British drinking guidelines suggest that men shouldn’t drink more than three or four units a day, and women no more than two or three. But a new study argues that these recommendations are “unrealistic” and mostly ignored by British people.
Researchers suggest that the guidelines are detached from Britain’s drinking habits. The guidelines ignore the fact that most people don’t drink every day – they binge drink during weekends to get drunk. The guidelines fail to account for typical consumption levels in Britain. And they measure alcohol by units, which most people find confusing as they monitor the amount they dink by pints, glasses and bottles.
For the study, published in the journal Addiction, researchers from the University of Sheffield analyzed how the recommended guidelines are perceived by 19–65-year-olds from varied socioeconomic backgrounds. The findings revealed that the vast majority of participants simply ignored these guidelines.
“These findings not only help to explain why some drinkers disregard current guidelines, but also show that people make decisions about their drinking by considering their responsibilities and lifestyle, rather than just their health,” lead author Melanie Lovatt, from the University of Sheffield, said in a statement.
Participants instead preferred current drinking guidelines used in Australia and Canada. These guidelines provide separate advice for those who drink regularly throughout the week and those who binge drink on one occasion. Australian and Canadian drinking guidelines use standard drinks instead of units. This was seen as more flexible and relevant to their drinking habits.
The amount of alcohol does, however, differ between each guideline. This means: 1 Canadian standard drink is equal to 1.4 Australian standard drinks, which is equal to 1.7 UK units.
“I think when people say units a lot of people are going to go, ‘oh I don’t know about [those] units,’ whereas if you went, ‘oh you can only have five cans a day’ they’d be like, ‘oh okay, five cans,’” a participant told the researcher in the study.
The study also revealed that participants who ended up following particular parts of the guidelines – like not drinking for 48 hours after a binge drinking session – only did so for practical reasons, such as hangovers and having to go into work, and not because they were concerned for their health.
Researchers have sent their findings to the chief medical officers in both England and Scotland, who will consider them for new guidelines that are due to be published next year.
“Both policy makers and health professionals may find the results useful in considering how people interpret current guidelines and any place these guidelines may have in providing information to advise people about alcohol consumption,” coauthor professor Linda Bauld, from the University of Stirling, said in a statement.