'Two alcohol-free days a week'

Hannah ThompsonYouGovLabs and UK Public Opinion Website Editor
January 19, 2012, 5:29 PM GMT+0

69% Brits say this would improve health; most say they drink 1-3 days, & under 14 units, a week

The majority of the British public agrees with the recent government recommendations that someone who drinks three to four units of alcohol every day should have at least two non-drinking days a week, our poll has found. Most respondents estimated that they only drink on one to three days a week anyway, our results show.

The survey comes in light of the government suggestions this month that taking at least two non-alcohol days a week would be beneficial to regular drinkers' health.

  • 69% of Britons agree that someone who drinks three to four units of alcohol a day 'would probably be healthier' if they had two alcohol-free days a week
  • While almost one in five (17%) disagrees, saying that if they drunk such amounts normally, their health probably wouldn't improve on the basis of having two alcohol-free days a week

When we asked respondents to estimate how often they drink, along with their weekly alcohol intake, most said that they do not drink on a daily basis, and two thirds estimated that their intake was lower than 14 units a week.

  • 65% estimated that their weekly alcohol unit intake was fewer than 14 units a week (the recommended amount), including the 21% who said that they don't drink at all
  • When it comes to frequency, 51% in total said that they only drink on about one to three days a week
  • One in five (20%) said that they drink between four to seven days a week
  • 10% said that they drink on between four to five days
  • Just 7% say that they drink every day
  • Compared to almost a third (30%) who say that they never drink

Daily drinking?

Earlier this month, the Commons Science and Technology Committee recommended a review of the UK's current drinking guidelines, which are currently 21 units for men and 14 for women per week; based on advice issued in 1987. The guidelines were amended in 1995, so that while the total recommended amount stayed the same, the public was warned to limit their intake to three to four units per day for men, and two to three for women. This month's report questioned whether the 1995 guidelines tacitly approved daily drinking, and also raised concerns that many people are actually unaware of what actually constitutes a 'unit' of alcohol. The report also suggested that drinkers would be advised to take at least two alcohol-free days a week.

Guidance review

Chairman of the Committee Andrew Miller, told the BBC: 'Alcohol guidelines are a crucial tool for government in its effort to combat excessive and problematic drinking…The evidence we received suggests…that people should be advised to take at least two drink-free days a week.'

In response to the suggestions, the Department of Health stated that 'we will consider these recommendations and look at whether it is necessary to review our guidance', agreeing that 'it's crucial that people have good advice about alcohol so they can take responsibility for their own health'.

Frequency as important as quantity

The Committee report comes just months after doctors advised the public to take at least 48 hours off from drinking if they have drunk a 'heavy' amount. In October 2011, the Royal College of Physicians highlighted that the liver needs time to recover after an alcohol intake, while special adviser on alcohol Sir Ian Gilmore explained at the time that frequency is as important as quantity, warning that 'those who drink daily' substantially increase their risk of liver disease in comparison with people who 'drink periodically or intermittently'.

See the survey details and full results (page 9-10)