How Much Can You Drink Before You Start Doing Serious Damage?

The 'safe' amount of alcohol consumption per week is less than previously thought.

by Gavin Butler
16 December 2019, 5:27am

Image via pxhere, CC0

For the first time in 10 years, Australia’s national health authorities have amended what they deem to be a “safe” amount of alcohol consumption—and it’s less than previously thought.

Researchers from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)—a body that provides advice to the Australian government and community at large on a range of health matters—released their findings this morning after three years of research into the harms and/or benefits of alcohol, as well as its link to disease. They concluded that in order to reduce potential harms and health risks from alcohol, people should drink "no more than 10 standard drinks per week”, or the equivalent of about 1.4 drinks a day.

This is a downward revision on previous health guidelines, which suggested that people should cap their alcohol intake at about 14 drinks a week, or “no more than two standard drinks” a day. NHMRC Professor Anne Kelso also clarified that the advice to have "no more than four drinks on any one occasion" still stands, according to the ABC.

“We are not saying this [newly suggested amount] is a safe level," she said. "The less you choose to drink, the lower your risk of alcohol-related harm."

Research also indicates that it’s safer to avoid bingeing those 10 standard drinks, instead spreading them out as much as possible. It was found that the cumulative risk from the recommended weekly dose is more than doubled if consumed in one day rather than three, and considerably reduced if spread out across the week.

Professor Kate Conigrave, chair of the NHMRC alcohol working committee and Professor of Addiction Medicine at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, noted that the new guidelines were a good way to mitigate long-term health risks—citing evidence that has emerged in recent years about the potential links between alcohol consumption and cancer.

"There are around 4,000 alcohol-related deaths per year [and] more than 70,000 hospital admissions per year," she said. "A lot of information has come out over the last 10 years, in particular about the risks from cancer even starting from reasonably low levels of drinking."

The health authorities also revised advice regarding alcohol consumption in teenagers, asserting that "children and young people under 18 years of age should not drink"—a hardening of previous advice that suggested the safest option was for teens aged 15 to 17 to “delay the initiation of drinking for as long as possible.”

"We looked at the evidence available, and from the best evidence we could get, it was safest to drink nothing," Professor Conigrave said. "Because the brain is developing up to the age of 25, we thought that was really important that people were aware that the brain is precious, and you don't want to take risks with it."

Follow Gavin on Twitter or Instagram.