After raising millions in duty and VAT on booze over Christmas and New Year the government has decided that now is the time to teach us to drink responsibly. 

As students return to college parliament’s science and technology committee lectures that we should have two alcohol-free days a week, avoid binging and drink no more than three or four alcoholic units a day.  In plain English that's just two pints of 4% lager, or two bottles of WKD.

Since 1995 (see table below) the weekly recommended alcohol limit has been 21 units for men and 14 for women. That maximum, of a large glass of wine a day for women, or two pints of strong beer for men, remains unchanged; so why do we need the committees report.  The reason, it seems, is because alcohol pushers in pubs, clubs and supermarkets across Britain are peddling an ever increasing range of alcoholic fixes and because many these are badly packaged people don’t really know what they are drinking.

The Office of National Statistics say that while 90% of people have heard of alcoholic units only a third knew how many units a glass of wine is and fewer still (13%) kept a note of what they drank in a week.  

The committee's report suggests that more work needs to be done to help people understand alcoholic unit guides better and says that: “There are sufficient concerns about the current drinking guidelines to suggest that a thorough review of the evidence concerning alcohol and health risks is due."

Charities helping with the victims of alcohol abuse welcome the report and hope that the new approach will eventually lead to more responsible drinking across the UK and, by providing more up-to-date information for the public through better labelling of alcoholic drinks, increase awareness at the point-of-sale.   

Chief executive of Alcohol Concern, Eric Appleby said: "Accessible and reliable public information on alcohol harm is an essential element in tackling Britain's problem with alcohol misuse. However, the government must accept that information alone is insufficient. "With the new alcohol strategy currently being developed, the government has the opportunity to confront alcohol harm on several fronts, including minimum price control and the empowerment of communities to control local licensing."

The health risks associated with drinking is well known, an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and liver failure, but in recent years these life threatening conditions are affecting growing number younger adults.  Liver cirrhosis, associated with drinking in the teenage years, has risen among young adults in the last 10 years with heavy drinking in adolescence impacting on affecting normal development of the endocrine system and the brain.   In short, heavier drinking makes it more difficult for your body to fight infection and reduces mental ability.

Committee Chairman Andrew Miller M.P. said: "Unfortunately, public understanding of how to use the guidelines and what an alcohol unit looks like is poor, although improving.”  

Andrew Miller also said that he would urge the UK health departments to re-evaluate the guidelines for the current recommended units of alcohol consumed and suggested that “people should be advised to take at least two drink-free days a week."


 Are you drinking too much?  Try the calculator and see Wink 

More about alcohol and young people Free factsheet

What's the liver does:  Watch this video animation