Australia’s drinking limits are fine as they are, thanks

Within minutes of opening my eyes Saturday morning I was reaching for my phone to undertake an urgent Google search.

"Do I drink too much?" I queried.

It wasn't the first time I've woken up with a dull headache and a sinking feeling that my signature dance move (the running man) is indeed embarrassing and not as funny as I believed it was the previous night.

After a half-hearted skim read of a few entries from Dr Google, I replaced my morose mood with a sunnier one, which to be honest still required a pair of sunglasses to cope, and told myself: "Don't be so hard on yourself Jill, it's Christmas, the self-diagnoses can wait!"

Turns out not everyone shares my festive approach.

This week, the nation's peak medical body for setting booze guidelines - The National Health and Medical Research Council's (NHMRC) Alcohol Working Committee - decided to play the role of Christmas Grinch by stealing four drinks from us per week.

No one loves a festive beer as much as Shane Warne. Picture: Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty
No one loves a festive beer as much as Shane Warne. Picture: Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty

It now recommends that men and women slash their weekly intake of alcohol from 14 standard drinks to 10 and consume no more than four in one day.

I can't be the only one that is utterly confused by the tsunami of information when it comes to safe levels of drinking.

In 2016 it was found that alcohol researchers in the UK wildly exaggerated the harmful effects of alcohol when they claimed there was no such thing as a safe level of drinking.

The research was published in the prestigious medical journal the Lancet.

It sparked health authorities to revise limits before widespread criticism of the findings forced the chief health officer into a backflip to leave guidelines where they were at 14 drinks.

Our new 10-drink-max is in line with France but now much harsher than for our drinking buddies in the UK.

I guess alcohol affects your health differently depending what corner of the globe you stand in.

Righto, makes sense.

It's enough to imagine a day where a lonely red wine drinker, who had foolishly once believed that red wine was in fact good for you, would be left sheepishly standing out the front of a restaurant trying to discreetly drink their tipple in order to avoid the disgusted glares from non-drinkers.

Everything in moderation. Picture: Miramax
Everything in moderation. Picture: Miramax

It feels like health authorities want to turn social drinkers into pariahs who experience the kind of disdain that is reserved smokers.

Don't get me wrong, I'm in no way waving the banner for problem drinkers.

Alcohol kills millions of people every year, not to mention the accelerant-like effect it has on social scourges like domestic violence, road trauma and mental health.

But the vast majority of people understand the risks, avoid hurting others with the levels of use and try and do the "right" things most of the time.

The vast majority of us are moderate drinkers.

I'm in no position to argue with scientists - I barely passed biology at school and the only time I went near the science block at university was to drop into the nearby student pub.

But I do know like what it feels like to be staring down the barrel of a festive period feeling guilty for having the odd extra glass of sparkling to celebrate the highs, possibly commiserate the lows, of another wonderful year.

The alcohol experts at the NHMRC have decided the safe drinking level of 14 drinks per week set in 2009 in Australia was "way too much".

Clearly the researchers haven't had the pleasure of a Chrissy dinner that includes a traditional, Seinfeld-inspired "airing of grievances" like my family's does.

What’s wrong with a beer here and there? Picture: Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty
What’s wrong with a beer here and there? Picture: Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty

Look, on the very, very rare occasion I've consumed more than 14 drinks in one sitting I can concur.

That's just way, way, way too much.

But in terms of taking people "along for the ride" in communicating this new hard line approach, the good folks at the NHMRC have made a hash of it. The timing just over a week before Christmas, is woeful.

When the excesses of the festive season are over and everyone is holding their sore heads after their New Year's Eve partying, that's when this wowser message may have been more readily received.

January is when you tell people to curb their boozing because spirits are already a little broken from a few solid months of over indulgence.

New Year's resolutions - get fitter, eat better, sleep more and please god, drink less - have been made and we are just waiting for the voice of reason to tell us how much less is.

This is the time of year when people are on health kicks, are already consuming less alcohol and would be far more open to the idea that four fewer drinks a week is possibly a good idea.

Anyway, back to my initial question, "Do I drink too much?"

Depends who you ask, I suppose, but can the answer wait until January?


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