As if Christmas wasn’t going to be challenging enough, health experts now want us to teetotal our way through the festive season.
So, you may have heard how a lot of Australians have turned to the bottle – or can or cask or whatever their chosen receptacle – during the pandemic.
Little wonder. It’s been a tough time and being locked inside for hours, days, weeks and months on end is enough to make anyone drink.
Well, everyone except 84 per cent of YourLifeChoices members recently surveyed about their pandemic drinking habits. They’re not drinking any more during the pandemic, but more than one in 10 Australians polled in a recent Alcohol and Drug Foundation survey now drink daily. They didn’t beforehand.
A long year of stress and strain may make you feel like opening a bottle with friends and family in celebration (or commiseration) of 2020, but strict new national guidelines suggest you should keep a lid on it.
The new sensible alcohol guidelines say adults should not drink more than 10 standard drinks a week and stick to four on any given day to reduce the risk of alcohol-related health issues.
Four a day is around two pints of IPA. Or two big glasses of red wine.
Really, 10 standard drinks could be knocked out in an evening (speaking for a friend).
A decade ago, we were told we could have around 14 standard drinks a week if we wanted to steer clear of increased risk of alcohol death.
That’s a big drop on the previous weekly limit of 14 standard drinks, set in 2009.
Okay, so alcohol has a harmful effect on the body – depending on which research you believe – and researchers in Australia and the UK also say it has a significant effect on the brain.
Probably not surprising.
The new guidelines developed by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) take into account the latest scientific findings on alcohol’s effect on health.
That, and there are more than 4000 alcohol-related deaths and 70,000 hospital admissions in Australia each year.
Oh, and alcohol is linked to more than 40 medical conditions, including cancers.
Medium volume drinkers (seven to 14 drinks a week) increase their risk of developing liver cancer by 48 per cent. Heavy drinkers increase theirs by 202 per cent.
For every 100 people having more than 14 drinks per week over their lifetime, about five will develop cancer due to alcohol by age 85.
One in six Australians having more 14 drinks per week are already technically drinking dangerously. Around 40 per cent of them are considered heavy drinkers.
We know we shouldn’t drink too much, but …
For adults, the limits are harsh. Restricting intake to 10 drinks a week may be a challenge.
Before you start feeling sorry for yourself, think of those teenagers – of legal drinking age, of course – whom these researchers say should not drink any alcohol at all.
And the pregnant or breastfeeding women who have also been told that, to reduce the risk of injury and other harm to them or their babies’ health, they shouldn’t drink alcohol at all.
Nor should women who are trying to conceive.
“Healthy adults drinking within the guideline recommendations have less than a one-in-100 chance of dying from an alcohol-related condition,” said acting chief medical officer Paul Kelly.
However, limiting alcohol intake to the recommended guidelines won’t remove all risk, he admits.
The guidelines will underpin health messaging and policy from now on. Or at least until another raft of studies change them.
Cheer up, though: NHMRC chief Anne Kelso says no-one is actually telling you how much to drink, contrary to the impression the new rules may have given you.
“We’re providing advice about the health risks, so that we can all make informed decisions in our daily lives,” said Ms Kelso.
The Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF) says the new guidelines are a good thing. Let’s be honest with ourselves. They probably are. And ADF chief Erin Lalor pointed to evidence that clearly shows the less people drink, the lower their risk of injuries, illnesses, dependence and developing disease.
“The new guidelines will play a particularly important role for those Australians wanting to reduce their alcohol consumption after their drinking habits may have changed since the outbreak of COVID-19,” she said.
Personally, I love the taste of a good IPA, so this will be difficult to swallow, or not swallow. But it has inspired me to try harder to limit my drinking – and find a good non-alcoholic beer that tastes less like beer-flavoured mineral water. Maybe I’ll give Heaps Normal beer a try, or one of the many new non-alcoholic beers on the market (*sigh*).
How much do you drink each week? Do you agree with the new guidelines? Do you feel like you are not being told how much to drink?
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