Drinkers should have three days a week off alcohol to avoid slipping into a cycle of binge drinking and risking liver disease, leading doctors have warned. The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) claims the Government’s current policy on healthy drinking limits is misleading, as it implies that it is safe for people to have alcohol every day of the week.
Official guidance on sensible drinking suggests that men should have no more than 21 units of alcohol a week, while women are restricted to 14 units.
But experts at the RCP said the policy does not take account of the fact that drinkers should have two to three days a week without any alcohol to let their bodies recover.
Drinking alcohol every day causes a “significant health risk”, doctors warned, increasing the chances of developing liver disease and other life-threatening illnesses.
“People should have two to three alcohol-free days every week to reduce the risks of long term damage from binge drinking, including liver disease,” a spokesman for the RCP said.
“After a day of drinking there is a need for a time to recover and that is why we need rest days in between our alcohol consumption.”
Younger drinkers are particularly at risk, the physicians warned, with daily drinking also common among middle-class women who often have a glass of wine after work.
As well as urging people to restrict their drinking to four days a week, the doctors recommend introducing lower limits for elderly people, as their bodies are more likely to suffer lasting effects from alcohol.
Speaking to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, special adviser on alcohol at the RCP, said Britain’s binge drinking culture was creating a “tide of harm” in hospitals across the country.
“Given the burden of harm that we’ve got, it’s vital that levels are not increased at this point,” he added.
“We recommend a safe limit of 0 to 21 units a week for men and 0 to 14 units a week for women, provided the total amount is not drunk in one or two bouts and that there are two or three alcohol-free days a week. At these levels, most individuals are unlikely to come to harm.”
The RCP’s warning comes after Professor Nick Heather, a lecturer at Northumbria University, urged MPs to increase daily drinking guidelines to include a “binge drinking limit” for maximum consumption in one day.
He argued that the Government should issue separate guidance on upper limits for daily and weekly drinking, without increasing recommended overall alcohol levels.
Guidlines from the Chief Medical Officer say men should not drink more than three to four units of alcohol a day, while women should limit themselves to two or three.
One unit is 8g of alcohol, roughly equivalent to half a standard glass of wine, half a pint of beer or a pub measure of spirits.