Is it time for global guidelines on safe levels of drinking?

January 22, 2013 by Jacqui Bealing

A comparison of drinking guidelines around the world shows there's little consensus between countries on what constitutes safe or sensible alcohol consumption, say University of Sussex researchers.

Psychologists Dr Richard de Visser and Nina Furtwængler looked at government guidelines issued in 57 countries, including all 27 European Member States, and found "a remarkable lack of agreement" about what constitutes harmful or on a daily basis, a weekly basis and when driving.

Their study, published this month in Drug and Alcohol Review, showed there was also no consensus on whether it was safe for women to be drinking as much as men.

In particular, they found: 

  • Some countries refer to standard drinks, but do not define them in grams of ethanol  (e.g., Kenya, Malta)
  • Some countries do not define standard drinks, but offer general guidance encouraging and/or in certain circumstances  (e.g., Belgium, India, Norway, Western Samoa)
  • and eight of the 27 EU member States (including Cyprus, Greece and Hungary) do not have readily accessible guidelines.
  • A standard unit of alcohol in Slovakia is 14g of compared with 8g in the UK.
  • Among the 124 countries that allowed drivers to have alcohol in their blood, there was a ten-fold variation between the least (e.g., Panama) and most generous (e.g., ).
Dr de Visser says:  "We were surprised at the wide variation in guidelines. There is no international agreement about whether women should drink as much as men or only half as much.  In some countries the weekly maximum is simply seven times the daily maximum, whereas in others there is an explicit statement that drinkers should have at least one alcohol-free day a week."

Dr de Visser acknowledges that guidelines have limited success in encouraging moderation and that some young people often use alcohol labelling to deliberately drink at unsafe levels.

He adds: "Despite these caveats, it is important for people who do want to adhere to recommendations to drink responsibly that there should be internationally agreed standard definitions of alcohol units and consumption guidelines. Agreed guidelines would be useful for international efforts to reduce alcohol-related harm by increasing people's capacity to monitor and regulate their ."

Explore further: Many young people don't know what constitutes sensible alcohol consumption

More information: Furtwaengler, N. and de Visser, R. Lack of international consensus in low-risk drinking guidelines, Drug and Alcohol Review (January 2013). onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10 … 012.00475.x/abstract

Related Stories

Many young people don't know what constitutes sensible alcohol consumption

February 21, 2012
A new study published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Review reveals that young people do not possess the knowledge or skills required to adhere to government guidelines for responsible alcohol consumption. This article is ...

Alcohol consumption guidelines inadequate for cancer prevention

July 11, 2011
Current alcohol consumption guidelines are inadequate for the prevention of cancer and new international guidelines are needed, states an analysis in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

One drink a day may be related to good overall health in women when older

September 6, 2011
Women who drink 15 grams or less of alcohol a day (the equivalent of one drink of any alcoholic beverage) at midlife may be healthier when older than women who do not drink at all, who consume more than two drinks a day, ...

Recommended for you

Parents have critical role in preventing teen drinking

July 20, 2017
Fewer teenagers are drinking alcohol but more needs to be done to curb the drinking habits of Australian school students, based on the findings of the latest study by Adelaide researchers.

Aging Americans enjoy longer life, better health when avoiding three risky behaviors

July 20, 2017
We've heard it before from our doctors and other health experts: Keep your weight down, don't smoke and cut back on the alcohol if you want to live longer.

Fresh fish oil lowers diabetes risk in rat offspring

July 19, 2017
Fresh fish oil given to overweight pregnant rats prevented their offspring from developing a major diabetes risk factor, Auckland researchers have found.

High-dose vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles for children

July 18, 2017
Giving children high doses of vitamin D doesn't appear to reduce the winter sniffles, a new study has found.

Scientists develop new supplement that can repair, rejuvenate muscles in older adults

July 18, 2017
Whey protein supplements aren't just for gym buffs according to new research from McMaster university. When taken on a regular basis, a combination of these and other ingredients in a ready-to-drink formula have been found ...

Study: Eating at 'wrong time' affects body weight, circadian rhythms

July 18, 2017
A new high-precision feeding system for lab mice reinforces the idea that the time of day food is eaten is more critical to weight loss than the amount of calories ingested.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.