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

Across Asia, liver cancer is linked to herbal remedies: study

October 18, 2017
Researchers have uncovered widespread evidence of a link between traditional Chinese herbal remedies and liver cancer across Asia, a study said Wednesday.

Eating better throughout adult years improves physical fitness in old age, suggests study

October 18, 2017
People who have a healthier diet throughout their adult lives are more likely to be stronger and fitter in older age than those who don't, according to a new study led by the University of Southampton.

Global calcium consumption appears low, especially in Asia

October 18, 2017
Daily calcium intake among adults appears to vary quite widely around the world in distinct regional patterns, according to a new systematic review of research data ahead of World Osteoporosis Day on Friday, Oct. 20.

New study: Nearly half of US medical care comes from emergency rooms

October 17, 2017
Nearly half of all US medical care is delivered by emergency departments, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM). And in recent years, the percentage of care delivered ...

Experts devise plan to slash unnecessary medical testing

October 17, 2017
Researchers at top hospitals in the U.S. and Canada have developed an ambitious plan to eliminate unnecessary medical testing, with the goal of reducing medical bills while improving patient outcomes, safety and satisfaction.

No evidence that widely marketed technique to treat leaky bladder/prolapse works

October 16, 2017
There is no scientific evidence that a workout widely marketed to manage the symptoms of a leaky bladder and/or womb prolapse actually works, conclude experts in an editorial published online in the British Journal of Sports ...

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.