Drinkers snubbing ‘unrealistic’ alcohol limits

Drinkers are dismissing government advice on alcohol limits, according to new research. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Drinkers are dismissing government advice on alcohol limits, according to new research. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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DRINKERS are disregarding alcohol guidelines because they say the limits are too removed from their own lifestyle.

Researchers found consumers believe there is a lack of scientific evidence to support health recommendations on drinking.

A paper published this week in The Lancet recommends the government ensure any advice on alcohol consumption is “useful and meaningful to drinkers”.

Researchers from Stirling and Sheffield universities, in association with the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies at the University of Nottingham, interviewed drinkers aged 19 to 64.

Participants were asked about their awareness of current drinking guidelines, their views on the purpose of guidelines, how they interpret and use the guidelines, and other strategies they have for moderating their alcohol consumption.

The study found that many people disregarded the drinking guidelines for two reasons.

Firstly, they said they regarded the guidelines as irrelevant to their existing drinking practices. Second, participants said there was too little information on the scientific evidence behind the guidelines and the consequences of going over the limit.

The study said: “Governments need to ensure that guidance they provide on alcohol consumption is useful and meaningful to drinkers and understand how people use it to inform their behaviour.

“Our findings suggest a disconnect between the drinking guidelines and commonplace drinking practices and a credibility gap that is a barrier to the guidelines’ effective use.”


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Alcohol consumption guidelines for men are 21 units a week and 14 units a week for women.

Dr Evelyn Gillan, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said more needed to be done to educate people about the dangers of too much alcohol.

“It is concerning that participants in this study disregard the limits when evidence shows that regularly exceeding the guidelines puts people at risk of a wide range of physical and mental health problems. Excessive drinking is viewed as normal and acceptable because of the cheap prices and aggressive marketing that encourages us to drink more and more.

“These are the issues we need to address, along with the serious health risks – including high blood pressure, cancer, stroke and liver disease.”

Paul Waterson, chief executive of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, said he was not surprised about the confusion over limits.

“The person who came up with the idea for units openly said they were plucked out of the air. One thing we have to be careful of is that everyone is different – some people are able to consume more alcohol than others.

“There are a lot of misconceptions, with some drinkers thinking they can save up all their units and have them at once.

“Other factors which cause confusion are the size of the wine glass being referred to, or the strength of the wine. The whole idea of units needs to be credible if people are to have any faith in them.”


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