Alcohol & your health
The size, body type and the way in which women's bodies process alcohol, mean women, particularly younger women, can become affected by alcohol far quicker than men.
The 2009 National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines say 'At higher levels of drinking, large differences by gender are seen, with the risk for women being significantly higher than that for men. The risk for women also increases faster with increased consumption than for men.'
Low risk drinking
The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guideline for reducing health risks associated with drinking alcohol defines 'low risk' alcohol consumption for healthy women as no more than two standard drinks on any day with regular alcohol free days.
This 'low risk' level of alcohol consumption in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle does not appear to be associated with long-term illness.
However, there are times when you should probably not consume any alcohol:
- During illness
- When taking medication
- When pregnant
- When breastfeeding
Your doctor can provide advice at these times.
High risk drinking
High risk alcohol consumption is best defined as anything that exceeds the consumption of more than two standard drinks per day. High risk drinking, including binge drinking (consumption of excess alcohol over a short space of time) can put your health at serious risk.
Having more than four standard drinks on a single occasion (even if you only do it once or twice per week) may cause health problems, increase risk of injury and accidents and affect relationships with those close to you.
Short and long-term effects of high risk drinking
|Short-term effects of high risk drinking||
|Long-term effects of high risk drinking||
What is a standard drink?
One standard drink contains 10g of alcohol. All pre-packaged alcohol cans or bottles have the number of standard drinks listed on the label.
When keeping track of your alcohol consumption it is important to count the standard drinks consumed, rather than the number of cans or glasses. Wine, beer and spirits are sometimes served in glasses which might contain more than a standard drink. Ask bar staff if you are uncertain.
Different types of alcoholic drink will also have different levels of alcohol content and can often be higher than one standard drink. For example, pre-mixed drinks can be equal to 1.5 or more standard drinks and cocktails can be equal to two or more standard drinks.
Standard drink guide
|Alcoholic drink||Alcohol content||Serving size||mls||Number of standard drinks|
|Average restaurant serving||150||1.5|
|Fortified wine e.g. port or sherry||18%||Glass||60||1|
|Spirits||37-40%||Nip or shot||30||1|
|Low strength||2.7%||Pot or middy||285||0.6|
|Can or stubbie||375||0.8|
|Mid strength beer (3.5% alcohol)||3.5%||Pot or middy||285||0.8|
|Can or stubbie||375||1|
|Full strength beer or cider including diet beer||4.9%||Pot or middy||285||1.1|
|Can or stubbie||375||1.4|
Alcohol & young people
According to the National Alcohol Guidelines, it is young Australian adults who have the highest consumption of alcohol and are most at risk of alcohol related injuries from:
- road trauma
- sexual coercion
- accidental death e.g. drowning or overdose
Binge drinking is most common among 14-25 year olds. Parents are now advised that children under 15 years of age are at the greatest risk of harm from alcohol, so not drinking under 15 is especially important, and alcohol drinking by 15-17 year olds should be delayed for as long as possible.
It is important for young adults (and older adults as well) to carefully weigh up the risks involved before drinking alcohol at levels above the recommended guidelines.
Handy hints for drinking responsibly
|Choose low alcohol content drinks||Choose drinks such as light beers, top mixed drinks with extra soft drink or soda.|
|Know what you are drinking||
|Keep together||Make sure your friends stick with you, all night, to support you and your decisions.|
|Be the designated driver||Offer to be the designated driver so on some nights out you do not drink.|
|Know what's fun||
Alcohol & breast cancer
Regular alcohol consumption increases a woman's risk of developing breast cancer. This risk rises with the level of alcohol consumed, so a reduction in alcohol consumption by women who drink alcohol regularly may reduce their breast cancer risk.
Alcohol, pregnancy & breastfeeding
The 2009 NHMRC guidelines advise pregnant women and breastfeeding women should not drink alcohol. High level drinking during pregnancy can cause a range of health problems for the unborn child, and can increase the likelihood of miscarriage.
Alcohol in the bloodstream also passes through into breast milk which can in turn cause irritability, poor feeding and sleep disturbances in the child.
Alcohol & menopause
For women around the time of menopause, alcohol intake can exacerbate hot flushes and add to the risk of excess weight gain.
If alcohol is affecting your health and you are having trouble stopping drinking, talk to your doctor and seek expert help.
Last updated 24 July 2017 — Last reviewed 17 February 2014
** Currently under review **
This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at February 2014.