 [29.09.2020].
  9. Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Guidelines for the Treatment of Alcohol Problems. 2009 [29.09.2020].
  10. (DACAS). DaACAS. Acamprosate in alcohol dependence2020 [29.09.2020].

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