Men should not be drinking any more alcohol than women, according to landmark new guidelines issued today by the government’s Chief Medical Officers.
The new guidance, which will come into play immediately, says men should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol each week, the equivalent of six pints of average-strength lager or eight small glasses of wine. The previous weekly guidelines were 21 units for men and 14 units for women.
The review, led by Dame Sally Davies, also warns that drinking any level of alcohol raises the risk of a range of cancers.
The CMOs’ report urges drinkers to have several alcohol free days a week, claiming people who have one or two heavy drinking sessions each week increase the risk of death from long term illnesses and accidents and injuries.
For the first time, the guidelines also include advice on single episodes of drinking, calling for limiting drinking amounts, drinking more slowly, drinking with food, and alternating alcohol with water.
It also advises people to avoid risky places and activities, making sure they have people they know around them and ensuring they can get home safely.
The report says the risks of short term, or acute, injury to a person recently drinking have been found to rise to as much as 2- to 5-fold (or more) from drinking just 5-7 units over three to six hours.
The advice follows a two-year review of the scientific evidence for overturning the previous guidance, which had been in place since 1995.
It found that any benefits of alcohol for heart health only applied to women aged 55 and over, with the greatest benefit seen when these women limit their intake to around 5 units a week.
The recommendations also urge drinkers not to ‘save up’ the 14 units for one or two days but instead to spread them over three or more days.
The guidelines for pregnant women have also been updated to stress there is no safe level of alcohol in pregnancy.
Previous guidelines already advised pregnant women to avoid alcohol but said if they did they should limit themselves to no more than one to two units of alcohol once or twice per week and should not get drunk.
“Drinking any level of alcohol regularly carries a health risk for anyone, but if men and women limit their intake to no more than 14 units a week it keeps the risk of illness like cancer and liver disease low,” said Davies. “What we are aiming to do with these guidelines is give the public the latest and most up to date scientific information so that they can make informed decisions about their own drinking and the level of risk they are prepared to take.”