Excessive Alcohol Consumption “UNDERESTIMATED” - Rehab Guide

Excessive Alcohol Consumption “UNDERESTIMATED”

Excessive alcohol consumption ‘is underestimated’

  • A man drinks wine while cooking,
  • Ad hoc drinking may mean we do not actually know how much we are consuming,
  • Do you know how much you drink?
  • Do you drink more than you think?
  • Alcohol ‘underestimated’ by young

The amount of alcohol consumed in England/Scotland/Wales and Ireland could be much higher than previously thought, a study suggests.

University College London researchers compared alcohol sales figures with surveys of what people said they drank.

  • They found there was a significant shortfall with almost half of the alcohol sold unaccounted for in the consumption figures given by drinkers.

This suggests as many as three-quarters of people may be drinking above the recommended daily alcohol limit.

  • The researchers reached their estimates by factoring in the “missing” alcohol – and found binge drinking was far more than suggested by official figures, they told the European Journal of Public Health.

Experts said much alcohol use went unreported, partly because drinkers did not admit or keep track of how much they consumed.

‘Health implications’

The study found that 19% more men than previously thought were regularly exceeding their recommended daily limit – and 26% more women.

Total consumption across the week was also higher than officially thought – with 15% more men, and 11% more women drinking above the weekly guidelines.

The current recommendation set by the UK Chief Medical Officers is not to regularly exceed four units per day for men and three units a day for women; the Royal College of Physicians recommends weekly alcohol limits of 21 units for men and 14 units for women – although these are currently under review. This is normally seen as acceptable levels however the Rehab Guide belief in a life of total abstinence and clients who attend and take part in a 28-day program are warned of the dangers that lie ahead if they are thinking of returning to an alcohol lifestyle. The message is clear “total abstinence from all alcohol”.

Drinking guidelines

  • A unit of alcohol is roughly equivalent to half a pint of ordinary strength beer, or nearly one small (125ml) glass of wine.

Sadie Boniface, a lead author of the study at University College, said: “Currently we don’t know who consumes almost half of all alcohol in England/Scotland and Wales. This study was conducted to show what alcohol consumption would look like when all of what is sold is accounted for if everyone under-reported equally. “The results are putative, but they show that this gap between what is seen in the surveys and sales potentially has enormous implications for public health in England, Scotland and Wales”

  • The team used alcohol sales data from Revenue and Customs and compared it with two self-reporting alcohol consumption surveys conducted in 2008 – the General Lifestyle Survey (GLF) which analysed average weekly alcohol consumption in 12,490 adults, and the Health Survey for England (HSE) which looked at consumption on the heaviest drinking day in the previous week among 9,608 adults.

Counting units

The researchers say they will now look at the characteristics of those that are under-reporting the number of drinks they have had, and why. This is normal behaviour from a large proportion of individuals is to play down the amount and significance of their alcohol intake as DENIAL is a significant part of the person’s problem, below are other factors to consider.

  • They suggest it may be down to drinking patterns and habits – those that are mixing drinks, and drinking at different venues, may be more likely to under-report.
  • Alcohol Concern’s Eric Appleby: “Particularly when we drink at home, we pour much larger measures”
  • The charity Alcohol Concern suggests irregular and chaotic drinking behaviour may play a part: “When we’re totting up our drinks total we don’t always count some occasions as proper drinking.
  • “We may underestimate drink sizes and their alcoholic content, and not count holidays and special occasions like weddings, birthdays and Christmas when we often drink a great deal more than usual.”


The researchers suggest that government drinking guidelines need to reflect actual consumption instead of reported drinking – especially when ascertaining what levels are associated with harm. The Department of Health says this will be taken into consideration in their alcohol consumption review. It said: “We already know people underestimate what they drink and many drink too much. That’s why we work to help people make healthier decisions; where they are able to be safely detoxed of alcohol initially and receive the help and support they need to overcome their problems with alcohol addiction.”  There is also the option of the government looking at the proposed minimum unit price at 45p per unit, tougher licensing laws, more GP risk assessments, better access to specialist nurses and more specialised treatment.  This has got to be a wake-up call for the government and the country because, after more than two years of bitter internal rows, the government has got cold feet about its only proposed alcohol harm policy. More needs to be done to tackle problem drinking, which costs the country £21bn.

If you or someone you know is having difficulties with alcohol in their life pick up the phone today and call 02072052845 where a member of our specialist alcohol support team will listen and support you to make a decision on how to go about taking the first step in addressing your excessive alcohol consumption or alternatively you can contact us via email and we will get in touch with you to start discussing a brighter future.

Author 'Jason


Jason has been writing expert articles and blog posts on issues related to addiction and mental health for Rehab Guide. Jason has a BA in Psychology, a Masters of Social Work and is currently working on his doctorate in social work.


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