Archive | March, 2016

New drinking guidelines – IBA implications?

7 Mar

0005623507Y-1440x1920Earlier this year the new adult weekly recommended drinking guidelines sparked a bit of a media frenzy. On the plus side, this raised awareness (in the short term at least), and perhaps got some people talking about them. On the other hand, awareness of the guidelines alone doesn’t tend to lead to behaviour change. Much of the media also pandered to the distraction of the ‘nanny state’, arguably failing to recognise the basic principle of a ‘guideline’ to support informed decision making – one of the reasons why it should not be described as a ‘limit’.

Yet to be answered though is what the implications are for alcohol interventions and other policy areas. Obviously most recent alcohol literature (and alcoholic drinks packaging) will now be ‘outdated’ if displaying the old daily guidelines – although you can find an updated tool here [ppt]. Certainly there will be further work underway about how we calculate and define ‘at risk’ drinkers, but overall we must not get too caught up in trying to pin point exact ‘cut-offs’.

As such the important point is that alcohol misuse is a spectrum, and people are often unknowingly changing their consumption and the actual or potential effects on their health and wellbeing. IBA is about helping people understand where they sit and helping facilitate change where relevant.

So whether we use the alcohol guidelines as a general indicator of our risk level, or something more sophistaced like the AUDIT, it is important not to get too literal about things. A person drinking near 14 units a week (or say a person scoring AUDIT 7 or less) should not consider themselves to be risk free, just as a person drinking 15 units (or scoring AUDIT 8+) should not assume they will certainly suffer alcohol problems. The basic principle of the dose effect applies – the more of a drug one consumes, or the more frequently, the greater the risks – generally speaking.

So in practice, a little common sense applies. When we offer ‘brief advice’ to people, we automatically take into account a wide range of factors – what the person is there for, how motivated they are, how much time we have etc. etc. A change in the guidelines may be just another ‘common sense’ consideration to take into account. For instance we might inform or ask people if they knew that the guidelines have recently reduced a bit, and although any level of drinking carries some risk, sticking to them means a person is unlikely to develop serious negative effects in the long run. running

Drinking is of course just one of many ‘health behaviours’. If someone is getting overly focused on debating specific cut-offs, it could be worth pointing out the many other factors that will influence their likely health outcomes; especially those that they may be able to change.