Do you need time off from drinking?

The government regularly releases new guidelines on what should be considered acceptable drinking. How many drinks and what days we should drink are a few of their suggestions. The result of these sometimes conflicting messages is confusion about what truly qualifies as responsible drinking.How times have changed. It used to be traditional to give yourself time off from work to ensure you look after your health and get the best out of life. Now it seems the coalition government would have us believe that we need time off from drinking alcohol as well, to ensure our health is being looked after. Not only that, but the government is also specifying that we should take two days holiday a week from drinking alcohol. Sound bizarre? Let’s have a look at the facts.

Along with accepted guidelines that people should limit their total alcohol intake to three to four units per day for men, and two to three units for women, the health department is advising citizens to take two days a week off from drinking alcohol per week.  However this approach is based on models in other countries such as Canada and is based on the thesis that heavy drinkers are likely find it easier to take occasional breaks from drinking than to drink less each night. Overall consumption would decrease if they didn't drink two nights out of seven.

This has had mixed reviews and I have to say it seems to be making out that alcohol is the demon. The fact is it is not alcohol that is at issue but the way people use it. If the policy is aimed at heavy drinkers then these individuals should be targeted in a certain way. Why should responsible drinkers, or those who are not suffering from some form of addiction, be guided to just drink on three days of the week? There is nothing to suggest that by doing this, fundamental human health is likely to be affected. On the contrary, past scientific evidence suggests that a glass of wine a day can be very beneficial to the heart, and also reduce stroke risk.

The guidance around “how many drinks you should take on the five days” is also confusing. Does this mean on some days it is ok to have three or four drinks? This clearly goes against the other half of the guidance.

Thomas Greenfield, senior scientist at the Alcohol Research Group (ARG) added to the confusion by remarking that there could also be scientific evidence that suggests this type of approach could create greater dependence. He said, "There is some animal [research] evidence that suggests instating heavy drinking, and then forcing abstinence (but on a longer cycle) actually increases dependence or addiction. Alcoholics who periodically (but not forever) quit may be an example of this.”

These conflicting guidelines both from the government and experts have the result of confusing the very real issues of binge drinking and alcoholism in the UK. How much is actually too much? Should we drink a glass of wine a day or abstain? The answer may lie somewhere in the middle. I would say that the common sense approach of moderation and acting responsibly is a sensible path.

Of course, if you feel that you may have a problem with alcohol seeking help and guidance is always the correct choice.

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