The problem with saying there's no safe level of alcohol consumption

A study in medical journal the Lancet suggests that no level of alcohol consumption is entirely safe (Getty Images)

A wide-ranging global study released today into the effects of alcohol has suggested that there is no safe level of drinking.

Even moderate drinking can increase the risk of cancer and other diseases, the research says, with abstinence the only safe course of action.

But health experts are now warning that this advice could in fact be doing more harm than good.

Ian Hamilton, a drugs researcher and lecturer at the University or York, told Yahoo News: ‘Just saying that there’s no safe level of alcohol without any context or understanding is really misleading.

‘When you think about it there’s no safe level of doing anything.

‘There’s no safe level of riding a bike or driving a car. There’s no safe level of breathing, because of air pollution.

‘This research shows what might look like an alarming risk in health problems including cancer and liver problems throughout your life. But actually that risk you have to put in proportion to everything else.’

To put the study’s findings in context, Hamilton says, if 25,000 moderate drinkers were to have a bottle of gin a month, only one of them would suffer a serious health problem throughout their life.

Health experts are arguing that advising people that no alcohol consumption is safe may do more harm than good (Getty Images)

And there’s another danger posed by the study, Hamilton says, as health claims without context can stop people from trusting public health messaging.

‘The unintended consequence of this type of research and the way its reported is that people look at it and think “well that’s nonsense”‘ he said.

‘And the problem is that people might start ignoring other public health messages. If you disbelieve one report chances are you might disbelieve the next one you see – and that could be one you really do need to listen to.’

‘Essentially what the report is calling for is abstinence. I don’t think thats doable, its completely unrealistic and unnecessary.’


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The study, published in the Lancet journal, found that globally around one in three people – or 2.4 billion – drink alcohol.

Denmark had the highest proportion of alcohol consumers, 95.3% of women and 97.3% of men, and Pakistan and Bangladesh the lowest. Just 0.8% of Pakistani men and 0.3% of Bangladeshi women drank alcohol.

Men in Romania and women in Ukraine drank the most – 8.2 and 4.2 drinks per day respectively.