NHMRC releases new guidelines on alcohol

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The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has released its draft new guidelines on reducing health risks from drinking alcohol.

“We’re not telling Australians how much to drink," said NHMRC CEO Professor Anne Kelso. "We’re providing advice about the health risks from drinking alcohol so that we can all make informed decisions in our daily lives. This advice has been developed over the past three years using the best health evidence available."

According to Professor Kelso, “In 2017 there were more than 4,000 alcohol-related deaths in Australia, and across 2016/17 more than 70,000 hospital admissions. Alcohol is linked to more than 60 medical conditions, particularly numerous cancers. So, we all need to consider the risks when we decide how much to drink. 

“We recommend that healthy men and women reduce the risk of harm by drinking no more than 10 standard drinks per week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day. 

“However, we are not saying that this is a level completely eliminates risk. The less you choose to drink, the lower your risk of alcohol-related harm. For some people not drinking at all is the safest option.

“We recommend that adolescents under the age of 18 do not drink. There is no known ‘safe’ or ‘no-risk’ level of drinking alcohol for children and young people aged under 18 years. Alcohol can harm the way the brain develops, increase the risk of injury and other immediate harms, and increase the risk of developing alcohol-related conditions later in life.”

Professor Kelso also said the guidelines recommend women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy should not drink alcohol.

"For women who are breastfeeding, not drinking alcohol is safest for their baby. We need to keep in mind that while the risk of harm to the fetus is likely to be slight when the mother drinks small amounts of alcohol (less than 1 standard drink per day) there is not enough evidence to know for sure whether the fetus will be safe from harm, even at this low amount of alcohol. That is why we recommend not drinking alcohol.” 

“These guidelines will help all of us think about our personal risk, and help us to drink responsibly,” said Professor Brendan Murphy, Australia’s Chief Medical Officer and a member of the NHMRC Council.

“They are the result of a comprehensive and robust process over the past three years. They will help me and every Chief Medical Officer in the States and Territories to provide clear messages about the risks of drinking alcohol, to ensure the health of all Australians. If all Australians follow these guidelines we won’t stop every alcohol-related death, but we will save thousands of lives, especially younger lives,” he said.

The NHMRC said the new guidelines, which have not been updated since 2009, have been revised over three years.

This revision process included the analysis of studies and reviews of scientific papers. It also included a public call for evidence on the benefits as well as the harms of alcohol and modelling of its effects.

The draft guidelines are open for public comment until 24 February 2020.