Experts Recommend Two Drink-Free Days a Week

Medical Practitioners (MPs) from Great Britain’s Science and Technology Committee are calling for a reevaluation of the government’s guidelines for safe drinking. On Monday, the Committee released a new report recommending adults to refrain from drinking at least two days per week in order to prevent unhealthy lifestyles and risks.

Although public awareness of alcoholism and other alcohol-related problems has improved, the Committee wants the UK Health Departments to clarify the alcohol guidelines to help the public better understand what is considered sensible drinking in a more up-to-date context, such as realizing the number of units in today’s alcoholic beverages like a glass of wine, pint of beer, or shot of liquor. While the MPs do not believe that the existing standards for alcohol units need revision, their studies’ evidence suggests a need to increase the public’s confidence and usage of the UK “sensible drinking” guidelines. The Committee hopes that, if made more prominent to the public, the updated guidelines will help deter the country’s level of excessive and problematic drinking.

The UK Health Departments first introduced to the public the concept of “sensible drinking” in 1981, then the idea of “sensible limits” in 1987. Also backed by the medical Royal Colleges, the Health Departments’ definition of sensible limits became 14 units of alcohol for women, and 21 units for men per week. By the mid-1990s when scientific evidence surfaced suggesting that alcohol consumption may be linked to a reduction in risk for coronary heart disease, the UK Health Department again reevaluated the guidelines, updating the “sensible limits” within a daily rather than weekly format. In its report “Sensible Drinking” released in 1995, the then-revised guidelines suggested that women should consume no more than two to three units per day, and men no more than three to four units on a regular basis.

However, the MPs were concerned that the message for safe drinking was not being communicated effectively to the public due to the existing guideline’s language, particularly the seemingly encouraging message that alcohol can be consumed daily by any adult. Furthermore, the Committee did not find a consensus among health experts regarding the health benefits of alcohol, and that the daily guidelines which are intended for the whole adult population is misleading since the preventive quality of alcohol consumption is only relevant to men over the age of 40 and post-menopausal women.

In addition to clarifying the language, the Committee believes that the guidelines should include a recommendation to refrain from drinking some days of the week in order to prevent the risks involved with various drinking patterns and to avoid hazardous situations from operating machinery while intoxicated. For example, the Committee proposes that the guidelines should emphasize the immediate risks associated with heavy drinking sessions along with the chronic risks associated with long-term drinking habits. The Committee hopes the reformed guidelines will help the general public, the government, the alcoholic beverage industries, and anti-alcohol groups to become accustomed to following these ‘sensible’ guidelines.

The MPs have suggested that the Health Departments should evaluate the same evidence used for its study to conclude whether the proposed revisions to the guidelines should be made, such as updating the guideline’s language, the inclusion of evidence regarding the risks and benefits of alcohol to health, and drinking’s impact on various drinking behaviors. To ensure a consensus regarding the guidelines, the Committee recommends the Health Departments to create a newly formed “expert group” containing independent scientific and medical experts of various fields and civil servants to conduct such a review.

Currently, the UK government is negotiating with the alcohol industry to guarantee that at least 80% of all alcoholic products for sale will contain labels with the product’s alcoholic unit content alongside the Health Departments’ guidelines. The new label initiative is set to be reached by December 2013, but the Committee is encouraging the government to finalize the initiative by the end of 2012.