UK Recommends Two Drink-Free Days Per Week

People should have at least two drink-free days out of the week, according to new UK government guidelines set out by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee.  The committee said recommendations needed to be revamped because they can be conflicting and difficult to understand.

In 1987, UK national guidelines suggested that men should drink a maximum of 21 units per week and women should not exceed 14 units per week. But, in 1995, guidelines changed when the government recommended against more than three to four units per day and two to three units per day for women, according to BBC News. Some experts questioned whether the new guidelines validated daily alcohol consumption.

In the report, government officials suggested  the new recommendations "enforce the message that drinking every day should be avoided."

American guidelines recommend fewer drinks per week: a maximum of 14 units per week for men (and no more than four in one day) and seven (or no more than three in one day) for non-pregnant women.

A "unit" of alcohol is 10 to 12 grams, or the amount in a 12-ounce can of beer, 4 to 5 ounces of wine, or a shot of 100-proof liquor.

While many studies have shown that small amounts of alcohol have potential health benefits, exceeding recommended amounts can have debilitating effects on one's liver, weight, mental health and other parts of the body.

While alcohol consumption is positively correlated with several aspects, including income and education, blood lipids and cardiovascular disease, Dr. Robert Gwyther, professor of family medicine at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said the  "alcohol industry promotes that rationale as much as they can.  It does not consider motor vehicle crashes, increased cancer risk data (oral, esophageal, breast, etc.) in their arguments.  But, since cardiovascular disease kills more folks than anything else in America, alcohol intake still looks good on average."

The UK has high levels of hazardous drinking, particularly among young adults, said Dr. Fulton Crews, director of the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. To respond to that, it is important that experts recognize the compulsive nature of daily drinking.

"These recommendations to not drink every day could help individuals who are not yet alcoholic break compulsive daily drinking or discover how difficult it is to reduce compulsive heavy drinking that is unhealthy," Crews said.

"Recommendations such as this are fine in any country where alcohol is freely available," said Dr. Boris Tabakoff, professor and chairman of pharmacology at University of Colorado at Boulder. "However, the impact is usually on individuals who can, in general, control their drinking and not on those who put themselves at risk by high levels of consumption."

While these guidelines are UK-based, Crews said that other countries can learn from them and "these type of recommendations might change those attitudes [among heavier drinkers]."