Drinking guidelines for men and women

For men:

Reduce your long-term health risks by drinking no more than:

  • three standard drinks a day and no more than fifteen standard drinks in any one week. Sticking to this level or below will reduce the risk of harm from alcohol related injury or disease over your lifetime.
  • avoid drinking more than five standard drinks in any one session.  This reduces the risk of alcohol related harm or injury on a single occasion. 
  • a minimum of two alcohol-free days in any one week

For women:

Reduce your long-term health risks by drinking no more than:

  • two standard drinks a day and no more than ten standard drinks in any one week.  Sticking to this level or below will reduce the risk of harm from alcohol related injury or disease over your lifetime.
  • avoid drinking more than four standard drinks in any one session.  This reduces the risk of alcohol related harm or injury on a single occasion.
  • a minimum of two alcohol-free days in any one week

Remember that you cannot save up your daily drinks for one occasion. Even if you've had nothing to drink all week, it is a good idea to stay within the daily upper guidelines when you drink and to always avoid drinking more than the maximum recommended in any one drinking session.

Even if you drink less than these levels, your drinking will not be safe in all situations. There are some people who should either not consume alcohol or limit their use to less than these amounts:

  • During pregnancy (see below)
  • People below average body weight (60kg for men, 50kg for women)
  • Young people
  • Older people (because their bodies are less able to handle the effects of alcohol)
  • People with a strong family history of alcoholism
  • People who are or have been dependent on other drugs
  • People who have a poor diet, or are under-nourished

These guidelines may be too high when you're

  • Driving
  • Operating machinery
  • Boating, scuba diving, etc
  • Taking medication, aspirin or any other drugs that irritate the stomach
  • Taking sleeping pills or tranquillisers, anti-depressants or narcotics
  • Suffering an acute or chronic physical disease or acute infection
  • Recovering from an accident, injury or operation

Why are the guidelines for women lower than for men?

There are proven medical reasons why the guidelines are different for men and women.

  • Women tend to be smaller than men so alcohol is distributed over a smaller amount of body tissue. This means that it takes fewer drinks to increase blood alcohol levels.
  • Women have on average 10% more fat than men (hence the feminine curves). This means there's less body fluid to dilute alcohol, so it travels around women's bodies in more concentrated form and causes more harm.
  • Women's livers produce less of the substance the body uses to break down alcohol (an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase). This means women not only get drunk quicker, but the effects last longer.