Alcohol drinking recommendations

The Health Promotion Agency (HPA) recommends that to reduce the long-term health risks of drinking alcohol:

  • For women: 2 standard drinks a day and no more than 10 standard drinks a week
  • For men: 3 standard drinks a day and no more than 15 standard drinks a week

and at least 2 alcohol-free days every week.

On occasions when the daily limit might be exceeded, HPA recommends reducing your risk of injury:

  • For women: 4 standard drinks on any single occasion
  • For men: 5 standard drinks on any single occasion

* All these recommendations are intended for those 18 years old and over

What is a ‘standard drink’?
A standard drink contains 10g of alcohol. A common serve or pour of an alcoholic beverage is often more than a standard drink. Find out more about standard drinks. 

People who should avoid alcohol

Pregnant women and women planning to become pregnant should avoid alcohol as there is no known safe level of alcohol use at any stage of pregnancy.  As alcohol can pass through breast milk, it’s safest for women who are breastfeeding to avoid alcohol. However, if you are breastfeeding it is OK to have a drink, but it is important to plan ahead, that is, either express some breastmilk before or wait for sometime after a drink to breastfeed. The time you have to wait will depend on a few factors, visit Plunket’s page on breastfeeding and alcohol for more info.

People taking certain medications – alcohol can interfere with the action of many common medications, including antibiotics, antidepressants, antihistamines, beta-blockers, pain relievers, and sleeping tablets.  Read the label on all medications and if in doubt check with your pharmacist or doctor before consuming alcohol.

Nutrition & alcohol

We often forget alcoholic drinks also contain kilojoules (calories), which is important for those trying to control their weight. Alcoholic drinks contain 29kJ (7 cal) per gram, which is almost as much as fat at 37kJ (9 cal) per gram. Our bodies can’t store alcohol, so the liver breaks most of it down for the body to use for energy. Energy from alcohol is used first, which means any extra energy from food or drink that our bodies don’t use is stored as fat.

Lower-carb or lower-sugar alcoholic drinks have become popular recently, and while you will be getting fewer kilojoules due to the fewer carbohydrates, the alcohol itself would provide you with a substantial amount of kilojoules.

Reduce the number of kilojoules from alcoholic drinks (even lower-carb/sugar varieties) by having less each week and replacing them with water or diet drinks. Fizzy drinks and fruit juices have about the same number of kilojoules as alcohol.

Alcohol also stimulates the appetite, so you may feel like eating more when having a wine with a meal, rather than a non-alcoholic drink.

Alcohol is a cause of more than 60 different health conditions and, for almost all conditions, heavier alcohol use means a higher risk of disease or injury. Long term heavy alcohol consumption is linked to a variety of health conditions including damage to the liver and brain, heart disease, and some cancers.

Tips for low-risk drinking

  • Know what a standard drink is.
  • Set limits for yourself and stick to them.
  • Eat food before or when drinking.
  • Switch between non-alcoholic drinks and alcoholic drinks e.g. have water after each alcoholic drink.
  • Include some alcohol-free days each week.

Visit for more information and resources about alcohol in New Zealand.


te hiringa hauora Health Promotion Agency (2018).

Last reviewed: 20/06/2022

Last modified: August 16, 2023