No one should drink more than the equivalent of a small glass of wine per day, but everybody needs more than one alcohol-free day per week, according to the first full review of official alcohol guidelines in England and Wales for 20 years.

New UK alcohol guidelines

England’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, has effectively rubbished studies on the potential health benefits of drinking red wine, following new government guidance that there is no safe level of drinking.

Risks outweigh any potential gain, according to the first full review of alcohol guidelines for England, Wales and Northern Ireland since 1995. Scotland also set the same limit.

On the assumption that most people will not go tee-total, the review also cut its guidance on the maximum amount people should drink in a week, to 14 units. This should be spaced out, it says.

A 175ml glass of wine at 13% abv is 2.3 units, according to the Drinkaware charity.

It is the first time the drinking limit has been set at the same level for both men and women. Men previously had a limit of three to four units per day, and women two to three units.

Government advice also says that everyone should have some alcohol-free days per week.

Dame Sally Davies said the link between drinking and certain cancers was now better understood than in the 1990s. Those drinking no more than 14 units in a week have a low chance of alcohol-related disease, she said.

The drinks industry’s self-regulatory body, The Portman Group, criticised the new advice.

‘What is surprising is that the UK is breaking with established international precedent by recommending the same guidelines for men and women,’ said the industry-funded group’s chief executive, Henry Ashworth.

‘It also means that UK men are now being advised to drink significantly less than their European counterparts.’

Ashworth said guidelines were important for consumers to make informed choices, but said, ‘More than four in five adults drink within the current lower risk guidelines.’

In an article published in the February issue of Decanter magazine, Dr Michael Apstein – a gastroenterologist and wine writer – argues that the effects of alcohol on the body vary depending on the individual and the context.

  • Brian St. Pierre

    There’s also been some fuss over the idea in these guidelines that the “recommended” amounts are now the same for women and men, as if equality were somehow discriminatory to women. In fact, it’s the other way round–the theoretical limits for men have been reduced, down to the “recommended” limits for women. Dame Sally seems to have gone into this matter with an agenda, hardly the best approach for a reasonable discussion. (She has been quoted as only drinking moderately on weekends–meals must be dull during the week!)

  • Scott Richardson

    A gentle reminder… the key word here is “guideline”! The choice to drink to excess is up to the individual. Given the data showing the repercussions of drinking to the point that the individual is a danger to himself/herself and others, this is the underlying point of these guidelines. The majority of us (fingers crossed) drink responsibly and therefore would not necessarily fall under such scrutiny of onlookers! For those who choose to drink regularly to excess, these are those who will be a burden to their family and society in general when their kidney’s fail them. If anything, it has brought to light (again) this conversation… which is a good thing!

  • More than 14 a week, regularly

    This is a story that we might hope will go away but it won’t. The drinks industry has accepted the need to display the Government’s previous guidelines on bottles in a number of beverage categories but today we can see that it hasn’t prevented another turn of the screw.

    Trade bodies have largely ignored the threat to consumer choice posed by the health brigade, choosing instead to focus on attacking marginal rises in taxation. When will we defend the cultural value of wine (and many other alcoholic drinks with equally long-standing traditions) and above all the freedom to choose? The evaluation of the risk/reward equation of drinking is surely my business, not my doctor’s?

    By the way, can we stop talking about Government limits? No one has formalised the word ‘limits’, so let’s not do the Nanny State’s work. The wording is “recommended not to regularly exceed…”

  • Bartholomew Broadbent

    Dame Sally Davies should be sacked for such stupidity

  • Alcoholics and binge drinkers are a case apart and must be looked at separately. What follows is about the rest of us, those who drink good wine moderately (or fairly moderately!). As Dr Michael Apstein points out, much depends on the age, metabolism, and capacity of the individual. And those factors vary enormously. We all know one or more persons who drink a bottle of wine a day without apparent damage. Others are knocked sideways by a thimbleful.
    My argument is that most damage caused by alcohol can be ascribed to spirits, alcopops, “industrial” low-grade wines, et al.
    What amazes me is that the health “experts” make no distinction between alcohol in its different forms. (Afraid of offending the spirits lobby?).Yet the differences are crucial. Countless medical studies have shown wine in general, and red wine in particular, to be highly beneficial when consumed in moderate quantities. But there are reds and reds . It’s doubtful if mass-produced versions, harvested early to permit their rapid sale, denuded of tannins, bereft of resveratrol etc., do any good at all. Likewise beers and spirits, even if some are delicious. Wine alone, as I see it, can be called a medicine (as indeed Pasteur characterized it). In short, drink the Mediterranean way.
    Of overriding importance is the urgent need for people to eat whenever they drink alcohol in any form. This is beneficial in many ways, not least as it delays the entry of alcohol into the bloodstream. And nature has seen to it that food and wine taste better when consumed together. Yet the authorities give little stress to this crucial factor, which ought to form a central part of their campaign against mindless drinking-to-get drunk.
    Frank Ward

  • Brian St. Pierre

    The idea that there is no safe level of drinking wine is simply stupid, and flies in the face of many decades of research, some studies involving thousands of people, cross-referenced and peer-reviewed. A better warning might be that there is no safe level of bureaucracy. . . At the same time, the NHS is considering alowing the use of e-cigarettes as part of a taxpayer-subsidized plan to help people quit smoking–as if there is a safe level of nicotine (toxic and proven to be habit-forming) delivery. Go figure!