Two drink-free days a week needed, MPs' report says


What is a unit of alcohol?

Related Stories

People should have at least two days a week completely clear of alcohol, a group of MPs says.

It is one of the recommendations in a report by the Commons science and technology committee, which is calling for a review of all government guidelines on alcohol in the UK.

It says there are "sufficient concerns" about the recommendations on how much people should drink.

The report has been welcomed by charities and public health experts.

Advice on the maximum units of alcohol that should be consumed was introduced in 1987 - 21 units in a week for men and 14 for women.

In 1995, the advice was changed to recommend that men did not regularly drink more than three to four units per day. The figures were two to three units for women. It also says that after heavy drinking people should leave 48 hours for the body to recover.

The report questioned whether this "appeared to endorse daily drinking".

Start Quote

There are sufficient concerns about the current drinking guidelines to suggest that a thorough review of the evidence concerning alcohol and health risks is due”

End Quote Science and technology committee report

It said having two alcohol-free days would "would enforce the message that drinking every day should be avoided".

It also says there "could be merit" in setting a lower limit for older people in the same manner as there are more specific rules for children and pregnant women.

The idea of increasing the daily limit, was however, ruled out.

The report highlighted problems when it came to understanding how many units of alcohol there are in a drink.

A survey by the Office for National Statistics suggested that 90% of people had heard of units, yet fewer than one in three knew how much one unit of wine was and that only 13% kept a check on the units they drank.

The report does support the concept of the unit, but said more work was needed to help people understand them.

It says: "There are sufficient concerns about the current drinking guidelines to suggest that a thorough review of the evidence concerning alcohol and health risks is due."

Matt Maden, from Bournemouth, was diagnosed with liver cirrhosis, as a result of alcohol abuse, when he was 21 years old, and now needs a liver transplant.

The chairman of the committee, Andrew Miller, said: "Alcohol guidelines are a crucial tool for government in its effort to combat excessive and problematic drinking. It is vital that they are up-to date and that people know how to use them."

"Unfortunately, public understanding of how to use the guidelines and what an alcohol unit looks like is poor, although improving.

"While we urge the UK health departments to re-evaluate the guidelines more thoroughly, the evidence we received suggests that the guidelines should not be increased and that people should be advised to take at least two drink-free days a week."

Alan Maryon-Davis, a professor of public health, said: "Broadly speaking [alcohol guidelines] are fit for purpose, but they need a bit of clarification.

"The word 'daily' I would object to. It gives the impression that it is a good idea to drink every day, which clearly it isn't."

He thinks that phrases such as "in a day" or "in 24 hours" should be adopted.

Review welcome

Prof Sir Ian Gilmore, from the Alcohol Health Alliance UK, said: "The main recommendation of setting up a review of evidence to come up with clear guidelines would be very valuable indeed."

Wine and Spirit Trade Association spokesman Gavin Partington said: "People want simple, consistent advice on how to drink responsibly.

"Through our commitment to the Responsibility Deal, the vast majority of alcohol labels on UK shelves will contain responsible drinking guidelines by 2013, supported by point-of-sale information in both the on-and-off trades."

It is estimated 6,000 babies are born every year in England with foetal alcohol syndrome because their mothers drank alcohol when pregnant

Alcohol Concern chief executive Eric Appleby said: "Accessible and reliable public information on alcohol harm is an essential element in tackling Britain's problem with alcohol misuse. However, the government must accept that information alone is insufficient.

"With the new alcohol strategy currently being developed, the government has the opportunity to confront alcohol harm on several fronts, including minimum price control and the empowerment of communities to control local licensing."

Chris Sorek, chief executive of alcohol awareness charity Drinkaware, said: "Drinkaware welcomes the committee's recommendation for greater efforts on helping people understand the unit guidelines and how to use them.

"While the committee recognises that public awareness of alcohol units is now high, it supports Drinkaware's evidence that more needs to be done to raise awareness of how many units are in alcoholic drinks."

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: "It's crucial that people have good advice about alcohol so they can take responsibility for their own health.

"The current guidelines were developed following a thorough review of the evidence and consultation with experts. We will consider these recommendations and look at whether it is necessary to review our guidance.

"Next month, we are launching new Change4Life adverts which will advise people about the harm alcohol can do to our health. We will also shortly be publishing a strategy to tackle alcohol misuse."

BBC Inside Out's alcohol special is broadcast on Monday, 9 January on BBC One at 19:30 GMT and on the iPlayer for seven days afterwards.


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 861.

    It is indeed very odd advice from the government, I work for an agency to assist alcohol and substance dependancy , THIS IS NOT HELPFUL , you see alcohol is seen as normal , all occasions are enhanced by it , we have just had Christmas , which for a graet deal of people means get totally pissed ..... so drink only five days of a week , and you cease to be alcoholic MA

  • rate this

    Comment number 860.


    ...You have identified the root cause of the problem. It is deemed strange to not drink alcohol when in the pub. Soft drinks are ridiculously expensive as well. Address these problems and the drunkenness and abuse will diminish

  • rate this

    Comment number 859.

    Oh! Are these the same MPs that saw their way clear to overriding the experts on the ACMD? Ok, well, in that case, I'll be sure to follow their "expert advice" to the letter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 858.

    Lets all stop drinking and smoking for a month and when the tax money drys up they will be begging us to start again. So much for being concerned with our health then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 857.

    Yes, its common knowledge ergo not an 'original thought' on the part of MPs.

    Alcohol is also called self-medicating. 4 million are now on anti-depressants in the UK apparently. Anyway you look at your poison.

    Prohibition was tried once, the gov't won't pull that again, organized crime becomes a problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 856.

    I'll only ever drink on special occasions or when out for a reason. I tend to not drink at all at home, unless I have guests.
    I'm usually the dedicated driver on a night out and I'm quite happy to have maybe half a pint and then stick to the soft drinks.
    To be honest I actually look forward to the after drink food than I do the

  • rate this

    Comment number 855.

    I think most people do realize it's only advice. Unfortunately some also feel the necessity to pelt others with stones, simply because they feel morally superior.

  • rate this

    Comment number 854.

    848 You're right. A couple of New Years Eves ago a good friend who normally enjoys a jar or 2 decided she didn't want to drink. She was on antibiotics following a nasty chest infection & not 100% back to full health but still wanted to enjoy a night out. She was great company but you wouldn't believe the heckling & dogs abuse she got off all & sundry for just not fancying any alcohol that night.

  • rate this

    Comment number 853.

    Either alcohol should be legal and the government should stay out of people's private lives, or it should be illegal and then the government can then crack down on it. This inbetween nonsense where we are told it is ok to drink but a b and c is totally irresponsible and sends mixed messages to children and discourages common sense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 852.

    What next does Govt want to control?
    Smokers.(Cars and homes next)
    Obese.(Musn`t be fat).
    Drink. (What is a Unit of alchol?)
    Food(Now with labels for us hard of understanding)
    TV (This programme contains.........)
    Speech. (careful how you talk, could "upset" someone
    I am sure there are more plans re what we should do/not do.
    Democracy?Human Rights?
    Ignore them too. Govt says they also bad for u!

  • rate this

    Comment number 851.

    Amazing. We need to be told not to harm ourselves. It's common knowledge, isn't it? Alcohol is a drug, with very serious side effects. So if you use it all the time, your health will suffer. There's no such thing as "safe" levels. Consume it occasionally, by all means enjoy it, but if you use it during more days than you don't, then you will succumb to poor health. Two free days per week. Right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 850.

    847. Darren Shepperd

    and tories claimed labour were nannies well have a look its tories time now to try to limit everything we do"


    Calm down, precious. It's merely advice, not law. No one's telling you what to do.

    It seems you spend all your time on HYS looking for anything to blame the Tories for; something I'd recommend you trying to have two free days a week of.

  • rate this

    Comment number 849.

    I don't often agree with government but they're just passing on sensible advice here which many charities & medical experts endorse.The tendency is to go right up to or above the perceived safe weekly units so this is just additional information on top of that to keep within safe limits.Why people get so outraged about good advice beats me - if you choose not to follow it, that's your perogative.

  • rate this

    Comment number 848.

    I am 30 and don't drink. I used to drink quite a lot at least once a week up until a few years ago. I'm not sure why I stopped, just grew out of it and changed my habits. I also detest hangovers.

    People are genuinely shocked that I don't drink and always ask why. Even my partner, who rarely drinks, calls me boring. What a strange culture where not consuming alcohol makes you slightly odd.

  • rate this

    Comment number 847.

    and tories claimed labour were nannies well have a look its tories time now to try to limit everything we do

  • rate this

    Comment number 846.

    I drink no alcohol at all and here in Ukraine it looks very weird. But I don’t care about what people say. I just want to live a sober and healthy life.
    I’m 32-year-old and want to have a good health by 60. And take into account that in Ukraine and Russia we have a lot of low-quality alcohol particularly vodka and cognac so it’s easy to get poisoned here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 845.

    How many MPs come even close to this recommendation?

  • rate this

    Comment number 844.

    The main concern in my town is the sale of dangerous fake booze by off licenses.
    Twenty years ago these shops would have been named and shamed.
    Now they are not, i wonder why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 843.

    Alcohol is a carcinogenic chemical, that in small doses will provide you with the feeling of delirium, while only causing small amounts of cellular damage. But like all chemicals, if you ingest large quantities, whether in one go or over a prolonged period, the damage can be more lasting, whether you have 2 days off or not. Why do you need to government to lay out the obvious!

  • rate this

    Comment number 842.

    You are frightful teasers at the Beeb. Firstly the headline about the pointlessness of 'de-toxing' on New Year's Day, then this. I was looking for good news, but discover that de-toxing is pointless but only if you do if once a year. Then I learn that our MPs are not proposing 'two free drink days' a week but 'two drink-free days'. Perhaps I should cut down on my drinking after all...


Page 2 of 45


More Health stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.