OPINION

Cap your drinks, follow the new alcohol guidelines

The festive season may be over, but summer is still in full swing, and once again we're seeing reports of deaths and injuries due to alcohol-related harm.

Frivolous, carefree overindulging in alcohol is fun until you consider its serious and sometimes deadly health impacts.

Did you know that alcohol dependence, injuries and abuse are the leading causes of hospitalisation in Australia?

Whatever your alcohol of choice, pure or mixed, understanding the risk will help inform your decisions.

Abstaining from alcohol for a month - or even a couple of weeks - will enhance your concentration, increase your ability to focus, and reduce the likelihood of illnesses - including depression and anxiety.

If you've been struggling to lower your alcohol intake, or you just want to drink a little less, then the recently released National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) draft Australian drinking guidelines may help.

The NHMRC recommends that healthy men and women drink no more than 10 standard drinks per week, and no more than four standard drinks on any one day.

They also point out that the less you choose to drink, the lower your risk of alcohol-related harm.

For some people, not drinking at all is the safest option.

Even if you stick to these recommendations, the risks are still there - for every 100 people who stay under the limits, one will die from an alcohol-related disease or injury.

While this is scary to comprehend, it's considered an "acceptable risk" because there are always dangers associated with alcohol.

So, it's clear then that the more you drink, the greater the risk to your health. But what if complete abstinence isn't for you?

There are some things that you can do to help minimise your consumption, and the risk to your health. Set limits early, according to the guidelines, and stick to them; choose low-alcohol or alcohol-free drinks; eat food before and during drinking to help slow down the absorption of alcohol; drink water in between alcoholic drinks to reduce negative effects; slow down, taking sips rather than gulps - and avoid taking shots all together.

Because, while we want to enjoy the festive season and summer, we don't want it to come at the expense of our health and wellbeing.

Dr Jason (Heng) Jiang is a health economist at La Trobe University's Centre for Alcohol Policy Research