When the UK government changed its recommendations on safe alcohol drinking levels a few years ago, there was a big outcry from people whose drinking levels suddenly became ‘hazardous’ overnight.
In 1995, health officials recommended a maximum of 3 – 4 units of alcohol a day for men and 2 – 3 a day for women. That meant men could drink 28 units a week and believe they weren’t drinking too much, and women 21 units.
Then in January 2016 this all changed, and the officials declared men and women should not drink more than 14 units a week. What that meant was that some men who were drinking what they thought was a safe level of alcohol were now having twice as much as the new guidelines recommended.
Now, however, a growing number of health experts are saying where alcohol is concerned, there is no such thing as a safe level. They have just been joined by researchers from the University of Hong Kong, whose study – published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal – suggests those who have never drunk alcohol have the highest level of mental wellbeing. And people who used to drink moderately but who have since quit alcohol altogether have better mental wellbeing too.
The study analysed data on more than 10,000 people in Hong Kong who were either moderate drinkers or non-drinkers, and compared it with similar data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, a US study of more than 31,000 people.
“Global alcohol consumption is expected to continue to increase unless effective strategies are employed,” says Dr Michael Ni, one of the study’s authors. “Our findings suggest caution in recommendations that moderate drinking could improve health-related quality of life. Instead, quitting drinking may be associated with a more favourable change in mental wellbeing, approaching the level of lifetime abstainers.”
If you can’t imagine living without alcohol giving up altogether probably isn’t going to happen for you. Cutting down, however, could work – visit the Drinkaware website for ideas on drinking less.