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Enjoying a gin and tonic, wine or beer when relaxing or celebrating is part of our culture. Indeed, imagine a steak without red wine or a pie at the rugby without beer! But for alcohol to be beneficial to our health and lifestyle, rather than harmful, moderation is the key.  Too much alcohol damages the liver and brain, and increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and some cancers.

How much alcohol is enough?

The Alcohol Advisory Council of New Zealand (ALAC) recommends no more than 15 standard drinks of alcohol per week for men or 10 standard drinks for women*.  This means a daily limit of 3 standard drinks for men, and 2 standard drinks for women*.

On occasions when the daily limit might be exceeded, ALAC’s ‘per session’ recommendations are no more than 5 standard drinks for men and 4 for women*.  These ‘per session’ limits are particularly important as binge drinking is one of the most dangerous ways to drink.  They also recommend two or more ‘alcohol-free’ days a week, to give your liver a chance to recover from the direct effect of alcohol.

What is a ‘standard drink’?
One standard drink = 10g of alcohol.
Examples: 100ml glass of wine, 330ml can of beer and 30ml measure of spirits

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

Who needs less and why?

People watching their weight - 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. Alcohol also stimulates the appetite, so you maybe tempted to eat more when having a wine with a meal, rather than water, for example.

Pregnant women 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, women who are breastfeeding should also avoid alcohol, especially during the first month. Those planning a pregnancy are advised to limit alcohol to a maximum of 7 standard drinks a week if drinking at all, with a daily limit of two drinks.  This may be particularly useful to those struggling to become pregnant.

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 any doubt about whether or not to drink alcohol while taking them, check with your pharmacist or doctor.

Health benefits of alcohol

Moderate drinking, of red wine in particular, has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease from middle-age onwards.  These benefits were thought to be due to polyphenols and antioxidants, but it is now thought the alcohol itself is beneficial, so common to all drinks, not just red wine.  Any health benefits only come from a consistent drinking pattern though.  ‘Little and often’, within the recommended amounts, is preferable to binge drinking, which increases risk.  Drinking alcohol does not reduce cancer risk.  The risk of some cancers, such as mouth, throat and oesophagus, simply increases with a growing number of drinks.

Healthy drinking tips

  • Try to eat something when drinking and avoid drinking on an empty stomach.
  • Have a glass of water as well as something alcoholic.  This helps to slow down your drinking as well as keeping you well hydrated.  Alcohol has a dehydrating effect – one of the main causes of hangover symptoms, particularly the headache.
  • Include some alcohol-free days each week.  It doesn’t matter whether these are together or apart.
  • When trying to lose weight, reduce the number of kilojoules from alcoholic drinks by having less each week; replace with water or diet drinks.  Fizzy drinks and fruit juices have about the same number of kilojoules as alcohol.

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

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