General Alcohol Information

This section provides general information about drinking alcohol in Australia. It includes common definitions related to alcohol and alcohol consumption, how consumption is measured, and guidelines for staying safe when drinking.

The primary source of information in this section is the Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol  (National Health and Medical Research Council, 2009). This is the best source of synthesised national and international evidence currently available concerning the risks associated with alcohol consumption. The purpose of the guidelines is to allow individuals to make informed decisions regarding the amount of alcohol that they choose to drink.

What is a standard drink?

A standard drink is a unit of measurement. In Australia, a standard drink refers to any drink that contains 10 grams (or 12.5 millilitres) of alcohol. A standard drink contains the same amount of alcohol regardless of container size, alcohol type, or volume of liquid.

Further information about standard drinks is available from the Australian Government Department of Health.

The table below details the number of standard drinks contained in different types of alcohol beverages.

Alcohol BeverageStandard Drinks
Can/Stubbie low-strength beer0.8 standard drink
Can/Stubbie mid-strength beer1 standard drink
Can/Stubbie full-strength beer1.4 standard drinks
100ml wine (approx. 13.5% alcohol)1 standard drink
30ml nip spirits1 standard drink
Can spirits (approx. 5% alcohol)1 to 1.7 standard drinks
Can spirits (approx. 7% alcohol)1.4 to 2.4 standard drinks

Source: National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol.

Standard Drink: A drink that contains 10 grams (or 12.5 millilitres) of alcohol.

What is the difference between a standard drink and a serving of alcohol?

A standard drink may not be the same as a serving of alcohol. A standard drink contains 10 grams of alcohol (see FAQ: What is a standard drink?). However, because there are no common glass sizes used in Australia, a serving of alcohol may contain more than one standard drink.

Further information about standard drinks is available from the Australian Government Department of Health.

Source: National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol.

Standard Drink: A drink that contains 10 grams (or 12.5 millilitres) of alcohol.

What is a single occasion of drinking?

A single occasion of drinking is any time a person consumes one or more drinks containing alcohol and during this period of time their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) does not return to zero.

A single occasion of drinking might include drinking at home followed by drinking at other venues. For example, someone may drink two beers at home, then a glass of wine at a restaurant, followed by a shot of spirits at a pub. If this person's BAC did not reach zero at any time between these drinks, this constitutes a single occasion of drinking.

Source: National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol.

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC): A commonly used measure of alcohol intoxication. It refers to the amount of alcohol present in the bloodstream. For example, a BAC of 0.05% means that there are 0.05 grams of alcohol in every 100 millilitres of blood.

Single Occasion of Drinking: Any time a person consumes one or more drinks containing alcohol, and during this period of time their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) does not return to zero.

What is binge drinking?

“Binge drinking” is commonly understood to mean intentionally drinking enough alcohol to get drunk. It involves drinking heavily on one occasion or over several days or weeks. However, binge drinking is not scientifically defined, and there is no single accepted definition.

A commonly used proxy measure of binge drinking is the consumption of five or more standard drinks on a single occasion of drinking. This is the 2009 NHMRC definition of short-term risky drinking (see FAQ: What are Australia's Alcohol Consumption Guidelines?)

Source: National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol.

Single Occasion of Drinking: Any time a person consumes one or more drinks containing alcohol, and during this period of time their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) does not return to zero.

Standard Drink: A drink that contains 10 grams (or 12.5 millilitres) of alcohol.

Is there a safe level of drinking?

There is no level of alcohol consumption that is guaranteed to be completely “safe” or “without risk”. Current Australian alcohol guidelines describe a level of drinking that enables healthy adults to minimise the risk of alcohol-related accidents, injuries, diseases and death.

These guidelines recommend consuming no more than 4 standard drinks on any single occasion of drinking, and an average of no more than 2 standard drinks per day long-term. These levels apply to both men and women. For pregnant and breastfeeding women, children, and young people aged under 18, not drinking at all is recommended as the safest option.

For more information on current Australian alcohol guidelines see FAQ: What are Australia’s alcohol consumption guidelines? A copy of the complete guidelines is available from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

Source: National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol.

Single Occasion of Drinking: Any time a person consumes one or more drinks containing alcohol, and during this period of time their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) does not return to zero.

Standard Drink: A drink that contains 10 grams (or 12.5 millilitres) of alcohol.

What are Australia’s alcohol consumption guidelines?

Australia’s guidelines in relation to alcohol are developed by an expert committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). The most recent guidelines were released in 2009. There are four guidelines for reducing the health risks associated with drinking alcohol:

Guideline 1: Reducing the risk of alcohol-related harm over a lifetime.

The more alcohol people consume, the greater their long-term risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury. Healthy adults should drink no more than two standard drinks on any day to reduce the long-term risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury.

Guideline 2: Reducing the risk of injury on a single occasion of drinking.

The more alcohol people consume on a single occasion of drinking, the greater their short-term risk of alcohol-related injury. Healthy adults should drink no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion to reduce the short-term risk of alcohol-related injury.

Guideline 3: Children and young people under 18 years of age.

To reduce their risk of harm, children and young people under 18 years of age should not drink alcohol. This is particularly important for children under 15 years of age, who are at the greatest risk of harm from drinking alcohol. For young people aged 15-17 years, it is safest to delay the start of drinking for as long as possible.

Guideline 4: Pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Drinking alcohol while pregnant or breastfeeding can harm the developing foetus/breastfed baby. For women who are pregnant, planning a pregnancy, or breastfeeding, not drinking is the safest option.

A copy of the complete guidelines is available from theNational Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

Source: National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol.

Long-Term Risk of Alcohol-Related Disease or Injury: An individual’s risk of experiencing alcohol-related harm during their lifetime, e.g. from alcohol-related chronic disease, accident or injury.  Current Australian alcohol guidelines state that long-term risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury increases when you consume an average of three or more drinks per day.

Short-Term Risk of Alcohol-Related Injury: An individual’s risk of experiencing alcohol-related harm on a single occasion of drinking, e.g. from alcohol-related accident or injury. Current Australian alcohol guidelines state that drinking five or more standard drinks on any single occasion significantly increases short-term risk of alcohol-related injury.

Single Occasion of Drinking: Any time a person consumes one or more drinks containing alcohol, and during this period of time their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) does not return to zero.

Standard Drink: A drink that contains 10 grams (or 12.5 millilitres) of alcohol.

What health issues and situations should be considered when drinking alcohol?

People should consider potential risks from drinking alcohol if they are:

  • supervising children
  • engaging in risky activities such as driving, operating machinery, or taking part in water and snow sports
  • taking medication
  • young adults aged 18–25
  • older people.

People who have physical or mental health problems should seek advice from a health professional before drinking alcohol. People who drink alcohol should also consider any legal issues which may arise from their alcohol consumption (e.g., drink driving, being intoxicated in public, and purchasing or drinking alcohol under the age of 18).

Further information is available from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

Source: National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol.

How much can someone drink and stay below a 0.05% Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) level?

blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.05% means that there are 0.05 grams of alcohol in every 100ml of blood. There is no level of drinking which guarantees that a person’s BAC will stay below 0.05%. Age, body size, gender, and a range of other factors can affect the rate at which alcohol is absorbed and metabolised when you drink. Everyone is different, and two people can drink the same amount of alcohol but have different levels of alcohol in their bloodstream. However, drinking less than one standard drink per hour should keep most people’s BAC below 0.05%, as the average rate at which alcohol is metabolised is one standard drink per hour.

Source: National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol.

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC): A commonly used measure of alcohol intoxication. It refers to the amount of alcohol present in the bloodstream. For example, a BAC of 0.05% means that there are 0.05 grams of alcohol in every 100 millilitres of blood.

Standard Drink: A drink that contains 10 grams (or 12.5 millilitres) of alcohol.

Are there any health benefits from drinking alcohol?

Recent scientific evidence suggests that any purported health benefits from drinking alcohol have probably been over-estimated. Any benefits are mainly conferred on middle-aged or older men and only occur with low levels of alcohol intake (about half a standard drink per day).

Current Australian alcohol guidelines do not recommend drinking for health benefits (see FAQ: What are Australia's alcohol consumption guidelines?).

Source: National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) (2009). Australian guidelines to reduce health risks from drinking alcohol.

Standard Drink: A drink that contains 10 grams (or 12.5 millilitres) of alcohol.