Science

Alcohol guidelines reduced

The majority of students are well acquainted with alcohol and a post-Flux Sunday. A hangover is perhaps the most common side effect of a heavy night. However, a recent change to NHS guidance aims to make us aware of the long term effects of drinking and reduce the lasting damage that excessive alcohol consumption can cause.

New guidance now brings male maximum drinking limits in line with female drinking limits, at 14 units a week. Previously it was thought that due a faster metabolism, men could drink more before experiencing long term impacts of alcohol consumption.

Sir David Spiegelhalter, a Professor of Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge spoke about the new guidelines, saying: ‘These guidelines define ‘low-risk’ drinking as giving you less than a one per cent chance of dying from an alcohol-related condition.’

“An hour of TV watching a day, or a bacon sandwich a couple of times a week, is more dangerous to your long-term health. In contrast, the average driver faces much less than this lifetime risk from a car accident. It all seems to come down to what pleasure you get from moderate drinking.”

The guidelines recommend that the 14 units should be spread over three or more days, and avoiding binge drinking, with at least two alcohol free days per week.

The advice for pregnant women remains unchanged: alcohol is best avoided.

A common fact cited by drinkers is that alcohol provides some heart protection. However, an independent review found this only applies for women over the age of 55 when they limit their intake to 5 units per week.

However, on the same day, guidance was published by the Committee on Carcinogenicity, which found that even with an intake of less than 10.5 units per week there is an increased risk of mouth, throat and breast cancer.

Research in Wales between 2008 and 2012 showed a decrease in those drinking above guidelines in all age groups, with males reported as drinking more than females in all age groups. The age group most commonly reported as drinking was those aged between 35-44.

But with the social aspect of university revolving so heavily around alcohol, is excessive drinking too engrained in our culture to let go of? We are drinking less compared with earlier generations of students, and with pushes like Dry January it appears that there is a shift away from excessive alcohol use. The authors of the new guidelines commented, “There is little evidence regarding the impact of any guidelines in changing health behaviour.” For some people, even with the clear evidence, they’re comfortable with the risk.

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