Drinkers should be given separate daily and weekly alcohol limits to prevent them consuming their entire recommended allowance at the weekend, a leading doctor has said.Prof Nick Heather, of Alcohol Research UK, said current guidelines which stipulate people’s average drinking habits fail to tackle the problem of binge drinking.
He told MPs there should be two types of limit, one which dictates how much people can safely drink “on average” and one which should “stipulate an amount that should never be exceeded”.
The Department of Health previously stated that men and women should not exceed 21 and 18 units of alcohol per week respectively.
It now advises men should not “regularly” exceed three to four units of alcohol per day, with women not drinking on average more than two or three units, but people still mistakenly believe they can store up their alcohol allowance by abstaining during the week and consume excessive amounts on Friday and Saturday nights.
Prof Heather told MPs that there is a key distinction between chronic illness caused by regular heavy drinking and the injuries resulting from drunkenness after binge drinking.
As well as advising how much alcohol people can safely drink on a regular basis health authorities ought to specify that no more than eight units should be consumed in a single day, equivalent to about three 175ml glasses of wine or four pints of lager, he suggested.
He said: “The form that guidelines should take should be this, for example. Men should not drink more than X units per week, probably 21, and never more than Y units in a day, which might be eight, and as well there should be at least two days of abstinence.
“We should revert to the old weekly limits for the average guideline and have another daily limit which would never be exceeded on any day.”
Senior medical experts urged the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee, which is examining the evidence on alcohol guidelines, not to raise the current recommended drinking limits.
Prof Sir Ian Gilmore, Royal College of Physicians special adviser on alcohol and chairman of Alcohol Health Alliance UK, said the “tide of harm” in Britain’s hospitals made it imperitave alcohol levels do not rise.
He said: “As someone who still looks after people with liver disease, and with hospital admissions rising, I think that any recommendation to increase limits would add to the tide of harm that we are seeing in our hospitals every day. Given the burden of harm that we’ve got, it’s vital that levels are not increased at this point.”