What is moderate drinking? Official guidelines describing moderate drinking provide very conflicting information.
Yet the medical evidence already exists about what levels of drinking promote good health. As well as longer life. It also exists about what levels are linked with harms. And it’s available everywhere.
Official guidelines in countries all around the globe find great disagreement among them. There is disagreement about what is moderate drinking on a daily or weekly basis. About whether or not moderate drinking guidelines should be different for men and women. And, if so, how they should differ. About whether the guidelines should be different for people of different ages. In short, there’s a lot of disagreement about what the public should be told. Answers to the question, “what is moderate drinking?” vary widely.1
Dr. Richard Smith was a member of the committee that formed the official drinking guidelines for the U.K. He reported that the numbers picked were not based on medical evidence. He said they “were really plucked out of the air.” He said “It was a sort of intelligent guess by a committee.”2
Drinking guidelines appear to be highly arbitrary. They’re not really based heavily on medical evidence. Instead, they largely reflect cultural and political forces.
The U.S. has a temperance background. Even today, almost one of every five adults in the country favors making drinking illegal. This causes the U.S. guidelines to be at the lower end of the scale.3
Yet much research finds better health and longer life linked to drinking above the US government guidelines.
But even if the guidelines were based solely on the medical research, they would still be low. Why? Because people tend to under-report their drinking.
Studies show that self-reports of drinking under-report the amount consumed. It’s usually by 40 to 60%.4 This suggests that both healthful and risky levels are much higher than thought.
For example, a study may find that having two drinks per day improves health. But if respondents under-report their drinking by one-third, then it’s actually three drinks per day that improves health. If respondents under-report by half, then actually four drinks a day improves health.
The same is true of the drinking levels found to increase various risks. No one should abuse alcohol. But it appears to take much more alcohol to increase risks than U.S. guidelines suggest.
What Is Moderate Drinking?
Endnotes for What is Moderate Drinking?
1 Furtwaengler, N. and de Visser, R. Lack of international consensus in drinking guidelines. Drug Alco Rev. 32(1), 11-18.
4. Midanik, L. The validity of self-reported alcohol consumption and alcohol problems. Brit J Addict., 77, 357-82.