New guidelines help to simplify alcohol message

For all the media attention on the new alcohol guidelines, released last week, one aspect not always touched on was how the previous guidelines potentially ‘allowed’ drinkers to drink excessively during the week.

This was due to the message to not ‘regularly exceed the daily guidelines’; meaning you could exceed them less regularly.

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.

There are still one or two missing pieces of the puzzle however – the first is the amount that is safest to drink on one occasion. 14 units spread over 3 days comes to 4.6 units - or 2 pints of 4% lager, or 2 medium glasses of 13% wine.

However, it’s not clear if 5 units is the maximum amount recommended per day, as Department of Health and Public Health England are still consulting on whether there should be a limit to daily drinking.

In my view, it would be helpful to have a maximum daily limit – and 2-3 drinks maximum (5-6 units) seems reasonable and would chime with the ubiquitous ‘I have a couple of drinks’ claim.

According to the report to the CMO from the expert health group, drinking over 5-7 units on one occasion increases the risk of injury and accidents 2-5-fold.

The other piece missing is any advice about number of days each week to not drink. At the moment, the advice from the new guidelines is: “If you want to cut down how much you’re drinking, a good way to help achieve this is to have several drink-free days each week” – however, this is different to saying: “It is recommended, that if you do drink, you have 2-3 days each week where you don’t drink”.

The guidelines at the moment seem to recommend drink free days if you want to cut down, whereas I would argue we need to encourage drink free days as a matter of course.

The consultation on the guidelines runs until the 1st April. Let’s hope the message becomes even clearer over the next few weeks.

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Posted by Don Shenker on 14th January 2016