Room for improvement.
The UK’s drinking guidelines are currently being reviewed by the government. Our research seems to have a number of messages for the reviewers. For one thing, introducing separate regular and single-occasion guidelines might suit people’s drinking patterns more than the daily amounts.
Given that the guidelines don’t acknowledge the reasons which influence drinkers’ decisions, such as social concerns and cultural values, future guidance could use narratives which show the impact that drinking can have on family and work life. And if people still count their alcohol consumption in pints, drinks or bottles after all the years of campaigns educating us about units, then perhaps the guidelines should do away with them altogether.
A broader question is the extent to which alcohol strategies should rely on drinking guidelines as a way to reduce harm. Expecting individuals to make “responsible” decisions for their health behaviours obscures the ways in which behaviours are shaped by broader social and economic forces. Rather than placing most of the responsibility on individuals, the people in charge of policy may need to look more to population-level interventions like taxation and pricing to effectively tackle alcohol-related harms.
Melanie Lovatt ~ Research Associate in Public Health at University of Sheffield