Scots unsure how many alcoholic drinks make up weekly 14-unit safe limit

Drinkers in Scotland remain largely ignorant as to how their weekly drinking adds up according to new research released today.

Scots unsure how many alcoholic drinks make up 14-unit weekly safe guideline
Scots unsure how many alcoholic drinks make up 14-unit weekly safe guideline

Only 15 per cent of beer, lager and cider drinkers were able to correctly identify that six pints equals 14 units, with 16 per cent of wine drinkers knowing 14 units equated to six medium glasses of wine.

Almost a quarter (24 per cent) of those who drink spirits regularly knew seven double measures added up to the recommended maximum unit guideline.

Of those who drink wine, beer, or spirits, many simply answered ‘don’t know’ when asked how many of each drink made up 14 units (17 per cent, 13 per cent and 28 per cent respectively).

The Scottish Government’s Count 14 campaign aims to help people understand how their weekly drinking can put them over the safe limit if they aren't keeping tabs on it.

People who have looked to reduce their alcohol intake in January are being encouraged to Count 14 in February, and beyond, to keep the risks from alcohol low – with the campaign providing an easy guide to what 14 units actually looks like for a range of different alcoholic drinks.

The campaign will also tour supermarkets across Scotland to raise awareness of the national unit guideline.

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Figures released last year highlighted that in 2018, Scots bought enough alcohol for every adult to drink 19 units of alcohol per week, meaning that, on average, every adult in Scotland is drinking 36 per cent more than the lower risk guidelines.

Scotland’s Alcohol Framework 2018: Preventing Harm was launched in November 2018 which set out the Scottish Government’s national prevention aims on alcohol.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Catherine Calderwood said: “The alcohol guidelines are based on the clear evidence that as alcohol use increases, so does the risk of a range of health harms. To keep these risks low it’s recommended that men and women don’t drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis.

“The 14 unit guideline equates to six pints of medium strength beer, lager or cider; six medium glasses of wine or seven double measures of spirits over the course of a week.

“By increasing understanding of what this means in terms of actual alcoholic drinks, our hope is that adults in Scotland are able to make more informed choices.”

Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said: “This research points towards confusion amongst adults as to how the maximum unit guideline applies to their drink of choice.

“Statistics show that as a nation we are continuing to drink more that the lower risk guidelines, so it’s vital we continue to increase understanding of how drinking can add up, and the associated impact exceeding the guidelines on a regular basis can have on health.

“Whilst there is no safe limit when it comes to alcohol, working out what 14 units looks like, and spreading those units over three days or more, can help lower the risk of harm.”

Alison Douglas, chief executive for Alcohol Focus Scotland said, “We welcome the Scottish Government’s Count 14 campaign to raise awareness of the Chief Medical Officers’ (CMOs) low-risk drinking guidelines. General understanding of units is low and people regularly underestimate how much they are drinking. Relating the guidelines to bottles, glasses and pints is helpful and will enable people to make practical and informed choices. It’s also important that people understand why it’s a good idea to follow the guidelines, for example, to keep your risk of cancer, stroke, accidents and mental health problems low.

“In addition to such campaigns we need all products to carry health information. We had expected all drinks to be labelled with the low-risk guidelines from 1 September 2019, as per an agreement between the drinks industry and the UK Government. In fact fewer products now provide this information than several years ago. We can’t rely on the industry to act voluntarily. Alcohol Focus Scotland believes that legislation is required to ensure consumers have access to health information on every bottle and can.”