back to article Safe drinking guidelines 'plucked out of the air'

The UK government's guidelines on how much it is safe to drink are based on numbers "plucked out of the air" by a committee that met in 1987. According to The Times newspaper, the limits are not based on any science whatsoever, rather "a feeling that you had to say something" about what would be a safe drinking level. This is …


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  1. Michael Parker

    I'm not as plucked as you fink *hick*

    We can see right through this one... "Ok guys, the sooner we come up with a figure, the sooner we can hit the town, have a few beers, eat a Kebab and sing "New York, New York" in a seedy nightclub"...

  2. Lickass McClippers


    ...glad someone owned up to this. In the grand scheme of things, I'd guesstimate that a sensible amount to drink is that which doesn't get you skull-fucked, there or there abouts.

    If you're dribbling like a psych patient at the end of the evening, then you've probably overdone it somewhat.

    Moderation, moderation, moderation ... as it were.

  3. David Evans

    How about...

    ...the government and the medical profession just shut up and leave us alone? The drinking guidelines were clearly nonsense from the start (why would a 6' 4" bloke have the same limits as a a 5' 6" one?), but its amazing how easily this nonsense became "fact". People know when they're drinking too much, and it should be their own business, so long as they're not breaking any laws.

    I see the latest wheeze is that schools are going to inform parents if their kids are obese; I think the wheezing and puffing and three school uniforms a year might tip parents the wink, but I guess its only valid if an "official" tells you so, right?

    I heard an interesting interview the other day which pointed out that when governments were proven to be incompentent in the industrial sphere and fairly incompetent in the economic sphere, they had to find somewhere else to interfere to justify their existence, and our personal lives were the obvious place. Well guess what? They're incompetent here too.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Who Cares

    Does anyone actually listen to what the government says anyway?

    I certainly wouldn't live my life according to the diktat of a bunch of lying, cheating thieves.

    How many units are consumed per week in the Westminster bars I wonder? This is one of many areas where they should keep their big noses out.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    So, Im confused...

    How many pints can I drink before I drive to work each morning?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re pregnant women

    I'm farirly certain that this was rescinded shortly after it hit the papers. Either the majority of our society was damaged prenatally or banning pregnant women from drinking is retarded. Of course, one might have brought on the other. Or maybe the majority of our society is retarded, it would explain the comments to the 20mph speed limit story.

  7. James Anderson


    A quote from "Wikipedia" but backed by reliable citations:-

    " Dr. R. Curtis Ellison, a physician and leading medical researcher, says that adults should have a drink a day, unless contraindicated. “The bottom line is, never go more than 24 hours without a drink” says Dr. Ellison, who is chief of preventive medicine and epidemiology at Boston University School of Medicine. Dr. Ellison recommends that other doctors prescribe a drink a day to their patients to promote better health and greater longevity. Similarly, well-known medical authority Dean Edell, M.D., asserts that “you would have to be living on another planet not to know that alcohol -- in moderation -- is good for your health.” "

    I think the Labour parties methodist/non conformist roots are showing. They are still stuck in a mindset of " drink is the devils work" and are disuading people form an activity that is proven to be benificial for your health. They would rather you were teatotal, miserable and died three years earlier to cover up thier mismanagement of the pension system.

  8. Dave
    Paris Hilton

    complete lack of intellectual integrity

    Colleague of mine is so relieved that this admission has come to light; he had got a little confused and admitted that some days he was struggling to down the entire 21 units 'ration'.

    PH angle? The correct amount to drink is where you get to the conclusion that there might be some point to her existence - then STOP

  9. James

    Glad to see...

    ... that we're all turning a blind eye to the government's recommended weekly allowance as I'm into triple figures.

    As for heavier taxes. Bollocks! That's not going to stop people drinking more, it's just going to make government's pockets fatter.

    (We need a pint glass icon)

  10. John Miles

    Government and facts

    Now if the government actually waited for the facts, did proper studies on the impacts of both the problem and effectiveness of different methods of changing behaviour etc. - they wouldn't be able to tax it and claim it is for our own good would they (as small increases of tax seems to have very little impact on whether people drink, smoke or drive cars)

  11. James Bryant

    21 units a week

    I can see where they're coming from, 21 units a week seems like a good minimum to me.

  12. Neil Alexander

    "Does anyone actually listen to what the government says anyway?"

    Depends. Do you want the government to take your driving license away and subject you to a life of public transport and otherwise immobility when you try and drive home from the pub?

    Public transport. Pff.

  13. Senor Beavis

    @ David Evans

    I entirely agree with your sentiments that we should be able to figure out the best way to live our lives without some bureaucrat spelling it out in big letters. I think there is a place for public health warnings, particularly when the proverbial man on the Clapham omnibus would have thought that a particular practice was previously safe, but is no longer.

    If the government spent more effort treating the causes of problems like heart/liver disease and obesity (such as fast food being dirt cheap and designed to addict rather than satisfy), rather than the symptoms (fat kids and adults), we may actually get somewhere. It's probably a little divisive, however the smoking ban may actually be an example of something done right.

    On the specific point of the article, one comment I read, which is frequently omitted, is that the recommended number of units is dependent on several variables and has to cater for the worst case scenario. The analogy given was of engineers designing a bridge to cope with the heaviest possible traffic, even though loading would be far less than this for the vast majority of the time. In the same way, the recommended number of units is based around a small, light, pre-menopausal female, who hasn't eaten before drinking and who metabolises alcohol slowly.

  14. Dunstan Vavasour

    I thought it was long established that ...

    ... excessive consumption is anything more than I drink.

  15. Pete Silver badge

    so they want to cut consumption????

    Here's a radical idea, why not reduce the amount of time that licensed premises are allowed to sell the stuff. How about saying that 10:30 at night would be a good time to shut up shop - maybe 11:00 on fridays and saturdays?

    Of course that would mean sacrificing a little tax revenue (but hopefully reducing the burden on the NHS, police and insurance/damage claims by a larger amount) and reducing people's "freedom". Although that freedom would only actually exist for the smaller number of people who could afford it. So much for socialist policiews from a "labour" government.

  16. Chris Collins

    Quakers are back

    I thought we'd sent all of our temperance puritans to America. Why are they back here bothering us normal folk again? This quack can fuck off and get back to his job, rather than waffling aimlessly about other people's enjoyment of life. I thought the doctor was supposed to heal the sick, not moan about the type of sick he gets and how he'd like a different kind of sick people to deal with. I don't want to deal with fat alcoholics, I only want obscure genetic diseases that only appear after you hit 80. STFU and GBTW, as they say.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Do Nothing Party

    If elected we promise to do nothing new for the entire 5 years. Parliament will sit only to repeal existing legislation, which will happen at the rate of not less than 1 law a week, starting with anything approved of by The Daily Mail and anything that is just a scam to get money. All official guidelines and targets will be reviewed by the Department of the Blindingly Obvious at Nottingham University and then revoked anyway.

  18. John Young

    Why does everyone keep quoting 21

    UK government advice was changed several years ago to 3 - 4 units per day for men, 2 - 3 for women (unless they're pregnant - in which case they can't seem to make their mind up).

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    what's next ?

    "The government's guidelines on how much it is safe to drink are based on numbers "plucked out of the air" by a committee that met in 1987."

    Following the UK gov line of "restraint what is fun", I'm really looking forward to their (lack of, and subsequently, plucked out of ... their own situation ;-) study on "how frequently it is safe to have sex".

    Surely some of them will claim a max of twice per month, which by the way, will do very less to influence anyone in slowing down on rumpy pumpy.

    And I *do* have a Paris Hilton angle, here :-)

  20. Glen Turner

    Australian review of drinking seems more scientifically based

    Interesting article. In Australia the National Medical and Health Research Council's draft revision of its 2000 "Drinking Guidelines, Drug and Alchohol Review". The draft revision looked into the past decade of research and made the following recommendations. (1) People face medical harm with more than 2 drinks per day, from age 15. (2) People under 15 should not use alcohol. (3) No alcohol for pregnant or breastfeeding women. For the details see

  21. Paul Charters

    So did they get their money back?

    So did anyone have to pay for falsifying recommendations and deliberately misleading the public? Where are the arrests, the punishment...or at least getting the money back that they were paid?!

  22. chris stephenson


    I saw this "story" break on alcholic britan headlining on radio, newspaper, and television. The fact that it was all BS hasn't been nearly so widely reported.

    i thought the profession of journalisim was alive and well in this country, obviously not.

  23. Andre Carneiro

    Reminds me of speed limits....

    Running the risk of being flamed here, but as far as I know speed limits are just about as arbitrary too...

  24. TeeCee Gold badge


    Too true, too true.

    My all time favourite example of speed limit insanity was heading south from the Polish War Memorial off the A40. A stretch of ordinary, boring road with some bollards and a pelican crossing. This was derestricted. 60mph. Then you hit the shiny, newish Parkway (Hayes bypass). Proper dual-carriageway with motorway-style slip roads. 50mph limit. WTF? Anyhow, somebody spotted this and next time they worked on the aforementioned single-carriageway bit they introduced 40mph signs (no hint of the 60 limit being a problem, but they did it anyway). Funny thing was, they only remembered to do this in one direction, so you could only do 40 southbound, but you could still do 60 northbound. Took 'em another 18 months to notice this particular piece of idiocy.....

  25. Anonymous Coward

    I suppose

    you could make a point that two 1.75L bottles of vodka a week were too much. Just about, especially if consumed at a sitting.

  26. Michael Miller

    But there's more old drunks than there are old doctors

    So I guess we'd better have another round

    -Willie Nelson, I Gotta Get Drunk

  27. laird cummings


    So, it's back to the age-old medical tradition of 'Making It Up As You Go,' is it? Soon we shall see learned papers on the benefits of bleeding to balance the humors, and about laudible pus, yes?

  28. frank denton

    re. laudible pus

    I just did a Google search on 'laudible pus'. I wish I hadn't. I need a drink.

  29. Graham Marsden
    Thumb Down

    Water load of...

    ... Rubbish.

    It's like the recommendation that you "Drink eight glasses of water a day".

    Apparently Health Which? magazine once commissioned a researcher to look for data to back up this claim and after about 9 months came back and reported that he could find *NO* research in published medical journals where anyone had actually done experiments to support this figure.

    Still, it's nice to know someone cares enough to tell us these lies, isn't it?

  30. Curtis W. Rendon


    What is a unit? Cubic furlongs?

  31. Gary Rich
    Thumb Up

    Just as I thought...

    It's hardly surprising that the guidelines are are little on the cautious side. Imagine you had to recommend a national speed limit which would prevent anybody being seriously hurt or killed in road accidents. I'd probably suggest a limit of around 10mph.

  32. Jon Tocker

    @ Dave

    "PH angle? The correct amount to drink is where you get to the conclusion that there might be some point to her existence - then STOP"

    I can't AFFORD enough alcohol to get me to the stage where I think there's a point to PH's existence!

    So I guess I'm well within the safe zone.

  33. jubtastic1

    When they came for the smokers

    I remained silent;

    I was not a smoker.

    1 Fabricate facts.

    2 Ban it.

    3 ???

    4 Profit!

  34. Michael Sheils
    Thumb Up

    You have had enough to drink

    When the magical beer taxi deposits you in your bed for a sound night's kip.

    Oh, and if you ever get to the point of thinking that Paris Hilton has a point, check yourself into rehab immediately.

  35. kain preacher

    I thought we'd sent all of our temperance puritans to America

    Sorry, but I was trying to get rid of those folks. Hm now if i can only find away for the Brits to take G.W and his staff :)

  36. Mike

    Re: The Do Nothing Party

    I'll vote for it.

    Long thought about setting up the "common sense party" and getting rid of most of Blair's toss.

  37. Tampa Dave

    I need a curry.

    Never put food into a parched palete!

    Sorted, where's my curry?

  38. John Goss

    3-4 Units a day

    " 3 - 4 units per day for men, 2 - 3 for women"

    Clearly if you exceed that amount, you're not likely to get serious liver damage overnight. 3 units is a pint of Stella, Strongbow, Kronenburg 1664 or of many other stronger lagers, bitters or ciders. A 175ml glass of wine may be 2 units - but since you're more likely to see 250ml glasses these days, think more like 3 units for a glass!

    Given all that, you're past your daily 'safe' limit by your first drink. Erk!

    What we need to know is the level of risk associated with breaking this limit. I'm not going to lose much sleep if it turns out that drinking 10 units 4 times a week is pretty negligable risk (but not 100% safe), but I'd like to know at what point things start getting seriously bad.

    How are we supposed to respond to such advice when 99% of drinkers will exceed their 3-4/2-3 units a day on a regular basis?

  39. laird cummings


    Yards, obviously - You should be drinking between three and four yards of beer every day. How many Linguini are in a yard, anyway?

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