UK lowers alcohol consumption limits

The UK NHS has revised downwards its guidance for men on drinking alcohol to help keep health risks to a low level.

New guidance issued by Dame Sc, Chief Medical Officer for England and drawn up by the four Chief Medical Officers in the UK, replaces the original guidelines published in 1995 and the new ones suggest that both men and women should not consume more than 14 units per week where this figure had been 21 units for men and 14 for women previously.

The expert group that produced the guidelines looked at the body of new evidence about the potential harms of alcohol that has emerged since the previous guidelines were published in 1995.

According to Sally Davies, 14 units is equivalent to a bottle-and-a-half of wine or five pints of export-type lager (5% ABV) over the course of a week.

The guidance also advises that it’s best to spread these 14 units evenly over three days or more and advises against binge-drinking. It suggests that a good way to cut down on alcohol intake is to have several alcohol-free days each week.

The revision of the original guidelines has come about, states the NHS, because there are a number of factors that have come to light since 1995 or were thought important by the expert group, so they needed to be highlighted to the public.

These include:


  • The benefits of moderate drinking for heart health are not as strong as previously thought and apply to a smaller proportion of the population – specifically women over the age of 55. In addition there are more effective methods of increasing your hearth health, such as exercise
  • The risks of cancers associated with drinking alcohol were not fully understood in 1995. Taking these risks on board, the NHS can no longer say that there’s such a thing as a “safe” level of drinking. There’s only a “low risk” level of drinking. As a result, it now provides information on ‘low risk’ drinking as opposed to ‘safe’ or ‘sensible drinking’.
  • The previous guidelines did not address the short-term risks of drinking, especially heavy drinking (such as accidental head injury and fractures)
  • In pregnancy the expert group thought a precautionary approach was best and it should be made clear to the public that it is safest to avoid drinking in pregnancy.


“What we’re aiming to do with these guidelines is give the public the latest and most up-to-date scientific information so that they can make informed decisions about their own drinking and the level of risk they’re prepared to take,” explained Dame Sally Davies.

The proposed guidance came into effect on January 8th and consultation is due to finish by April 1st. This seeks the public’s view on how helpful and easy to use the new advice is, not the scientific basis for it.




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