Call for cut in Irish alcohol limits to reflect UK change

Men in Republic can drink three pints a week more than men in North and be at ‘low risk’

As a result of changes in the British alcohol guidelines, men in the Republic can drink three pints a week more than their counterparts in the North and still be considered at “low risk” of harm from alcohol.  File photograph: Johnny Green/PA Wire

As a result of changes in the British alcohol guidelines, men in the Republic can drink three pints a week more than their counterparts in the North and still be considered at “low risk” of harm from alcohol. File photograph: Johnny Green/PA Wire

 

Recommended drinking limits for British men have been sharply reduced, prompting health campaigners in Ireland to demand a similar reduction.

As a result of the changes in the British guidelines, men in the Republic can drink three pints a week more than their counterparts in the North and still be considered at “low risk” of harm from alcohol.

Campaigners have called on the Government to cut Irish limits to match the revision of the British guidelines.

Under new advice from UK chief medical officers, British men are advised not to drink more than 14 units of alcohol each week, the same as for women. This is down from 21 units in the previous guidelines.

The definition of “units” differs between Britain and Ireland. Current Irish advice is that men should have no more than 17 standard drinks a week, and women fewer than 11, to be considered “low risk”.

Standard drinks

The new UK guidelines say both sexes should limit their intake to 11 standard drinks a week.

drink guide 1

drink guide 2

A pint of lager or stout amounts to two standard drinks and a bottle of wine contains eight standard drinks.

The HSE said revised Irish drinking guidelines will be published later this year. The current guidelines are under review as part of an EU programme aimed at standardising messages across Europe.

The new UK guidelines also differ from Irish advice in stating there is no safe level of alcohol consumption, and in advising women against drinking any alcohol in pregnancy.

Prof Frank Murray, chairman of Alcohol Health Alliance Ireland, welcomed the updated UK guidelines, which take account of new research on the health risks of alcohol consumption.

Harmful effects

He said previous guidelines underestimated the harmful effects of alcohol and exaggerated the benefits, if any.

Prof Murray, who is a liver specialist and president of the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland, said the Government would do well to simply transpose the new guidelines from the UK.

“This is the first review in 20 years and much has changed in terms of what we know about the harm caused by alcohol consumption, particularly with regards to cancer and other illnesses. The Irish guidelines are currently being reviewed and when published will further inform the public about the health risks associated with alcohol consumption.”

The British guidelines recommend that men and women should not drink more than the equivalent of six pints of average strength beer a week.

Alcohol-free days

An additional recommendation is not to “save up” the recommended maximum weekly intake for one or two days, but to spread it over three or more days. A good way to reduce alcohol intake is to have several alcohol-free days a week, the guidelines say.

The British review found the benefits of alcohol for heart health apply only to women aged 55 and over, with the greatest benefit seen when these women limit their intake to about two standard glasses of wine a week. The group concluded there was no justification for drinking for health reasons.

Prof Murray said alcohol was responsible for more than 1,000 deaths a year, five times the number of road deaths.