As the season of excess gathers pace, here’s a sobering thought. Many Australians are about to face the uncomfortable reality that their drinking habits are putting both themselves and others at risk.

You’d have to be suffering from alcohol-related brain damage to avoid getting this message from proposed new Australian alcohol guidelines for low-risk drinking, which were released for public comment in October.

They take a tougher stance than the previous guidelines, and stress the risks of drinking to young people and other vulnerable groups, including the elderly, people with mental health problems and pregnant or breast-feeding women.

Experts on the National Health and Medical Research Council committee charged with developing the guidelines are due to meet in Canberra tomorrow to consider more than 100 submissions commenting on their draft.

While some experts worry that the tougher line of the proposed new guidelines will be difficult to implement and “sell” to the public, others believe they do not go far enough.

The Cancer Council Australia’s submission is understood to argue that the guidelines should recommend a limit of one standard drink per day for women (the proposal currently is for two standard drinks per day to be considered low-risk drinking for both women and men).

The cancer group also wants the guidelines to identify alcohol as a carcinogen, and to suggest that cancer patients and those at increased risk of alcohol-related cancers (such as breast, oral, liver and colon cancers) consider abstinence. The Cancer Council is concerned that the general public does not fully appreciate the link between alcohol consumption and cancer.

Dr Tanya Chikritzhs, a Senior Research Fellow and Statistical Advisor at the National Drug Research Institute, based at Curtin University of Technology in Perth, is backing the push to bump up the focus on cancer in the guidelines.

“For instance if you have had breast cancer and a family history of breast cancer, you might consider being abstinent after treatment for a whole range of reasons,” she says.

Regardless of whether such suggestions are accepted, there seems little doubt that the new guidelines will push the issue of alcohol-related harm higher up the agenda of policy makers and general public.

Professor Jon Currie, the Melbourne physician chairing the review, told Crikey that he hopes the new guidelines will be finalised early next year, as the Federal Government is planing a major public awareness campaign for March or April.

A pity it will come too late for the silly season binge.

Declaration: Melissa Sweet contributed to the latest VicHealth Newsletter, which examines alcohol-related harm.