New alcohol guidelines explained

The government’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) changed the guidelines on drinking last week. This led to a lot of media coverage, but the message from the CMO was quite simple: we now have more evidence on the harms from drinking alcohol and we now need to change the guidelines to reduce the risk.

The new evidence comes from a better understanding of the relationship between alcohol and cancer – as well as the long-term harms from regular drinking.

Drinking just one drink a day raises the risk of breast cancer by 16%. The risk is raised by 40% if drinking more than 2 drinks a day. So the CMO has said there is a ‘Lower risk’ if you stick to the guidelines.

Of course, the safest way to avoid the risk completely is not to drink at all. The guidelines simply advise on keeping the risk low.

The simplified 14 units maximum for men and women, spread over 3 days or more help push one clear message to everyone – drinking above 14 units per week starts to increase the risk of heart disease, cancer and liver disease. In addition, your 14 units should be spread out, so you can’t store them up.

To get an idea of how to spread your 14 units out over 3 days, you could drink 2 pints of 4% lager, or 2 medium glasses of 13% wine (4.6 units each) on a Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and you’d be within the guidelines.

A simple way to express this would be to stick to 2-3 drinks 2-3 times per week, but stick to 4 or 5 units on any one occasion, so you don't exceed 14 units per week.

Drinking over 5-7 units on one occasion increases the risk of injury and accidents two to five-fold.

The guidelines also advise that it's a good idea to have several days a week where you don't drink, especially if you’ve overdone it the night before.

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Posted by Don Shenker on 15th January 2016