Department of Health to Update Drinking Guidelines

The Department of Health revealed earlier this month (August 2015) that its chief medical officer is now reviewing the government’s official guidelines for alcohol consumption with the expectation that those guidelines will be revised downward. Current guidelines have been in place since 1995. The government is apparently reviewing accepted drinking standards in light of the fact that Canada and Australia have already made similar revisions.

The UK guidelines currently dictate that a safe level of drinking includes no more than 28 total units of alcohol per week for men and 21 total units for women. For reference purposes, a medium glass of wine or a pint of beer typically constitutes two units of alcohol.

A move by various governments to lower the limits of acceptable drinking is a direct result of multiple lines of research. One line of research suggests that there is no level of safe drinking insofar as cancer risk is concerned. Another line of research suggests that the physical damage done by alcohol consumption occurs whether a person drinks gradually over the course of a week or consumes the entire volume of alcohol in a single binge drinking session.

Where the latter is concerned, one of the more highly publicised experiments was recently broadcast on BBC. The experiment involved two identical twins; one consumed 28 units of alcohol over the course of a week while the other consumed the same amount in a single day. Medical testing revealed the twins both showed signs of ill health related to their alcohol consumption. Researchers say the test shows that 28 units of alcohol for the average male is probably too high, whether consumed over the course of a week or in a day or two.

How Low Will It Go

How much lower the new government recommendations will be is anyone’s guess. Some are already suggesting the government will begin recommending not drinking at all, but that may be a hard pill to swallow due to the high level of social acceptance alcohol consumption enjoys in most countries. It sounds more plausible that the official recommendations could be cut by 25% to 50%, with stronger recommendations for abstinence among those who are at highest risk of drinking-related problems.

Any effort to lower acceptable levels of alcohol consumption will probably be combined with new guidelines explaining what constitutes the difference between a problem drinker, a binge drinker, and alcohol abuser, and an alcoholic. New definitions of the various drinking categories could help counsellors and treatment providers get a better handle on what their patients are struggling with.

Alcohol Treatment to Continue

Regardless of what the government decides, the alcohol treatment community will continue offering services to those in need. Those services include alcohol detox, rehab therapy, counselling, support group participation, and more. Such services will always be in demand as long as there are people in our communities struggling with alcohol.

In the event that the Department of Health revises its guidelines downward, it is incumbent upon the medical community and government policy makers to get the message out. People need to know that alcohol is a dangerous substance when not tightly controlled. Unfortunately, a downward revision of the guidelines does not do any good if it is not accompanied by aggressive public education that makes consumers aware.

What do you think? Should the government’s official guidelines for alcohol limits be revised downward? It looks like such will be the case; it will be interesting to see what sort of effect it has on the general issue of problem drinking.


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