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Are you a binge-drinking Brit? One in five of us are, according to new survey

Close to 20% of Brits drink eight or more units of alcohol in a single session, according to a new survey conducted by an alcohol addiction treatment centre in the UK. Six units of alcohol puts them above the binge-drinking threshold established by the NHS.

How often do British people drink alcohol?

An illustration of how often people drink alcohol

According to our survey, a third of British adults don’t drink. Of the remaining two thirds that do drink, the majority drank in moderation. 11% admitted to drinking more than five times a week.

Our research aligns with recent data from the Office for National Statistics, which shows that “never drinking is the fastest growing group in the UK. It’s thought that religious prohibitions on drinking, the rising cost of living and a trend towards healthy habits among millennials are all influential factors.

How well do people understand “units of alcohol”? 

The second question tested whether the public could identify “a unit of alcohol” from a list of drinks. In the UK, doctors often ask their patients how many units of alcohol they drink in a given week, and doctors might make an assessment based on the response. But how many Brits know what a unit of alcohol really looks like?

Can you identify a until of alcohol?

The reality is that less than 10% could correctly identify the drink that was equal to one unit. The implications are worrying; do people really understand government guidance on alcohol? Are they giving their doctor correct information? How might this be affecting rates of drink driving?

Most people thought that “a small glass of wine” is just one unit, but in reality, a small glass of wine is 1.5 units and a medium glass of wine is more than two units.

How many units of alcohol does the average person drink per day?

When drinking, do you go over your recommended unit intake?

Most people who drink have just one or two units when they drink — the equivalent of a medium-sized glass of wine. Some people drink a little more than that (roughly two glasses) and a smaller number admit to drinking five or six units. A substantial number of people drink seven or more units of alcohol on a “typical” drinking day.

The 13.5% who admit to drinking seven or more units are certainly binge drinking. As we’ve seen, it’s also common for people to underestimate how many units there are in a glass of wine. That’s one of the reasons that women aged 35-45, who enjoy a “few” glasses of wine in the evening, often end up being the heaviest drinkers when it comes to the number of units of alcohol they consume.

Can Brits recognise the NHS recommended limit for low-risk drinking?

The NHS recommended limit for “low-risk” drinking?

Just one in four people knew that the recommended NHS limit for low-risk drinking is 14 units per week. Interestingly, people were likely to underestimate the low-risk drinking limit. 38.2% of respondents thought that the limit was just seven units per week.

This tells us a couple of things. The first is that the current low-risk limit is not widely known. The second is that the public actually slightly overestimates the risk of drinking (or at least they potentially underestimate the NHS’ risk appetite). It’s clear that public health messages are getting through to the public, though perhaps the details of those messages aren’t quite sinking in.

It’s also worth remembering that, as we discovered in question two, very few people can count the number of units that they drink per week, which does limit the potential effectiveness of drinking guidelines expressed in units.

How many people in the UK have an alcohol-misuse issue?

Are you concerned by your drinking habits?

In the final question, we asked respondents about the warning signs of alcohol misuse.

The majority of respondents (67.4%) reported no warning signs. That being said, the survey is self-reported and there’s a good chance that not everyone was completely honest about their relationship with alcohol. It’s likely that people downplayed their alcohol consumption and take the following numbers as a conservative estimate of alcohol misuse in the UK.

The most common warning sign of alcohol misuse is binge-drinking (affecting one in five). Our earlier question asked how much they drink on a typical day, but if we ask if they ever drink more than eight units, we’re more likely to get a “yes” response.

10% of respondents reported wanting to cut down on their drinking. 10% of respondents admitted to feeling bad about their drinking behaviour. 6% admitted drinking to the point of memory loss (blackouts). 4.2% have been criticised for their drinking and 4.1% admitted to drinking first thing in the morning.
There’s an interesting gender divide in the response. Men are significantly more likely to report binge drinking; drinking to the point of memory loss, being criticised for their drinking and drinking first thing in the morning. But it’s the women who are most likely to feel bad about their drinking or want to cut down.

Author Bio: Obi Unaka has 16 years of experience in a clinical setting. He is currently the Treatment Director at Charterhouse Clinic Flore. Charterhouse Clinic Flore is a safe and supportive environment for alcohol detox services.

About the author: Alex Molyneux

Alex is our admissions team leader. Over the last 5 years he has spoken with more than 10,000 people via our helpline and has organised over 1,000 detox and rehabilitation placements.

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