Reducing harm caused by alcohol


New alcohol guidelines published

Men and women should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol a week to reduce the risk of diseases such as cancer and liver disease, under new guidelines issued by the UK Chief Medical Officers.

Scotland's Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr Catherine Calderwood, joined her counterparts across the UK to set out the new guidance following an expert review of the scientific evidence on the impact of alcohol on health since the previous guidelines were published in 1995.

The guidance makes clear that there is no "safe" level of alcohol consumption. The risk of developing a range of cancers increases even at low levels of consumption.

  • The CMOs advise that both men and women do not regularly drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week, to keep health risks to a low level. Fourteen units is the equivalent of 6 pints of beer, a bottle and a half of wine, or half a 750ml bottle of spirits.
  • If people drink 14 units per week, this should be spread over three days or more.
  • Women who are pregnant or trying to conceive should avoid drinking alcohol. This has been the message in Scotland for some time but it is now consistent across the UK.

Summary of the new guidelines

Commenting on the new guidelines, Alison Douglas, Chief Executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland said:

"We welcome this updated advice from the UK Chief Medical Officers. The new guidelines are based on a comprehensive review of the latest scientific evidence about the health risks of drinking alcohol. In particular it makes clear that alcohol causes seven types of cancer. Less than half of us are aware of this link - and that the risk increases even at low levels of consumption.

"People have the right to know what they're putting into their bodies so they can make informed choices. The next step is to make sure the new guidelines are clearly communicated to the public. One way to help inform consumers would be to have compulsory health warnings on all alcohol products."

The new guidelines will take effect immediately, although there is a consultation on whether the guidelines are clear and easy to understand (closing date 1 April 2016).