Australian alcohol guidelines: Experts reveal drinking in moderation could harm your
Drinking what most might consider to be a moderate amount of alcohol could be harming your health and mental wellbeing, experts have found.
New guidelines released by the Australian Drug and Alcohol Foundation advise both men and women to have no more than 10 standard drinks per week and no more than four standard drinks on any one day.
Consuming more than the recommended amount has been linked to myriad health issues including cancer, heart and liver disease, Alzheimer’s, weight gain and premature ageing, as well as brain fog, anxiety, and depression.
But researchers have warned a standard drink might be less than you think, with bottles of beer and glasses of wine often coming in well over the threshold.
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Drinking what most might consider to be a moderate amount of alcohol could be seriously harming your health, experts have found (stock image)
What is a standard drink in Australia?
Spirits 40% alcohol, 30ml nip
Wine 13% alcohol, 100ml average serving
Sparkling wine 13% alcohol, 100ml
Full strength beer 4.9% alcohol, 285ml glass
Light beer 2.7% alcohol, 425ml glass
Cider 4.9% alcohol, 285ml glass
Australian standard drinks contain 10g of alcohol and include a 285ml full-strength beer, a 100ml glass of wine, or 30ml of spirits such as vodka, whisky, or gin.
The recommendations, developed by the National Health and Medical Research Council, reiterate historic advice for under 18s and pregnant or breastfeeding women to abstain from alcohol to prevent damage to the brain and their babies.
Drinking alcohol has been shown to impact brain development up until the age of 25, affecting their attention span, memory, and decision-making.
But the damage doesn’t stop there.
Alcohol accelerates the ageing process, impacting your appearance, blood pressure and your memory, not to mention increasing your risk of cancer, liver and heart disease.
Earlier this year, a study led by imperial College London revealed a startling connection between small volumes of alcohol and brain damage.
Increased alcohol intake was linked to less grey matter in the brain, more fat in the liver and a larger mass in the left ventricle of the heart, the research which looked at MRI scans of 10,000 drinkers in late middle age showed.
Brain shrinkage has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease, while excess liver fat can lead to liver disease.
The study suggests those who ‘drink responsibly’, below 14 units a week – the equivalent of six medium glasses of wine – still damage their bodies.
But the good news is that as little as four weeks of sobriety can dramatically improve your health and mental wellbeing – provided the temporary abstinence leads to a more moderate and mindful approach to drinking in the long run.
Dietitians and fitness experts claim even short periods without alcohol improves memory, mental clarity and sleep, as well as promoting weight loss and reducing pressure on the liver which starts to cleanse itself just one hour after your last drink.
Going sober will also boost your bank balance, with the average Australian household estimated to save $1,778 a year simply by avoiding alcohol.
The good news is that as little as four weeks of sobriety can dramatically improve health and mental wellbeing – provided the temporary abstinence leads to a more moderate and mindful approach to drinking in the long run
Five reminders that will help you stay sober
When you drink alcohol…
1. You decrease the functionality of your executive brain and start listening to your primal brain. You become an animal searching for your next peak.
2. You don’t care what’s in the substances you get offered because you just want to reach that peak.
3. Your body is hot and cold. Your eyes are fuzzy. Your mouth is dry and you can’t speak. You don’t care that your body isn’t functioning properly because you need to reach that peak.
4. You make inappropriate calls at all hours and have inappropriate conversations because you need connection to feed that peak even more.
5. You become powerless and lose control. You lose your true self and become this person who doesn’t care about anything but that peak.
Source: It’s Not Me, It’s Booze
Returns control of your life and enhances mental clarity
Doctors say abstaining from alcohol for as little as one month enhances concentration and decision-making, while also reducing the risk of mental health issues including anxiety and depression.
Marketing manager turned sober life coach Melissa Lionnet, who gave up alcohol in 2020 after 10 years of daily drinking left her struggling to get out of bed, attests to this.
‘No question, 100 percent with both myself and my clients, I have seen clarity improve in a matter of weeks,’ Ms Lionnet told Daily Mail Australia.
‘People just back themselves, they make quicker, clearer decisions and trust their instincts much more so than when they were drinking.’
Sydney sobriety coach Melissa Lionnet (left, with a glass of alcohol-free wine in 2021 and right, in 2019) quit drinking after more than a decade of abusive consumption
Improves sleep and gives you more energy
After a night of binge drinking, studies show the body is woken by a shot of adrenaline and cortisol – the stress hormone – which wreaks havoc with the natural sleep cycle.
Binge drinking is defined as drinking five or more drinks for men, and four or more drinks for women, within a two-hour period.
Of 800 Australian ‘Dry January’ – the UK equivalent of Dry July – participants in 2018, 71 per cent reported sleeping more deeply and feeling more refreshed in the morning throughout their month of abstinence.
This improvement is linked to the depressive effect alcohol has on the nervous system, which includes significantly reduced rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the restorative stage where the body repairs cells and dreams occur.
While Ms Lionnet agrees that giving up alcohol will improve your sleep in the long run, she warns it could take a few weeks for your body to adjust to going to bed sober.
Since quitting alcohol, Ms Lionnet (pictured in 2021) feels more motivated than she has in years and no longer struggles to get out of bed in the mornings
‘It really depends on how much you drink,’ she said.
‘Alcohol reduces the quality of sleep, but if you have it in your head that you need to be drunk to sleep, you could be restless and distressed so you’ll need to start by unwiring that thinking.’
For this reason, Ms Lionnet advises heavy drinkers to enlist the help of a therapist or sobriety coach before embarking on a challenge like Dry July.
She also recommends joining a sober support group on social media to meet like-minded friends who will help you to stay on track.
Accelerates weight loss and reduces cravings for junk food
Drinking contributes to weight gain by reducing the body’s ability to burn fat, accelerating appetite and inhibiting our ability to make healthy food choices.
Alcohol ‘physiologically makes you crave certain foods’, Australian personal trainer and nutrition coach Sarah Hopkins warns, which opens the flood gates to overeating even when you weren’t hungry to begin with.
‘If there is a bowl of chips in front of you and you don’t feel like them, you won’t eat them,’ Ms Hopkins said in an episode of the Elevate podcast in December 2019.
‘If you have a glass of wine you will eat that whole bowl because it increases your appetite. It makes you eat more.’
James Swanwick, 45, founder of Alcohol Free Lifestyle, said he lost five kilos in the space of one month when he quit alcohol in 2010, while Melissa Lionnet reported losing four kilos in the same time frame.
She said her hair also thickened and her skin became ‘so much brighter’.
Australian personal trainer and nutrition coach Sarah Hopkins (left) says alcohol psychologically causes us to crave food, even when we’re not hungry
Benefits to gut health is the primary reason Australian yoga and Ayurveda teacher Amanda Nog supports the concept of a month on the dry.
Ms Nog said part of the reason we feel anxious and depressed after drinking is because of the effect alcohol has on the neurotransmitters – particularly serotonin – produced in the gut.
Serotonin is one of the most important hormones in the human body, responsible for stabilising mood and promoting happiness as well as supporting communication between brain cells and other cells in the nervous system.
It also plays a vital role in digestion, sleep and blood sugar regulation – meaning any sort of deficiency is guaranteed to harm overall well-being in a major way.
Benefits to gut health is the primary reason Australian yoga and Ayurveda teacher Amanda Nog (pictured) supports the concept of a month on the dry
Detoxifies the blood and liver
While knocking back red wine may be marketed as an attractive way to increase your antioxidant intake, Sydney dietitian Lee Holmes says any nutritional value of alcohol is cancelled out by the…