Sunday, 15 January 2012

Would "dry days" make a difference? A comment on Government policy and bad science journalism in general.

Mark Dredge recently wrote an interesting article about the new government recommendation for drinkers to have a least a couple of "dry days" within a week which can be found here. He makes the good point that we occasionally feel like we can "reward" ourselves after these dry days. As a younger drinker, with a reasonably hectic university life, I know all too well the feeling of "saving up" a weeks worth of drinking to have a few too many at the weekend. To me this notion of a dry day from the government just goes further to highlight the lack of understanding of the affect of alcohol. As far as I could tell from the original article here this new advice has come on the back of very little scientific studies or evidence; the article claims that "recent studies have cast doubt on the health benefits of regular drinking". However, as with all good science articles the names of, the sources of funding for and any information about these studies is nowhere to be seen. As a science student I am intrinsically unsure of any article which fails to disclose where the information has come from. It wouldn't surprise me if the funding for this study came from one of the well known impartial bodies like Alcohol Concern. While I do agree that there is a problem in this country of alcohol abuse, especially amongst people my own age, I think to attack the sensible drinkers with policies like this is not only pointless but also downright irresponsible. I am almost certain a large amount of young drinkers read these headlines and thought "Great if I have 4 dry days during the week it means I can drink as much as I want at the weekend because the government said it was ok!"

The article also raises the older issue of the actual safe amount of alcohol the body can deal with in a set amount of time. According to current Government legislation my mum having a glass of wine with her evening meal would render her a binge drinker. A good comparison to the current non-guidelines is that of speed limits; in my opinion they are both too low and importantly everyone knows it. Most drivers would have no real qualms about hitting 75mph on a motorway and similarly most drinkers have no problems drinking more than 21 units a week. Many people will have drank over 21 units a week and seen no ill affects from it so clearly the current guidelines are simply too low to be believed. The other big problem with the current guidelines is the fact that they are very confusing to the average person on the street. The notion of units need to be scrapped ASAP if the Government ever want people to understand  the guidelines. Call me Dave seems to have realised this with calls for the simplification of the system and for more education for young people about the amount of alcohol in certain drinks. If the Government want their guidelines to be taken seriously, they need to present the public with the actual evidence and set guidelines which are both understandable to the average person and also don't appear patronising.

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