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Published 08/01/2016

No level of regular drinking is without risks to health, the UK’s chief medical officers have said as they published a raft of changes to advice on drinking alcohol
No level of regular drinking is without risks to health, the UK’s chief medical officers have said as they published a raft of changes to advice on drinking alcohol

Northern Ireland's chief medical officer has said any amount of drinking alcohol, no matter how small, carries a risk.

Dr Michael McBride has published a raft of changes to advice on drinking alcohol.

The new guidance sweeps away recommendations made in 1995 and takes account of new evidence on the increased risk of developing cancer from drinking as well as the harms from binge-drinking.

<<<Alcohol drinking guidelines in full>>>

Dr McBride said: "Many people drink alcohol, and most do so in ways that do not significantly put them at risk of alcohol related harm, but new evidence has emerged on the potential risks and benefits from alcohol consumption.

"Individuals will make their own judgements as to risks they are willing to accept from alcohol, whether to drink alcohol, and how much and how often to drink.

"Recent evidence showing alcohol consumption as a cause of certain cancers means there is no level without any risk. While it is possible for most people to drink at low risk, equally most people can lower their long-term health risks further by drinking less than the guidelines or not at all."

There are three elements to the new guidelines: a weekly guideline for regular drinking; advice on single episodes of drinking; and a guideline on pregnancy and drinking.

The guidance says pregnant women should avoid alcohol altogether as there is no evidence for a "safe" drinking level in pregnancy.

"We need to be particularly clear about the risks of alcohol during pregnancy," Dr McBride added.

"As a precaution pregnant women should avoid alcohol. Although the risk of harm to the baby is low if they have drank small amounts of alcohol before becoming aware of the pregnancy, there is no ‘safe’ level of alcohol to drink when you are pregnant.”

New alcohol guidance sweeps away recommendations that were made in 1995
New alcohol guidance sweeps away recommendations that were made in 1995

Men should also consume no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, down from the previous 21 units, bringing them into line with the recommendations for women of no more than 14 units a week.

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What 14 units of alcohol looks like

Latest guidelines on drinking alcohol - in full  

People are also being advised to have several booze-free days a week and not to "save up" their 14 units for a binge-drinking session.

For those who do drink up to 14 units a week, the new advice says people should spread their drinking across three days or more. When drinking on a single occasion, the officers say people should limit the amount of alcohol they drink on any occasion.

They should also drink more slowly, consume it with food, and alternate alcohol with water.

The new guidance also says evidence that alcohol - such as red wine - is beneficial for health "is considered less strong than it was".

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