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Avoid alcohol three days a week, doctors warn

23 October 11 15:53
Woman drinking a pint

Doctors say the government's alcohol guidelines could be improved to ensure they do not sanction daily drinking.

The government recommends no more than 2-3 units for women and 3-4 for men every day or most days, and 48 alcohol-free hours after heavy drinking.

The Royal College of Physicians said the liver needed time to recover from more than just a small alcoholic drink.

It advises two to three alcohol-free days a week and 0-14 weekly units for women and 0-21 for men.

The Department for Health said it had no plans to change its guidance.

Sir Ian Gilmore, special adviser on alcohol and former president of the RCP, said: "In addition to quantity, safe alcohol limits must also take into account frequency.

"There is an increased risk of liver disease for those who drink daily or near-daily, compared with those who drink periodically or intermittently.

"We recommend a safe alcohol consumption limit of between 0 and 21 units a week for men and 0 and 14 units a week for women provided the total amount is not drunk in one or two bouts, and that there are two to three alcohol-free days a week.

"At these levels, most individuals are unlikely to come to harm."

In an interview with Radio 4's Today show, Sir Ian added: "If someone drinks one drink a day, one small drink every day of their life, they're most unlikely to run into harm. But if you are going out and having a lot to drink then you should perhaps rest your body."

The latest NHS figures showed that alcohol-related hospital admissions reached record levels last year.

More than one million people were admitted in 2009-10, compared with 945,500 in 2008-09 and 510,800 in 2002-03. Nearly two in three of those cases were men.

Hazardous drinking

In a written submission to MPs on the House of Commons' Science and Technology Committee, the RCP said government advice on sensible drinking limits should be regularly reviewed.

It said: "Government guidelines should recognise that hazardous drinking has two components: frequency of drinking and amount of drinking.

"To ignore either of these components is scientifically unjustified.

"A very simple addition would remedy this problem, namely a recommendation that to remain within safe limits of alcohol consumption that people have three alcohol-free days a week."

The RCP also quoted a recent report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists that recommended safe limits for drinking alcohol by older people should be drastically cut.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists suggested a "safe limit" for older people was 11 units per week for men and or seven units per week for women.

The RCP's submission to MPs added: "The current guidelines are based predominantly on evidence for younger age groups and there is concern that current guidelines are not appropriate for older people."

Speaking to the BBC News Channel after his address to the Royal College of GPs' conference in Liverpool, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said alcohol abuse needed to be addressed.

"Essentially in this country we have two ways in which people abuse alcohol. One is binge drinking - far too much drink at one time - the other is chronic alcohol abuse and we need to act on both, and we are acting on both."

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