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What do the new alcohol guidelines mean for you?

The recent changes to the guidelines on drinking have already caused quite a controversy

On 08.01.2016 the UK’s Chief Medical Officer issued revised new guidelines to reduce the risk of health harm from alcohol consumption.  Men and women are advised not to drink regularly more than 14 units of alcohol a week.  It seems likely that a great  many  responsible  drinkers  consume more,  therefore this guidance  can  cause anxiety  or could  be  dismissed as not credible.

It is a complicated picture but the advice is based on extensive research.  It showed that the overall risk of death decreases slightly in individuals who drink up to 7 units per week, spread out over 3 or more days but that The risk of death increases thereafter.

However, it’s important to understand what this means if we are to make informed choices.  The risk of death increases by less than 1 percent in individuals who drink up to 14 units a week.  The risk increases to over 1 percent in women who drink up to 28 units a week and in men who drink up to 35 units a week.  These figures include death due to accidents.

The risk increase for specific illnesses is also given in percent.  For example, if there is a baseline risk of 1 percent in the general population, a 30 percent risk increase for that illness due to alcohol increases the risk for an individual to 1.3 percent. So it’s important to understand what the underlying risk is to understand the significance of the alcohol effect.

The new guidelines have been developed to inform the public about the known health risks of different levels and patterns of drinking, particularly for people who want to know how to keep long term health risks from regular drinking of alcohol low.  The guidelines do not provide information on ability to work safely; this issue needs to be addressed by a robust alcohol policy and if necessary, specialist occupational health advice.  They also do not take into account indirect health benefits through enjoyment and social interaction into account.

To summarise matters, the guidelines provide you with information to enable you to make informed choices. The more you know about what the guidelines mean and the better you understand risk, the better will be your choices.

Dr C Holland – 6th April 2016