Healthy living

What Aboriginal women need to know about alcohol

Strong Spirit, Strong Mind

Our inner spirit is the centre of our being and emotions.

When our spirit feels strong, our mind feels strong.

When our spirit feels tangled, our mind feels tangled.

Strong inner spirit is what keeps people healthy and keeps them connected together.

Strong inner spirit keeps our family strong, our community strong and our country alive.

Drawing of a series of people changing colour from green to red. The green people are people who don’t use and use only a bit – they have spirit strong, family strong, country strong. Orange people are people who use a lot - spirit weak, family worried, angry, community worried, country okay. Red people are those who use all of the time - spirit gone, family sad, community sad, country alone.

Guide to what is 1 standard drink: 30 ml nip spirits, 100 ml wine, 375 ml mid strength beer

What is alcohol?

Alcohol is a depressant which affects the way you think, feel and behave.

Alcohol is a very strong drug and it can have toxic effects. Large quantities of alcohol are poisonous but small amounts will not harm most healthy adults.

Beer, wine, spirits, liqueur, port, sherry and homebrew all contain different amounts of alcohol. The more alcohol a drink contains the stronger it will be.

How alcohol works

When you drink alcohol it gets into your bloodstream, it circulates around your body and some goes to your brain.

Alcohol slows down your brain and affects the way it carries messages. It also affects how your brain talks to other parts of your body.

At first you might feel relaxed and happy. At the same time your liver is working really hard to break down the alcohol and clear any toxins out of your body.

A healthy liver can break down about 1 standard drink per hour.

If you are drinking faster than your body can get rid of the alcohol, you will get increasingly drunk, and the alcohol may begin to cause some damage.

How harmful alcohol use can affect your body

Aboriginal female body featuring individual body parts including a detailed reproductive system featuring baby in womb – long description available 

Some of these problems will improve if the person cuts down or stops drinking, but sometimes not all problems will go away. That is why it is really important to take it easy and not drink more than the recommended levels.

Illustration of pregnant Aboriginal woman drinking alcoholAlcohol and pregnancy

Do not drink alcohol if you are pregnant or planning to have a baby as it may cause permanent damage to your unborn baby.

Do not drink alcohol if you are breastfeeding, as it can go into your milk and affect your baby.

Alcohol drinking guidelines

If you are taking medications, or have physical or mental health conditions then you should check with your doctor to see whether it is safe for you to drink alcohol.

For young people under the age of 18, not drinking alcohol is the safest choice

Some risks of drinking alcohol come from alcohol-related injuries such as road trauma, violence, falls, and other accidents.

To reduce these risks, if you are a healthy woman you should not have more than 4 standard drinks on any single occasion.

Other health risks from drinking alcohol build up over your lifetime. This means the more you drink the greater your risk. To reduce your risk of alcohol-related disease or injury over your lifetime you should not drink more than 2 standard drinks on any day.

You should not drink alcohol when you are:

  • alone
  • planning to drive
  • operating machinery
  • doing things like hunting and gathering, fishing or boating
  • going bush.

Alcohol will affect your judgement and your performance, and you may put yourself and other people at risk.

What is harmful drinking?

Harmful drinking is when you have more than the recommended daily amount.

Harmful drinking can damage your health and can lead to alcohol poisoning. Harmful drinking is dangerous because you are more likely to get drunk or intoxicated.

When you are drunk or intoxicated you are more likely to say things you would not normally say and do things that you would not normally do.

Illustration of Aboriginal woman head in handsToo much alcohol can affect your mind and make you really down or blue.

It can affect your judgement and make you aggressive. You are more likely to do things like pick fights, have unsafe sex, drive drunk and break Aboriginal and Whiteman’s laws.

When you are drunk you are more likely to be involved in family violence, accidents and sexual assault.

When you are drunk you cannot look after yourself, your family, or your children properly, and you might neglect them or put them at risk.

You might drink to forget about your problems and everyday responsibilities but they will still be there the next day, and harmful drinking can make it much harder to cope.

Getting some help and information

Illustration of Aboriginal woman and health workerIf you are thinking about reducing your alcohol use maybe you would like some information and support.

If you are worried about somebody and how their alcohol use is affecting you and your family, perhaps you would like some help.

Sometimes people don’t get help because they feel shame talking about how alcohol is affecting them and their families.

Aboriginal alcohol and drug workers and other health professionals are there to help you. They will not put you down. They will listen and help you work out what you want to do.

Illustration of Aboriginal people playing footballThey can show you ways to reduce harm, cut down or stop using. They can help you access medical support, rehabilitation services, counselling and support.

It may not be easy reducing your alcohol use but your friends, family, and other people in your community can support you to make changes.

Where to get help

Alcohol and Drug Support Service

The Alcohol and Drug Support Service operates four 24 hour, statewide telephone support lines providing confidential counselling, information, advice and referral:

  • Alcohol and Drug Support Line
  • Meth Helpline
  • Parent and Family Drug Support Line

Contact can be made by phone, email or online Live Chat.

View the phone numbers and email addresses on the Mental Health Commission (external site)

Live Chat can be accessed at Alcohol. Think Again (external site) or Drug Aware (external site) or Mental Health Commission (external site).

Women and Newborn Drug and Alcohol Service

The Women and Newborn Drug and Alcohol Service (WANDAS) is a specialist team based at King Edward Memorial Hospital that cares for pregnant women experiencing drug and alcohol issues.

WANDAS will help you and your baby become and stay as healthy as possible during your pregnancy.

  • Phone: 9340 1582 or 0414 892 753


  • Alcohol weakens your inner spirit.
  • Alcohol is a depressant which seriously affects the way you think, feel and behave.
  • If you drink when you are pregnant, it can harm your unborn baby.
  • If you drink when you are breastfeeding, the alcohol can go into your milk and affect your baby.

Illustration design acknowledgements

Artist: Barry McGuire (Mullark)
Illustrations: Patrick Bayly Workspace Design
The Aboriginal Inner Spirit Model was developed by Joseph ‘Nipper ’Roe, who belonged to the Karajarri and Yawuru people.


Mental Health Commission

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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