What is risky drinking? Risky drinking refers to consuming alcohol in amounts that can harm your health in the short and long term. Short-term harms include injuries, while long-term harms include conditions like liver cirrhosis or cognitive impairment.
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has guidelines to define low-risk drinking levels. For women, low-risk drinking means having less than two standard drinks per day on average, with at least two alcohol-free days per week in the long term. For men, it means having less than four standard drinks per day on average and also two alcohol-free days per week. The guidelines also state that women should not have more than four drinks and men should not have more than six drinks on any single occasion. It’s advised to avoid going over these low-risk levels more than three days per week.
There are higher levels of risky drinking categorized as hazardous and harmful. Hazardous drinking for women is considered to be three to four standard drinks per day, while for men, it’s five to six standard drinks per day in the long term. Women should not exceed five to six drinks for any single occasion, and men should not exceed seven to ten drinks. Harmful drinking is defined as consuming five or more standard drinks for women and seven or more for men in the long term, with more than seven drinks for women and 11 drinks for men on any single occasion.
It’s important to note that no amount of alcohol consumption is considered safe for pregnant women or children. Additionally, people often underestimate their alcohol intake and may drink more than a standard drink. Using a standard drink card can help accurately assess the amount of alcohol consumed.
The prevalence of alcohol problems in the population is significant. Around 10% of the population exceeds the low-risk guidelines for long-term harm. Among Indigenous Australians, this percentage increases to 20%, although there is also a higher proportion of people who don’t drink alcohol in this group. About one-third of the population drinks above the safe limits defined by the NHMRC for short-term harm. Certain groups, such as young people, males, individuals in rural and remote areas, and specific occupational groups like miners and hospitality workers, have higher-than-average rates of alcohol consumption.
Risky drinking, including hazardous and harmful drinking, has a greater impact on illness and deaths compared to alcohol dependence. These types of drinking are more common and lead to various problems, including immediate physical health effects, increased risk-taking behaviour, and a higher likelihood of violence and accidents. Alcohol is responsible for around 2000 deaths per year in Australia.