United Kingdom: Binge-drinkers ignore ‘unrealistic’ alcohol guidelines: 30-year-old official limits are deemed ‘irrelevant’ by Britons who drink to excess at weekends
Many Brits work hard all week and binge drink at weekends, says report
Drinkers find limits impractical and don’t even understand a unit of alcohol
Experts who drew up limits in 1987 admit they were ‘plucked out of the air’
Study comes as NHS prepares to review recommended safe drinking levels
Source: Daily Mail
By Ben Spencer
4 August 2015
Official alcohol guidelines are ignored by a generation of binge-drinkers because they are seen as unrealistic, experts warn today.
Many Britons work hard all week and then drink to excess at the weekend, making the 30-year-old ‘unit’ limits for safe levels of ‘regular drinking’ irrelevant, a landmark study claims.
Most drinkers do not even understand what a unit of alcohol is, and those who do regard the recommended maximum as impractical, the damning report says.
The analysis, by scientists at the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, comes as the NHS prepares to review its recommended safe drinking levels.
The guidelines say men should drink no more than three to four units a day, equal to a pint of strong lager, and women should stop at two to three units, or one large glass of wine. But even the experts who drew them up in 1987 admit the limits were ‘plucked out of the air’.
Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Government’s chief medical officer, is expected to update the guidelines this year.
THE YOUNG PROFESSIONALS ADDICTED TO ALCOHOL: A FIFTH OF WORKERS NOW BELIEVE THEY HAVE A DRINKING PROBLEM
Many of us enjoy a chilled glass of wine or a cold beer after a hard day at work.
But while the majority of people believe their drinking habits are under control, one in five young professionals now considers themselves to have a problem with alcohol, a survey found.
A new poll laying bare the public’s attitudes to drinking found nearly half of young workers think it is acceptable to regularly get drunk on a night out, compared to a fifth of the general population.
It also revealed the risky effects of drinking, as young people admitted to forgetting how they got home, driving themselves home drunk or getting in a car with someone they knew was intoxicated.
But a report published today in the medical journal Addiction says a complete overhaul is needed, and suggests two sets of guidelines, following models used in Canada and Australia.
These have a total weekly limit, but also suggest the maximum that can be consumed safely in a single sitting.
The report’s authors, from the universities of Sheffield and Stirling, called for more flexible and realistic guidance recognising that people may want to drink more in a single sitting than just one or two drinks.
They added: ‘The guidelines were seen as irrelevant by drinkers whose drinking patterns comprised heavy weekend drinking. The guidelines were seen as unrealistic for those motivated to drink for intoxication, and participants measured alcohol intake in numbers of drinks or containers rather than units.’
The team interviewed 66 drinkers of all ages and social groups across England and Scotland, and found most people knew the guidelines existed, but saw them as being unrelated to their own drinking.
Study author Dr John Holmes, of Sheffield University’s Alcohol Research Group, said: ‘The guidelines are a poor fit.
‘You have to have some kind of guideline that recognises that if you are drinking infrequently, you might want to drink higher amounts.
‘They might say don’t drink more than 20 units a week, but on any single day, don’t drink more than eight units or ten units or something like that.’
BINGE DRINKING AS A TEENAGER CAN DAMAGE THE BRAIN FOR LIFE
Binge drinking as a teenager causes long-lasting changes to the regions of the brain that control learning and memory. A new study has shown that alcohol exposure during adolescence, before the brain is fully developed, can result in abnormalities that have enduring, detrimental effects on a person’s behaviour.
And scientists warn alcohol could also slow down emotional maturity. Dr Mary-Louise Risher, at Duke University, said: ‘In the eyes of the law, once people reach the age of 18, they are considered adult.
‘But the brain continues to mature and refine all the way into the mid 20s. ‘It’s important for young people to know that when they drink heavily during this period of development, there could be changes occurring that have a lasting impact on memory and other cognitive functions.’
He said that although most people ignore the official guidelines, they do monitor their drinking using a personal system – often because they want to avoid a hangover, rather than a fear of health consequences.
Alcohol units had failed to help people moderate their drinking, Dr Holmes said, adding: ‘We have had ten or 20 years of trying to educate people about units. Perhaps the units aren’t the best way to go.
‘If the guidelines turned out to be, say, 20 units a week, maybe the right way to communicate it is to say it is roughly ten pints of beer or two bottles of wine.’
Elaine Hindal, from the charity Drinkaware, said: ‘It’s not that most people don’t know the guidelines, it’s that they don’t know how to apply them to the drink in front of them.’
But Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, of the Alcohol Health Alliance, warned the Government not to ease the limits, adding: ‘Given the heavy drinking culture in this country, it is perhaps not surprising that many in this study did not engage well with public-health messages about the risks of alcohol.
‘We can’t water down the evidence about the harm to our society from alcohol just because it is unpalatable for individuals to hear it, but we can make the messages more relevant to different ages, patterns of drinking and life experiences.’
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