Alcohol

Alcohol, like any other drug, can be harmful. In fact, alcohol is the most widely used psychoactive drug in Australia1 and one of the most harmful: alcohol causes more chronic diseases and is linked to more deaths than many illicit drugs.1,2

Manage your alcohol consumption

While there is no safe level of drinking, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommends3 that:

  • children and young people under the age of 18 years avoid alcohol altogether4,5
  • women who are pregnant, planning a pregnancy or breastfeeding avoid alcohol altogether6
  • adults drink no more than two standard drinks on any day to reduce the lifetime risk of alcohol-related disease and injury (such as risk of bowel, breast, throat and mouth cancer; liver disease; cardiovascular disease; stroke and mental health disorders)7
  • adults drink no more than four standard drinks on any day to reduce the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion (falls and other accidental injuries; motor vehicle accidents; alcohol poisoning; loss of consciousness; deliberately harming yourself or others)3

Additionally, not drinking is the safest option if you are driving8-10 or operating other heavy machinery, swimming or engaging in water sports, supervising children or young people.

For people who do choose to drink alcohol, there are several strategies for reducing the harm associated with alcohol consumption.

Standard Drinks

Tips for minimising the harms from alcohol consumption

  • Drink water or other non-alcohol beverages between alcoholic drinks
  • Avoid drinking in rounds with friends, as you may end up drinking more than planned
  • Order smaller serves of beer, cider and spirits; rather than pints or double serves
  • Don’t allow others to top up your glass if you’re sharing a bottle of wine as you may lose track of how many drinks you’ve consumed
  • Avoid high-alcohol content beverages, such as stronger beers or wines, and spirits
  • Eat some food before and while drinking, to slow your drinking pace and slow the absorption of alcohol
  • Occupy yourself while drinking to reduce the amount you’re consuming: play pool, sing karaoke, dance, talk to friends.

Avoid combining alcohol with other drugs, including pharmaceutical and illicit drugs

Alcohol is a depressant drug. Consuming alcohol with other depressant drugs such as benzodiazepines, GHB, ketamine or opioids can increase the risk of overdose and cause loss of consciousness, nausea and vomiting.11

Combining alcohol with stimulants such as cocaine, amphetamines or MDMA can also be dangerous, as both alcohol and stimulants can cause dehydration. Additionally, some stimulants can mask the effects of alcohol, leading people to drink more.12

Don’t leave drinks unattended

Drink spiking occurs when a person deliberately adds alcohol or another drug to a drink without the knowledge of the person who will be drinking it. Alcohol is the most common substance used to spike someone’s drink, by adding alcohol to a non-alcoholic drink, or making it stronger.13

To reduce the risk of drink spiking:

  • avoid sharing drinks
  • buy or pour your own drinks
  • don’t accept drinks from strangers unless you are at the bar and can observe it being poured
  • don’t leave your drink unattended
  • keep an eye on your friends and their drinks.
  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2016: detailed findings. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, ; 2017.
  2. Bonomo Y, Norman A, Biondo S, Bruno R, Daglish M, Dawe S, et al. The Australian drug harms ranking study. J Psychopharmacol. 2019;33(7):759-68.
  3. Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol. 2009.
  4. Witt ED. Research on alcohol and adolescent brain development: opportunities and future directions. Alcohol. 2010;44(1):119-24.
  5. Monti PM, Miranda R, Nixon K, Sher KJ, Swartzwelder HS, Tapert SF, et al. Adolescence: Booze, Brains, and Behavior. 2005:207.
  6. Carson G, Cox LV, Crane J, Croteau P, Graves L, Kluka S, et al. No. 245-Alcohol Use and Pregnancy Consensus Clinical Guidelines. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada. 2017;39(9):e220-e54.
  7. Rehm J, Soerjomataram I, Ferreira-Borges C, Shield KD. Does alcohol use affect cancer risk? Current Nutrition Reports. 2019;8(3):222-9.
  8. Nagata T, Setoguchi S, Hemenway D, Perry M. Effectiveness of a law to reduce alcohol-impaired driving in Japan. Injury prevention: journal of the International Society for Child and Adolescent Injury Prevention. 2008;14:19-23.
  9. National Academies of Sciences E, Medicine. Getting to Zero Alcohol-Impaired Driving Fatalities: A Comprehensive Approach to a Persistent Problem. Teutsch SM, Geller A, Negussie Y, editors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2018. 606 p.
  10. Hall WD, Cobiac LJ, Doran CM, Vos T, Wallace AL. How can we reduce alcohol-related road crash deaths among young Australians? 2010:464.
  11. Alcoholism NIoAAa. Harmful Interactions: Mixing Alcohol with Medicines United States2019 [Available from: niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/harmful-interactions-mixing-alcohol-with-medicines].
  12. Harm Reduction Victoria. Alcohol c2019
  13. Government of Western Australia. Drink spiking 2014

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