What are the new alcohol guidelines?
For men and women you are safest not to regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week. If you do drink as much as 14 units per week, try to spread this evenly over 3 days or more. It is best not to ‘save up units’ and drink them in all at once.

Why have the guidelines changed?
The previous guidelines came out in 1995 and the scientific evidence has changed since then. The links between alcohol and cancer were not fully understood in the previous guidelines.

What are the new guidelines based on?
The new guidelines are evidence based. Detailed analysis of risks to the UK population from drinking and results of scientific modelling have been used to develop these guidelines.

Why are the guidelines the same for men and women?
The risks of alcohol consumption for men and women can be different in terms of immediate harms and long term harms. Men are more at risk of immediate harms (accidents, injuries and deaths). Women are more at risk of longer term harms (longer term illness and death). Taking this into account the overall health risks are broadly the same for men and women and this has lead to the new guidelines.

Is there a level of ‘safe’ drinking?
It is important to note that there is no completely safe drinking level. The risk of cancer increases with every drink. The new guidelines are for ‘low risk’ drinking not ‘safe’ drinking. It is clear from research that the risk of injuries increase with the level of alcohol consumed. In order to keep short term health risks to a low level the Chief Medical Officer has the following advice:

  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink on one occasion
  • Drink more slowly, alternating with water and drinking with food
  • While drinking avoid risky situations and ensure you can get home safely

Are there any health benefits of alcohol?
The health benefits apply to a smaller group of the population than previously thought. Heart health benefits attributable to drinking regularly at low levels (5 units of alcohol per week) appear now to be significant only for women aged over 55. It is likely that previous evidence has overstated the health benefits of alcohol by comparing drinkers with non-drinkers, some of whom had existing or previous health conditions.

Can I drink whilst pregnant?
If you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy the safest approach is not to drink alcohol at all. Although the risk of harm is low if small amounts of alcohol are consumed, risks cannot be ruled out altogether. If you have any worries regarding drinking during pregnancy contact your doctor or midwife.

Is there a link between cancer and alcohol?
Alcohol is now recognised as a cause of certain cancers by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. There is an increased risk at low levels of consumption for breast, oesophageal, oral cavity, pharynx and at higher levels for liver and colorectal cancers.

What other diseases are linked to alcohol consumption?
Alcohol also contributes to the risk of: epilepsy and status epilepticus, hypertensive diseases, cardiac arrhythmias and of haemorrhagic and other non-ischaemic stroke, lower respiratory infections and pneumonias, to cirrhosis of the liver and to acute and chronic pancreatitis. The risk of developing a range of illnesses (including, for example, cancers of the mouth, throat and breast) increases with any amount you drink on a regular basis.