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Know Your Limits

By Kellie Heywood

A quiet drink at the end of a working day can be a relaxing, enjoyable thing – but do you know how much you alcohol you’re actually consuming?

If you like the occasional drink, you’re certainly not alone; around 40 per cent of Australians report that they drink on a weekly basis and around eight per cent drink every day.

Unfortunately, as we all know, alcohol has its dark side. Consumption has been linked to increased risk of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, some forms of cancer, some mental health conditions, and liver disease. In addition to that is the burden of alcohol-related violence and crime and lost productivity at work. It has been estimated that alcohol costs the Australian community over 15 billion dollars a year.

So drinking responsibly and in moderation is the key. But what, exactly, does that mean? Let’s take a look at the guidelines for drinking in moderation and how much you of the wet stuff you actually get in a standard drink.

Drinking to long life

Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a completely risk-free drink. The Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol are designed to help people keep their health risks from drinking alcohol low.

They recommend that healthy adults drink:

  • No more than two standard drinks on any day to reduce the risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury over a lifetime.
  • No more than four standard drinks on a single occasion to reduce the risk of alcohol-related injury on that occasion.

The guidelines also advise that:

  • It is especially important for children under 15 not to drink alcohol, because they are at the most risk of harm from drinking.
  • For young people aged 15−17 years, the safest option is to delay drinking for as long as possible.
  • For women who are planning a pregnancy, pregnant or breast-feeding, not drinking is the safest option.

So what is a “standard” drink?

In Australia a standard drink is one that contains 10g of pure alcohol. The amount of alcohol you actually drink varies considerably from one beverage to another.

If you’ve got the container the alcohol comes in, take a look at the label – it will tell you how many standard drinks it contains.

If someone else is pouring, the following is a good guide:

  • 285 ml (pot or middy) of full strength beer contains 1.1 standard drinks
  • 425 ml (schooner) of full strength beer contains 1.6 standard drinks
  • 150 ml (average glass) of white or sparkling wine contains 1.4 standard drinks
  • 150 ml (average glass) of red wine contains 1.6 standard drinks
  • 30 ml (nip) of spirits contains 1 standard drink.

Cutting back

If you’re looking for ways throughout the year to cut back your alcohol consumption, try these hints:

  • Have a couple of designated alcohol-free days each week
  • When you are drinking, alternate alcoholic drinks with non-alcoholic beverages
  • Research suggests that binge drinking – drinking a lot of alcohol in one session may be particularly harmful. If you’re planning a big night, make a limit and try to stick to it. Also take care with “pre-drinking”. It may save money to drink at home before you go out, but pre-drinking has been linked to heavier consumption of alcohol and more negative consequences from drinking.


Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council (last reviewed 2009) Alcohol guidelines: reducing the health risks. Viewed 30/12/10. Available:

Wells S, Graham K, Purcell J (2009) Policy implications of the widespread practice of 'pre-drinking' or 'pre-gaming' before going to public drinking establishments: are current prevention strategies backfiring? Addiction 104(1): 4-9.