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The new alcohol guidelines - what has changed?

Published 08/01/2016

Pregnant women are now being told to abstain from alcohol altogether
Pregnant women are now being told to abstain from alcohol altogether

New alcohol guidelines have been issued across the UK, tightening up the previous rules around what is regarded as "safe" drinking levels.

:: What has changed?

The last official guidelines on drinking were published in 1995 and much has changed since then. Numerous studies have shown that alcohol is linked to cancer, with even low or moderate levels raising the risk of seven types of cancer, including breast, mouth and bowel cancer. While the absolute risks may be small, the general agreement is that there is no longer a "safe" drinking limit for alcohol. But, taking account of the fact that many people do enjoy a drink, the UK's chief medical officers have said that the risk of disease can remain "low" if people drink 14 or less units per week.

:: Who is most affected?

There has been a major change regarding the advice for pregnant women. They used to be told to abstain from alcohol but that if they did choose to drink, they should consume no more than one to two units of alcohol once or twice a week. That has now been swept away, and pregnant women are being told to abstain from drinking altogether as a precautionary measure. Scientists admit that there is scant evidence regarding drinking at low levels in pregnancy but they say it is perfectly plausible it can harm the foetus. There is also the risk that women underestimate how much they are actually drinking, thereby increasing the risks for their unborn child. There is also a major change on the guidelines for men - who are now told to consume no more than 14 units of alcohol a week, the same amount as women, down from the 21 units they were told was okay previously.

:: What about binge drinking?

Chief medical officers have always, understandably, warned people against binge drinking. Under the new guidance, people are told to limit their drinking, drink water and ensure they are safe on nights out. Evidence shows that the "risks accelerate" from the point at which around five to seven units are drunk in one sitting. This includes the risk of accident or injury.

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