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Alcohol consumption

Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk of coronary artery disease and high blood pressure, along with your risk of accidents and injuries and a host of other diseases including various cancers.

According to the 2001 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, around 30 percent of Australians aged 14 years and over drink at levels considered to be harmful for their health, 10 percent drink at risky or high-risk levels that may cause long-term ill effects and 20 percent drink at levels that put them at risk of alcohol-related harm in the short term.

While there has been a lot of publicity about the supposed benefits to heart health by drinking ‘moderate’ levels of alcohol, recent research suggests that this benefit may have been overestimated. The latest findings indicate that one drink every two days may protect heart health – but only in men over 45 years of age and in women after menopause.

And if you’re a non-drinker, the benefits are not sufficient to recommend that you take up drinking to improve your heart health.

How much is too much?

The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council alcohol consumption guidelines define low-risk drinking and indicate the level of increased health risks that occur when you drink at levels greater than this recommended amount.

For women, your health risks begin to increase with one standard drink a day. For men, it’s two drinks a day.

In general the greater your alcohol intake, the greater your increase in health risk.

Risks are broadly divided into long-term risks and short-term or immediate risks. Long-term risks include heart diseases, cancers of the breast, mouth, liver and colon, cirrhosis of the liver and brain damage such as cognitive impairment and memory loss. More immediate or short-term risks include car and other accidents, falls, drowning, suicide and becoming a victim of violent crime.

Regarding long-term risk:

  • For women, the consumption of up to 14 standard drinks per week – with no more than two standard drinks a day – is considered 'low risk', 15 to 28 drinks per week is considered 'risky', and 29 or more per week 'high risk'.
  • For men, the consumption of up to 28 standard drinks per week – with no more than six drinks on a single occasion – is considered 'low risk', 29 to 42 per week 'risky', and 43 or more per week 'high risk'.

In terms of short-term risk:

  • The consumption of seven or more standard drinks for men, or five or more standard drinks for women, on any one drinking occasion is considered risky.

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This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

Bupa Australia Pty Ltd makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. Bupa Australia is not liable for any loss or damage you suffer arising out of the use of or reliance on the information. Except that which cannot be excluded by law. We recommend that you consult your doctor or other qualified health professional if you have questions or concerns about your health. For more details on how we produce our health content, visit the About our health information page.

Last published 31 October 2011

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