If a person is under 18 years of age, he or she is breaking the law if they:
- Buy alcohol
- Receive or have alcohol in their possession
- Drink alcohol in a hotel or public place (such as a street, park or beach).
In some states, for example Victoria and the Northern Territory,
a person is not breaking the law if he or she is under 18 and drinks alcohol while having a meal on licenced premises with a parent, guardian, husband or wife.
Since laws tend to differ depending on where in Australia a person lives, it is best to contact a legal organisation to find out the laws that apply to their State or Territory.
Alcohol consumption is legal for those aged 18 and over.
However, there are laws governing how alcohol may be used:
- Hotels must not serve alcohol to people they believe are intoxicated, or people under the age of 18. Heavy penalties apply for breaking these laws
- In some areas, local by-laws make it illegal to drink alcohol in public places, such as beaches, parks or streets
- It is illegal to give alcohol to someone younger than 18, unless it is given by a parent, guardian, husband or wife
- It is illegal to buy alcohol for someone who is under 18.
Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is the amount of alcohol in the bloodstream. A BAC of 0.05 means the person has 0.05 grams of alcohol in every 100 millilitres of their blood.
Since the liver metabolises alcohol at around one standard drink per hour, the BAC level drops over time, unless more alcohol is consumed.
BAC is measured with a breathalyser, or by analysing a sample of blood.
The more a person drinks, the higher their BAC. However, two people who drink the same amount might register quite
- Body size
A smaller person will have a higher BAC than a larger person, because the alcohol is concentrated in a smaller body mass.
- Empty stomach
A person with an empty stomach will reach a higher BAC than someone who has just eaten a meal. Food in the stomach slows down the rate at which alcohol passes into the bloodstream.
- Body fat
People with a lot of body fat tend to have a higher BAC. Alcohol is not absorbed into fatty tissue, so the alcohol is concentrated in a smaller body mass.
After consuming the same amount of alcohol, a woman will almost always have a higher BAC than a man. Because of all these variable factors, even counting the number of standard drinks a person consumes can only give a rough guide to his or her BAC.
Research has shown that alcohol affects women differently from men.
If a man and a woman drink exactly the same amount of alcohol, the woman will almost always have a higher blood alcohol
concentration (BAC). A woman’s body contains more fatty tissue and less water than a man’s body and women are often smaller than men. As a result, the alcohol will be more concentrated in
a woman’s body, producing a higher BAC.
Women may develop liver damage and other health problems with lower levels of alcohol consumption than men.
Women who drink alcohol are more likely to develop breast cancer and have gynaecological problems than women who don’t drink.
For these reasons, health authorities recommend that women should drink less than men.
If a person is going to drive, it is safest if he or she does NOT DRINK at all.
Alcohol is involved in about one-third of all serious motor vehicle accidents.
If you are on your L’s or your P’s, or if you are under 25 and you have held a licence for less than 3 years (not including your L’s), the zero blood alcohol limit applies to you. This means that you must have no alcohol at all in your blood while you are driving a car or riding a motorcycle on a public street or in a public place. If you break this law, your licence could automatically be cancelled for a certain period, and you could also be fined or even imprisoned.
The 0.05 blood alcohol limit applies to most other drivers and riders. Different penalties apply depending on how much over the limit you are, and whether it is your first drink driving offence or not. Your licence could automatically be cancelled, and you could also be fined or imprisoned.
Some offences are known as “immediate suspension offences”. If you are charged with an immediate suspension offence, you will have to hand your licence over to the police on the spot, and you will be disqualified from driving until a court decides whether you are guilty or not.
In order to stay below 0.05 BAC, drivers are advised to limit their drinking to:
No more than two standard drinks in the first hour and no more than one standard drink every hour after that.
No more than one standard drink in the first hour and no more than one every hour after that.
These conservative estimates are designed to minimise the risk of exceeding the legal limit to drive. Because everyone is different, some people would need to drink less to maintain a BAC level below the legal limit. This guide is based on advice from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.
A person should not drive if there is any doubt about his or her BAC. He or she should make alternative arrangements: call a taxi, get a lift with someone who has not been drinking,
or stay overnight.
We know that drinking too much alcohol can cause problems, but how much is too much?
The following guidelines are based on the National Health and Medical Research Council guidelines, which provide average acceptable levels of drinking over time and levels for occasional ‘heavy’ drinking days.
Drinking alcohol should be spread over several hours. Men, for example, should not consume more than two standard drinks in the first hour, and no more than one standard drink per hour thereafter. Women should not consume more than one standard drink per hour.
An average of no more than 4 standard drinks a day, and no more than 28 standard drinks over a week Not more than 6 standard drinks during any one occasional heavy drinking day One or two alcohol-free days per week
An average of no more than 2 standard drinks a day, and no more than 14 standard drinks over a week Not more than 4 standard drinks during any one occasional heavy drinking day One or two alcohol-free days per week
These guidelines assume that the person drinking alcohol:
- Is not on medication
- Is not pregnant
- Will not be driving
- Will not be operating machinery.
The above drinking levels may also be too high for men who weigh less than 60 kilograms and for women who weigh less than 50 kilograms.
A lower amount of alcohol is recommended for women because alcohol tends to have a greater effect on women for the following reasons:
- Women tend to have a smaller bodies than men, so alcohol is distributed over a smaller volume. Women also tend to have more body fat than men, and alcohol is not taken up by body fat
- On average, women have smaller livers than men, and the ability to break down alcohol is limited by the size of the liver
- The level of hormones in a woman’s body can possibly increase the effects of alcohol
- If a woman is taking the contraceptive pill, her body’s ability to break down alcohol may be reduced.
- Start with a non-alcoholic drink: A person will drink much faster if he or she is thirsty. Before a person starts to drink alcohol, it’s a good idea if he or she quenches their thirst with a non-alcoholic drink.
- Use standard drinks: A person should monitor how much alcohol he or she drinks. By converting the amount they are consuming into standard drinks, it is easier to keep track.
- Drink slowly: Take sips and not gulps. Put the glass down between sips.
- Eat before or while drinking: Eating slows a person’s drinking pace and fills him or her up. If someone has a full stomach, alcohol will be absorbed more slowly.
- Avoid salty snacks: Salty food like chips or nuts make a person thirsty, so he or she drinks more.
- Avoid ‘shouts’: Don’t get involved in ‘shouts’, or rounds. A person should drink at his or her own pace – not someone else’s. If someone does get stuck in a shout, they should buy a non-alcoholic drink for themselves when it’s their turn. One drink at a time: Don’t let people top up the drinks. It is then harder to keep track of how much alcohol is drunk.
- Pace the drinking: Try having a ‘spacer’, a non-alcoholic drink every second or third drink.
- Stay busy: If a person has something to do, he or she tends to drink less. Play pool or dance – don’t just sit and drink.
- Try the low-alcohol alternative: A wide range of light beers are available. Low-alcohol or non-alcoholic wines are also becoming more available. Most places that serve cocktails also serve non-alcoholic versions.
- Have alcohol-free days: People should have at least two days a week when they don’t drink at all.
- Keep a diary: If a person writes down how much he or she drinks each day, it will make them more aware of how much they drink.
- Be assertive: A person should not be pressured into drinking more than he or she wants or intends to. They can tell their friends ‘thanks, but no thanks’.
Alcohol can be an enjoyable part of life. However, as with all drugs, excessive drinking causes problems.