International guidelines

BMJ 1996; 312 doi: (Published 06 January 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:7

In Britain the old guidelines advised that men drinking less than 21 units a week and women drinking less than 14 were unlikely to damage their health. A unit is 8 g of alcohol, roughly the amount in half a pint (0.28 l) of beer or cider, or a standard glass of wine, sherry, or spirits. The revised guidelines say that regular consumption of between 3 and 4 units a day for men and between 2 and 3 units for women will “not accrue significant health risk.”

In announcing the new limits, the British government emphasised research showing that the beneficial effects of alcohol on heart disease are seen only in postmenopausal women and in men over 40 and can be gained from drinking between only 1 and 2 units a day. But its report does recommend to teetotal people in these age groups that they might want to consider the advantages of light drinking. Pregnant women are advised that drinking 1 or 2 units once or twice a week is unlikely to affect fetal development.

Average weekly intakes of alcohol in Britain, according to the campaign group Alcohol Concern, are 16 units for men and just over 5 units for women. Up to a third of men and one in 10 women already drink more than the former safe amounts of less than 21 and 14 units a week.

On the roads in Britain there were 1170 fatal traffic accidents in 1979 associated with alcohol concentrations above the legal limit of 80 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood (17.4 mmol/l). In 1994 the number was 510—out of a total number of 3650 deaths on the road.

British police officers have no powers to carry out random breath testing on motorists, although they are known to stop suspects …

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