You probably know that the UK government’s drinking guidelines were revised and reissued in January 2016. We will have quite a lot to say about these in future blogs but first the facts.
The guidelines are actually drawn up not by the Government but by its four Chief Medical Officers, representing the four countries in the UK. The CMO for Her Majesty’s Government is currently Professor Dame Sally Davies.
In December 2015, the Department of Health issued a document entitles ‘UK Chief Medical Officers’ Alcohol Guidelines Review – Summary of the proposed new guidelines.’ It states:
On regular drinking
New weekly guideline [this applies for people who drink regularly or frequently i.e. most weeks].
The Chief Medical Officers’ guideline for both men and women is that:
• You are safest not to drink regularly more than 14 units per week, to keep health risks from drinking alcohol to a low level.
• If you do drink as much as 14 units per week, it is best to spread this evenly over 3 days or more. If you have one or two heavy drinking sessions, you increase your risks of death from long term illnesses and from accidents and injuries.
• The risk of developing a range of illnesses (including, for example, cancers of the mouth, throat and breast) increases with any amount you drink on a regular basis.
• If you wish to cut down the amount you’re drinking, a good way to help achieve this is to have several drink-free days each week.
On single drinking episodes [this applies for drinking on any single occasion, not regular drinking, which is covered by the weekly guideline].
The Chief Medical Officers advise men and women who wish to keep their short term health risks from a single drinking occasion to a low level that they can reduce these risks by:
• limiting the total amount of alcohol you drink on any occasion;
• drinking more slowly, drinking with food, and alternating with water;
• avoiding risky places and activities, making sure you have people you know around, and ensuring you can get home safely. The sorts of things that are more likely to happen if you don’t judge the risks from how you drink correctly can include: accidents resulting in injury (causing death in some cases), misjudging risky situations, and losing self-control. These risks can arise for people drinking within the weekly guidelines for regular drinking, if they drink too much or too quickly on a single occasion; and for people who drink at higher levels, whether regularly or infrequently. Some groups of people are likely to be affected more by alcohol and should be more careful of their level of drinking on any one occasion:
• young adults
• older people
• those with low body weight
• those with other health problems
• those on medicines or other drugs
As well as the risk of accident and injury, drinking alcohol regularly is linked to long term risks such as heart disease, cancer, liver disease, and epilepsy.
On pregnancy and drinking
The Chief Medical Officers’ guideline is that:
• If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all, to keep risks to your baby to a minimum.
• Drinking in pregnancy can lead to long-term harm to the baby, with the more you drink the greater the risk. Most women either do not drink alcohol (19%) or stop drinking during pregnancy (40%). The risk of harm to the baby is likely to be low if a woman has drunk only small amounts of alcohol before she knew she was pregnant or during pregnancy. Women who find out they are pregnant after already having drunk during early pregnancy, should avoid further drinking, but should be aware that it is unlikely in most cases that their baby has been affected. If you are worried about how much you have been drinking when pregnant, talk to your doctor or midwife.
The complete document is available online at