14 Oct, 2012 Last updated: 18 Dec, 2015

By Brian Vandenberg, Alcohol Program Manager, VicHealth

First published in the Shepparton News 8 March 2012.

This week, news emerged that a staggering 95 per cent of Australians don’t know how to drink alcohol within safe limits. Up to half of the public who were surveyed by the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research couldn’t even hazard a guess.

The NHMRC’s Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol have been publicly available for three years, but levels of awareness about what constitutes safe drinking are very low.

To ensure you’re not damaging your health, they recommend no more than two standard drinks a day for healthy adults over your lifetime, and no more than four drinks per occasion.

This research highlights an understandable gap in public knowledge about the guidelines. How do you know how many standard drinks you’ve had?

Most cans, bottles and glasses of alcohol aren’t neatly packaged as one standard drink. They’re 0.7 or 1.4 or 2.2 standard drinks. It’s just not realistic to keep a little notepad tally every time you’re at the pub, let alone a mental tally.

However, preventing the short and long term problems alcohol can cause doesn’t have to be complex, it’s just a matter of knowing these limits and exercising a bit of willpower to stick with them. Try ordering light beer. Have a glass of water between drinks. Know your own mental state, and if you’re feeling tipsy, slow down. Drink at your own pace, rather than keeping up with each round of drinks.

The Guidelines are clear and based on science, but we really need an education campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of alcohol, and even more importantly health advisory labels on alcohol, as a reminder to help us make better choices for our health.

- Brian Vandenberg