Most people drink alcohol for enjoyment on social occasions and for relaxation at levels that have a minimal effect on health.
However, a proportion of people drink at levels harmful to their health.
Excessive alcohol consumption is one of the main preventable public health problems in Australia.
Health impacts from alcohol
There is a clear link between the amount of alcohol consumed, either in the short- or long-term, and the level of harm that results. The health impacts from alcohol vary for different age groups and include:
- Underage drinking can affect normal development of the brain.
- Young people, up to the age of 25, are at higher risk of alcohol-related harm, particularly due to a greater risk of accident and injury.
- Heavy drinking can also adversely affect brain development in young people, which is not complete until around 25 years of age.
- Drinking during pregnancy can result in a condition known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD, which can cause congenital abnormalities, brain damage and lifelong disabilities.
- When applying the latest international data to Australia, analysis by the Victorian Cancer Council estimated 22% of the nation’s breast cancer cases were linked to alcohol consumption
- Older people can be more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol due to physiological changes associated with ageing, especially as a result of adverse interactions between certain types of medications with alcohol.
In December 2020, the National Health and Medical Research Council released updated low-risk drinking guidelines. The updated guidelines are:
To reduce the risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury, healthy men and women should drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than four standard drinks on any one day. The less you drink, the lower your risk of harm from alcohol.
2. Children and people under 18 years of age
To reduce the risk of injury and other harms to health, children and people under 18 years of age should not drink alcohol.
3. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
To prevent harm from alcohol to their unborn child, women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should not drink alcohol. For women who are breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is safest for their babies.
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